Hanaa Edwar to be awarded for her tireless fight for equity and peace in Iraq
Published on Fri, 2011-09-23 12:22
On October 29 Hanaa Edwar will receive the Sean MacBride Peace Prize in Potsdam, Germany, but she will not rest until seeing her efforts crowned in Iraq. “I have to do this for the Iraqi people. We continue to fight for peace, equality and democracy,” said Edwar, co-founder and current Secretary-General of the Al-Amal Association (focal point of Social Watch in that country), in an interview with the Swedish feminist organization Kvinna til Kvinna.
"Women's rights in Iraq have deteriorated" since the US invasion in 2003, and it’s necessary “to support and strengthen women’s rights organizations and to put pressure on politicians so that women can take an active part in the political negotiations on peace and security,” explained Edwar, also co-founder of the Iraqi Women’s Network, which is made up of more than 80 organizations.
This activist, born in Basra in 1946 and a member of the Iraqi Women’s League since she was a student, was arrested by the military that lead the coup d’etat in 1963. After escaping from prison, she took part in the resistance to Saddam Hussein’s regime while exiled in Germany, Lebanon and Syria. She also joined the resistance movement in Iraqi Kurdistan for three years, though not in a military position. Exiled again in Damascus, she created the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, settled in 1996 in Erbil, Kurdistan, and then moved to Baghdad after the occupation in 2003.
“Hanaa Edwar is an extraordinary woman activist, well-known in the whole of Iraq for her strong positions in the slow moving process among politicians. She is brave, and under constant threats to her life, but not slowing down her mission in any way,” said Tomas Magnusson, co-president of the International Peace Bureau (IPB), the organization based in Geneva that awards the Sean MacBride Peace Prize.
“She is a most worthy laureate, determined and energetic, with an impressive record of activities to strengthen human rights and democracy, to develop civil society, and to defend women’s rights. She has been an outspoken and tireless challenger of the ruling parties, the Ba’athists and male-dominated politics in general,” Magnusson added.
Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive-Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND, also a member of Social Watch), praised Edwar as “a pioneer fighter for women´s rights and gender equity”. “She was a co-founder of the Iraqi Women’s Network which struggled to prevent any constitutional reforms harming women’s rights. We are proud that Hanaa is one of the co-founders of ANND,” he added.
Among the motives for the prize, the IPB mentioned her Civil Initiative for the Preservation of the Constitution that led her to file a lawsuit at the High Court of Iraq against the Speaker of the Parliament for acting unconstitutionally to hinder the formation of a government after the last elections in January 2010.
“The parliament had set up a so-called open session, which was against the constitution,” she explained. “It resulted in a situation where we had no state – there was no government or security in the country. Social welfare was taken away for 18 months. With the sit-down strike, we told our politicians to end their conflicts and start serving the people.”
Last June, her strong action at the Human Rights Conference in Baghdad highlighted the increased attacks on civil liberties and led to the release of four young political prisoners. According to the IPB, “Hanaa’s name has become synonymous with the defence of human rights”.
Edwar’s current challenges are huge. “The daily life of ordinary, poor women in Iraq is very hard. They are without income, social security and risk being abused. There is no water or electricity and they lack health care and education,” she said in Stockholm.
“The system being built in Iraq after 2003 is one of chronic crisis. Family law has also been weakened when the interpretations of religious leaders have been favoured,” she explained.
“The Al-Amal Association is one of a handful of women’s advocates in Iraq fighting for female equality in marriage and divorce, and opposing a draconian penal code that favours perpetrators of domestic abuse and honour killings within households,” the IPS news agency reported recently in a story that also mentioned alarming UN statistics: at least one in five women from 15 to 49 years old has suffered physical violence at the hands of her husband.
Previous winners of the Sean MacBride Peace Prize, named after the Irish statesman who shared the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize because of his actions in defense of peace and human rights, include Indian writer and disarmament activist Binalakshmi Nepram, US educator Betty Reardon and Sri Lankan diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala. Hanaa Edwar will share this year’s award with German anti-nuclear lawyer Peter Becker.