On 12th May, the AKU-ISMC hosted a lecture by Dr. Nadje Al-Ali, Director of the Gender Studies Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Dr. Al-Ali spoke on the topic of “Memory and ‘Truth’ in the Diaspora: Constructing a Modern History of Iraqi Women”.
The lecture, based on research carried out in the US, the UK and Jordan, explored the narratives of Iraqi women in the diaspora, and their many memories of different historical periods of Iraqi history. Dr. Nadje argued that difference has not necessarily been defined in ethnic and religious terms, that is, whether a woman is for example, Shi‘i, Sunni, Kurd or Christian.
Dr. Al-Ali described how women’s accounts of their experiences in Iraq were influenced, in part, by the changing policies towards women over the history of the regime. These policies, for example in education, healthcare and women’s participation in civil society, often reflected wider geo-political, demographic and other circumstances.
The speaker gave the example of policies in the 1980s which were a response to demographic imbalance resulting from the Iran-Iraq war. At this time, she noted, women were forced to be ‘superwomen’; they were required to (re-)enter the labour force while national ideologies emphasised their role as mothers and encouraged greater fertility, with parallel policies prohibiting birth control and abortion.
It was argued that traditional categories and classifications of Iraqi women, based on factors such as social class, political orientation, urban or rural identity need to be continually challenged. Dr. Al-Ali also highlighted the ability of Iraqi women to mobilise as a group with the recent example of the mobilisation of Iraqi women (both in the diaspora and in Iraq) against the proposed abolishment of the Personal Status Law.