Though the marginalization of women’s participation should not be a surprise to me after two decades of working on this issue, I must admit that I am always surprised at how the political establishment in both the Western world as well as other parts of the world misses out on the story women can tell about the direction of a nation. Rather than seeing the story of women’s political reality as marginal, we need to see women as the bellwether for the direction of the society. Perhaps there is no better story than the narrative of what happened to Iraqi women since the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The story of how the world ignored what happened to women in Iraq is an indicator for the direction of the last seven years. Vocal, educated women were some of the first to be kidnapped and assassinated in Iraq, and violence against women increased rapidly in the country. However, when assassinations, kidnapping and rampant violence eventually became a widespread phenomena and frequent front-page headline, there was little connection to how women were an actual indicator for that political narrative.
The BBC, which is including Iraqi’s blogs from Global Voices alongside its coverage is one way of ensuring we hear directly from people living there – including women. But it doesn’t tackle the question of why what happens to women is often a marginal issue.
I’ve mentioned before that journalists have told me that they find it hard to place stories about women in Afghanistan. But how different things would be if news organisations took on the view that women are “the bellwether for the direction of the society” instead of thinking that what happens to them is simply a “women’s issue”.