DEAD SEA, JORDAN –Pro-democracy Iraqi women leaders from every corner of Iraq traveled to Jordan to participate in a historic five-day conference on the principles and practice of democracy and women’s rights sponsored by the Independent Women’s Forum and its partners in this endeavor, the American Islamic Congress and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. The Iraqi Women Leaders Conference, held from April 9-13, 2005 was part of two independent, but complementary programs that are being implemented by IWF and its partners over a twelve month period through a grant IWF received through the US Department of State’s $10 million Iraqi Women’s Democracy Initiative.

“Arguably, this gathering of pro-democracy Iraqi women from north to south and east to west was one of the most monumental events to occur among Iraqi women since the toppling of Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s January 30 elections,” said Bernard. “Over a period of a week, Kurds, Sunni’s, Shiia, Christians, and Jews worked side by side gaining not only a better understanding of the universal principles of democracy, but of one another. IWF is honored to play a small part in Iraq’s burgeoning women’s human rights movement and its historic transition to democracy,” continued Bernard.

Sponsored by the Iraqi Women’s Educational Institute (IWEI), a non-governmental organization formed by IWF, the American Islamic Congress (AIC) and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the participants were selected on the basis of their leadership qualities and commitment to democracy. More than 1,300 women throughout Iraq applied and interviewed for the program, as their country prepared for its first democratically held election in 35 years. Participants represented almost every ethnic and religious group in Iraq. Several members of the U.S. Congress, prominent academics, keynote speakers, and staff from around the world also participated in the event.

Highlights of the Conference

On days one and two of the conference, two Congressional delegations joined the conference. Led by Representatives Kay Granger (R-TX) and Tom Osborne (R-NE), two of the three co-chairs of the Iraqi Women’s Caucus of the U.S. Congress, members of Congress, including Representatives Granger and Osborne, Susan Davis (D-CA), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Lincoln Davis (D-TN), Randy Neugbauer (R-TX), Bob Beauprez (R-CO), Mark Udall (D-CO), and Jeb Bradley (R-NH) taught a course called “Democracy in Action.” The participants engaged in simulations that allowed them to learn how to make effective arguments in the public policy arena. Representatives from the US Departments of State and Defense as well as the US Embassy in Baghdad observed the conference.

Other sessions included constitutional design and federalism, universal principles of democracy, free media and democracy, women in leadership, economic freedom, fighting corruption, and elections, political parties and women. An entire day was devoted to discussing building democracy in Iraq. The challenges of democratization, Iraq’s experience with democracy, what the U.S. role in Iraqi democracy should be from the perspective of Iraqis, and democracy and religion were also discussed.

Keynote speakers included Shafeeq Ghabra, president of the American University of Kuwait, Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, vice president of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament and a member of the British House of Lords, and the renowned human rights activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

Faculty members included Hashim al-Jazairy, who in 2004 became dean of the College of Law at Yarmouk University in Jordan and is an expert in commercial and maritime law; Ahmed al-Rahim, an Iraqi-American who has taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at Yale University, New York University, and Harvard University and has published on the history of Islamic philosophy, the question of Islam and democracy, and political transition in Iraq; Carole Basri, an adjunct professor of corporate law at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law who has worked extensively on business, anti-corruption, and transparency issues in Iraq and helped draft legislation on these issues; Faleh Abdul Jabar, who is a research fellow at the School of Politics and Sociology, Birkbeck College, University of London and, since 1994, has directed the Iraqi Cultural Forum Research Group at Birbeck College; Mary Larkin, the director of International Programs at Street Law, Inc., and provides technical assistance to NGOs, women’s groups, law enforcement agencies, legislators, lawyer and judge associations, and government ministries to design and implement practical programs for the average citizen; Richard Matland, a professor of political science at the University of Houston and whose work emphasizes a comparative institutions approach, looking at how differing institutions can affect women’s ability to gain access to positions of political power; Hedieh Mirahmadi, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where she directs a study on Political Islam and Global Security; Tom Palmer, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and director of Cato University who teaches and lectures about such topics as federalism, political economy, constitutional theory, and law and rights at numerous universities in Europe and North and South America, as well as in Iraq and other countries; Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of the Middle East Quarterly and has worked as a staff advisor for Iran and Iraq in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; Ann Stone, founder of The Stone Group, Inc., and currently a member of the boards of the National Women’s History Museum, The Washington Center (Women as Leaders), Campaigns and Elections Magazine, and Influence Magazine; Marguerite Hoxie Sullivan, executive director of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO who has extensive experience as a journalist, public affairs and public relations practitioner, and executive in government and international nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and extensive background working in communications, education, cultural, women’s, and democracy issues; and Ala Talabani, co-founder of Women for a Free Iraq and the Iraqi Women’s High Council, which drafts policies that ensure that women are fairly represented in the new Iraq. Finally, it is with great pride that we note that one of our faculty members, Munther al-Fadhal, a practicing lawyer in Baghdad and Kurdistan, was elected to Iraq’s National Assembly and selected as a member of Iraq’s Constitution Committee.

“The willingness of so many Iraqi women to risk their lives to participate in this historic Iraqi Women Leaders Program clearly demonstrates an unwavering commitment to freedom and democracy,” said Michelle D. Bernard. “All Iraqis now have a chance to become full participants in the economic, political, and social fabric of a free and democratic Iraq,” Bernard continued.