Zeinab Sadiq Jaafar and the Battle for Women in Iraq

We don't know yet how many Iraqi women were elected in the recent provincial elections. We do know that they risked their lives for simply putting their names on the ballot. Few dared to campaign.

Of the 14,400 candidates, 4,000 of them were women. Originally the Iraqi Constitution, responding to the demand of women, called for a 25 percent quota for women. Without explanation, that requirement was stricken for provincial elections. Nevertheless, women stepped forward.

Their courage is awe-inspiring.

In the city of Basra, according to the New York Times, 325 women's names were on the list of 1,280 candidates. One of them was Zeinab Sadiq Jaafar, a 41 year-old lawyer. She has campaigned vigorously, putting up posters everywhere and believed she could win, "if there is no cheating." Her detractors in Baghdad were so threatened by her that they spread rumors that her law degree was forged and even that she had been assassinated. She had to go on local television and blare her recorded voice from trucks to prove she was alive.

I am deeply moved by her story and that of the other women who ran for office in Iraq. They are running for public office, demanding their right to participate in this fragile democracy, with the daily risk of not only being rumored to have been assassinated, but to actually be assassinated. I am forced to ask, why, in comparison, are American women so accepting of the political status quo. The percentage of women in the Congress is 17 percent. Why aren't women demanding greater representation? Why aren't we running for office more often? What do we risk? Criticism, invasion of privacy, an unfair opponent. How tepid those risks seem, compared to those encountered by our brave Iraqi sisters.

This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.

Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.