Women protest at Tahrir Square in Iraqi capital Baghdad on February 13, 2020. (Photo: Murtadha Al-Sudani - Anadolu Agency)
On February 14, Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women from across the country participated in protest demonstrations against the violence and killings meted out to anti-government protesters by government security forces and armed militias. The women also demanded equality, asserting their right to protest alongside Iraqi men following an absurd diktat by prominent Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who called for women and men to be segregated at protests on the basis of gender.
Sadr’s regressive instruction to the protesters, which was also posted on his official twitter account, cautioned them against sitting together and mixing in the tents at the protest sites. Just before Thursday’s protests began, he again took to twitter, accusing the protesters of being “rife with nudity, promiscuity, drunkenness, immorality, debauchery … and non-believers.” He also warned against “Iraq turning into Chicago,” the US city that he characterized as being full of “moral looseness, including homosexuality.” The conservative cleric’s comments received widespread condemnation. The protesters responded to al-Sadr’s statement by putting online satirical images of men and women crossdressing, and expressed support and appreciation for women protesters by using hashtags like #SheIsTheRevolution and #DaughtersOfTheNation.
The protests which were organized in several important Iraqi cities such as Baghdad, Basra, Nasiriyah, Najaf and Karbala, among several others, saw the women holding placards, banners and handwritten English and Arabic posters saying “separating religion and state is much better then separating males and females”, “revolt, resist and smile because you are the nation, the revolution will be completed by you.”
Many waved the Iraqi flag, chanting slogans such as “stop discrimination against women”, “end gender segregation”, “women are revolution, not genitals”, and “Freedom, revolution, feminism”.
More than 600 protesters have been killed in the government violence against protesters, with close to 20,000 more being injured, since the protests against government corruption, inefficiency, unemployment, poverty and the lack of basic services began in Iraq on October 1, last year. The protesters demanded an end to the corrupt political system that has existed since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Facing people’s anger, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced his resignation on 29 November.