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The pitfalls of a 'democracy promotion' project for women of Iraq

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'Democracy promotion' as part of a larger project of 'reconstruction' is hailed in mainstream academia and in policy circles as an essential component of rebuilding the state and civil society in post-conflict situations. Here 'democracy promotion' refers exclusively to the promotion of political representation and participation, not to the promotion of social and economic equality. This political and ideological strategy veils the political, economic, and social dimensions of this project and its real impact on the lives of the people in the place where it is being implemented. In the context of reconstruction, where rebuilding the state and civil society is seen as an urgent response to infrastructural collapse, the political and ideological underpinnings of 'democracy promotion' are often ignored. This article examines one of the main strategies employed in the project of 'democracy promotion' that is currently being implemented by women's NGOs in Iraq, that is, democracy training workshops, seminars, and conferences. The curriculum of these training courses is strikingly similar to the curricula being employed in other parts of the world. The similarity suggests that 'democracy promotion' is indeed a transnational strategy and that women's NGOs are one of the main vehicles of its implementation. Based on research and fieldwork undertaken in the Iraqi Diaspora in the UK and in Iraqi Kurdistan, this article will examine the implications of the 'democracy promotion' agenda for women's movements and women's groups. Preliminary analysis suggests that an outcome of the 'democracy promotion' agenda is the marginalization and exclusion of oppositional activism and in particular, women's groups who challenge the content of this agenda. As has been the case with women's movements in Latin America and Asia, women's NGOs that do participate in the project exhibit signs of professionalization and depoliticization that ultimately weaken the women's movement as a whole. In order to illustrate this point, the activities of the Independent Women's Forum, a US-based NGO that is actively involved in the implementation of a 'democracy promotion' agenda in Iraq, is contrasted with the activities of Iraqi Women's Will, a women's organization that has refused to comply with such an agenda and that is actively resisting it.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Toronto, Canada

Publication date: 2008-03-01

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