Thousands of girls — alone, in groups, with their classmates and co-workers — walked with pride and strength down a street in Baghdad they never thought they could walk down without encountering verbal or sexual harassment. The popular demonstrations in Iraq have brought about this extraordinary change.
After passing through the popular neighborhoods of Fadwa and Arab, full of motorcycle owners and repair shops, women and girls now can walk to a popular market to sell various goods at low prices. This market is on the way to Tahrir Square, in the center of Baghdad, where thousands of peaceful demonstrators have gathered since 25 October.
Every day, Samar, 22, walks to Tahrir Square, without fear of harassment about her clothes, her facial features, or the curve of her waist. With courage and joy in her heart, she wears jeans and a short blouse, ready to participate in the nonviolent demonstrations that have led to the resignation of the Prime Minister. The demonstrators have felt responsible for keeping the women who protest by their sides safe, so no one in the square has harassed any of the women. This is remarkable given that the phenomenon of harassment has been one of the most prominent problems facing Iraqi society.
“[Prior to the peaceful demonstrations] who could go to Bab Alsharqi, near Tahrir Square in the heart of Baghdad? These popular markets were frequented only by men, girls were not allowed to pass through them previously without incurring verbal or sexual harassment, even if the girl was wearing the abaya,” Samar said in an interview with Sputnik in Iraq.
“The girl who helps me, who protects me from suffocation, who offers me a Pepsi, or water mixed with yeast, the one who provides a liquid nutrient solution for my eyes and mouth to help me recover from the tear gas, who gives me a piece of bread or cake, or a plate of dolmah — how can I harass her? It is impossible for anyone to dare to harass any girl …” Ahmed Karim told us in Tahrir Square.
A 19-year-old Tuk Tuk driver and resident of Madenat AlSader, one of Baghdad’s most popular districts, who has been transporting wounded protesters, told us that he helped three young girls who came to Tahrir Square for the first time. They didn’t know what the square was like, what kinds of things were around it, so he took them on a Tuk Tuk tour, and took pictures of them near the Freedom Monument and the Turkish Restaurant.
Another protester, Hussein, explained, “The girls in the demonstrations are our sisters and mothers, and all the young people in Tahrir Square are worried about their safety. We make sure they have a safe passage when going inside the Turkish Restaurant building , and to date, not one of the demonstrators has been harassed since the start of the revolution.”
Young people and girls have supported each other in cleaning up streets that have been neglected for many years, painting on the walls of the Tunnel of Liberation as well as those in the Nation Garden, on the outside walls of the Turkish Restaurant building, and inside the marquee site for university students. Members of various institutes, the unemployed and countless others have set up mini hospitals, temporary medical clinics — so many different people have contributed to make the revolution successful, and are still bravely and determinedly holding out until all the demands are met.
Earlier this year, the Interior Ministry assigned patrols of police women and security men to protect girls from harassment. Despite this, they were still yelled at by school principals, and at times even beaten by police forces as they attempted to join with their fellow protesters at Tahrir Square. They are now under the protection of the young people who are demonstrating.
To instill courage, and to reassure Iraqi women and girls of their bright future, we should recognize and celebrate the heroism of young demonstrators. One powerful story is that of a young girl who slept in the middle of Tahrir Square, simply on the ground and covered in a thick blanket, surrounded by a large crowd of young men. A scene such as this has no precedent in Iraqi history, and the powerful image was widely disseminated by activists on social media. The girl’s deep sleep within the protection of so many peaceful demonstrators shows to the world a new Iraq, one in which harassment has no place.
“Even after this popular revolution, there will be no cases of harassment of girls, because we all met here in Tahrir Square, and we all cooperated in supporting each other,” said Haneen Amir, 24. “If we meet in public, we will exchange greetings. They will not harass us in the futrue, and in the course of going to Tahrir Square, I was never harassed there, neither were my friends and acquaintances. We come and go without fear. “
Nonviolent Demonstrators in Baghdad and the central and southern provinces of Iraq continue to gather, with ever more protesters joining in the northern and western cities. This is the third consecutive month of peaceful protests, despite the rain and the recent cold spell. The resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is but a first step, protesters are also calling for the dissolution of parliament, the prosecution of those involved in the killing of protesters, and early elections.