Fighting to speak freely

Fighting to speak freely McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 25, 2004 - Volume 37 Number 06
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 37: 2004-2005 > November 25, 2004 > Fighting to speak freely

Fighting to speak freely

Iraqi National Assembly member visits McGill

Our society takes freedom of speech for granted. We are permitted to voice our opinions openly, in formal public demonstrations, in the media and in our own homes. It's hard to imagine what it would feel like to be silenced, to be too afraid to voice an opinion. Iraqi national Dr. Rajaa H. Khuzai has lived with this constraint for the last 14 years under the reign of Saddam Hussein. Now, following the U.S.-led war against Hussein, Khuzai is finding her voice.

Khuzai, an obstetrician and gynecologist and member of the Iraqi National Assembly, is travelling through North America to lecture on the challenges facing women and students in Iraq, under and after Hussein. She visited McGill on November 11, invited by the Department of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies and the McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women.

"The Iraqi people couldn't speak; we had no freedom of speech," said Khuzai while describing the conditions during Hussein's rule. "After the 2003 war, we started to speak again."

This freedom of speech did not extend to Iraqi women. A member of the Iraqi Interim Governing Council, Khuzai said that the Council "had three women and 22 men; our voices were not heard."

She fought to have a guaranteed representation of women in the government. After much deliberation with the other members of the Council, a compromise was made — one quarter of the new Iraq government will be made up of women.

Although this percentage is not reflective of the population, Khuzai is happy with this number and sees it as a good starting point.

Khuzai is also working on other initiatives to promote and support women in Iraq. Although it is often an uphill battle, Khuzai usually wins. When she presented a proposal to build a women's health centre, she was asked why women need their own centres given that their health issues are similar to those of men. After she listed the different health concerns of women, including breast and ovarian cancer, a specialized women's health centre was built in Baghdad.

There is one crusade Khuzai may not win and where her voice may once again be silenced. She supports the U.S. presence in Iraq and is grateful that they ousted Hussein.

She said during her McGill talk that 99 percent of Iraqis see the U.S. as liberators.

The audience did not want to listen to this position. Some expatriate Iraqis challenged her support of the U.S. and the audience turned their attention to them.

"What we got [from U.S. intervention] was only the freedom of speech, not the freedom to act," said lecture attendee Amar Sabih.

Quietly, and with dignity, Khuzai replied that Sabih and the rest of the attendees weren't in Iraq at that time and did not understand how horrible the conditions were under the reign of Hussein.

"We wanted even the devil to liberate us, to get rid of Saddam, because nobody else can get rid of Saddam," she said.

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