Iraqi Women Can Now Say No to Hijab or Head Scarf

Security improvements mean greater freedom of choice for Iraqi women.

ByABC News
March 25, 2009, 10:53 AM

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 26, 2009 — -- All over Baghdad the gradual improvements in security and the near-disappearance of militiamen and al Qaeda members from the streets have reduced the pressure on Iraqi women to cover their heads with a "hijab," or head scarf.

Militants routinely threatened to kill each and every woman who did not dress according to the precepts of sharia law that were put in force in 2007. According to Juliana Dawood, a college teacher who lives in Basra, graffiti on the city walls threatened violence against any woman who did not wear the hijab. Fliers distributed in cities like Basra reinforced the warning.

People in the Ghazaliyah neighborhood in western Baghdad witnessed many assaults on women in 2007. "I saw a group of armed men. [Tthey] grabbed a girl and beat her before a crowd of more than 50 people along with her father for not wearing hijab, and afterward they cut her hair with knives," a man who identified himself as Eman told ABC News. "I was frightened and never left home for nearly a week."

A woman named Ibtisam, a 56-year-old housewife living in Baghdad, said that fear of the militiamen "drove my 23-year-old daughter to wear the head scarf. ... We did it for security."

The Hijab phenomenon, in the eyes of many Iraqis, can be linked to the influence of neighboring Islamic-ruled countries.

Yanar Mohammed, the head of the Iraqi Womens Group, told ABC News the phenomenon was enforced indirectly by "the militants who represent the ideologies of their countries." She added that members of al Qaeda "actually distributed the full hijab worn in Afghanistan and forced women [in Iraq] to wear it. One woman who refused ... was killed the next day."