The face of defiance
Women crowded into streets across Iraq on Thursday to defend their role in anti-government protests after cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said rallies should be gender segregated.
Women crowded into streets across Iraq on Thursday to defend their role in anti-government protests after leading cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said the demonstrations should be gender segregated.
Marches in Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriyah drew hundreds of women who brandished posters and chanted in support of their right to demand a better future.
“We want to protect women’s role in the protests as we’re just like the men,” said Zainab Ahmad, a pharmacy student.
“There are efforts to kick us out of Tahrir [Square, centre of the protests in Baghdad] but we’ll only come back stronger.
“Some people were inciting against us a few days ago, seeking to keep women at home or keep them quiet. But we turned out today in large numbers to prove to those people that their efforts will end in failure,” she told AFP.
Mr Al Sadr’s comment, posted on Twitter, told male and female protesters to avoid mixing in tents during sit-ins, prompting an outpouring of derision from Iraqis on social media. Iraqi activists responded by posting satirical pictures and sharing hashtags celebrating female protesters, including #SheIsTheRevolution and #DaughtersOfTheNation.
Shortly before Thursday’s women’s march began, Mr Al Sadr once again took to Twitter to criticise the protests as being rife with “nudity, promiscuity, drunkenness, immorality, debauchery ... and non-believers”.
In a strange turn, he said Iraq must not “turn into Chicago”, which he said was full of “moral looseness”.
Women have been at the forefront of protests that have gripped the country since October last year, marching shoulder to shoulder with men in the largest demonstrations since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The uprising has brought Iraqis of all backgrounds together, uniting Sunni and Shiite, rich and poor, men and women in calls for the overthrow of a government regarded as corrupt and inept.
Waving flags and holding up banners, men and women poured through the underpass leading to Tahrir Square.
Several held up handwritten posters that read “separating religion and state is much better then separating males and females”.
Another read “revolt, resist and smile because you are the nation, the revolution will be completed by you”.
Iraqis have continued to voice their demands in the streets despite violent crackdowns by the security forces.
More than 500 people have been killed and tens of thousands injured.
This month, new clashes broke out between demonstrators and Mr Al Sadr’s supporters – distinguished by their blue caps – after the cleric withdrew his support for the protesters.
Eight people were killed when Mr Al Sadr’s supporters stormed a protest camp in the southern city of Najaf. Chants of “down with filthy Moqtada” began trending on Twitter.
Mr Al Sadr, who wields significant influence among Iraq’s majority-Shiite population, initially threw his weight behind anti-government demonstrators but withdrew his support to endorse the nomination of Iraq’s new prime minister-designate Mohammed Allawi.