There is an interesting article by A. Yasmine Rassam at OpinionJournal.com on how the plight of women under Saddam compares to the current efforts to whitewash that record:
A recent report by "Global Exchange" and "Code Pink" entitled "Iraqi Women Under Siege" [available here] concluded that "the occupation of Iraq has not resulted in greater equality and freedom for women" than they had under Saddam Hussein. Published by two radical feminist anti-war groups whose primary activities include protesting military recruiting stations, organizing anti-WTO protests and sympathizing with the regimes in North Korea and Cuba, this report echoes a long line of blatant pronouncements. Hillary Clinton who once said that after liberation there were "pullbacks in the rights that [women] were given under Saddam Hussein" and Howard Dean's infamous remark that "Iraqi women were better off under Saddam Hussein." . . .
Much of the anti-war propagandists' defense of Saddam as a champion of women's rights rests on his willingness to allow women to vote (for him), drive cars, own property, get an education and work. What they choose to ignore, however, is the systematic rapes, torture, beheadings, honor killings, forced fertility programs, and declining literacy rates that also characterized Saddam's regime. A few examples can only begin to illustrate the cruelty and suffering endured by thousands of Iraqi women. One torture technique favored by Saddam's henchman and his sons involved raping a detainee's mother or sister in front of him until he talked. In Saddam's torture chambers women, when not tortured and raped, spent years in dark jails. If lucky, their suckling children were allowed to be with them. In most cases, however, these children were considered a nuisance to be disposed of; mass graves currently being uncovered contain many corpses of children buried alive with their mothers.
During Saddam's war with Iran, nearly an entire generation of Iraqi men were killed, injured or captured, leaving a dearth of men of military age in Iraqi society. As a result, Saddam launched "fertility campaigns" that forcibly administered fertility drugs to school girls as young as 10 in an effort to drive up the population rate.
After the Gulf War--particularly after crushing the Shiite and Kurdish uprisings of 1991--Saddam reverted to tribal and "Islamic" traditions as a means to consolidate power. Iraqi women paid the heaviest price for his new-found piety. Many women were removed from government jobs and were not allowed to travel without the permission of a male relative. Men were exempted from punishment for "honor" killings--killings carried out on female relatives who had supposedly "shamed" their family. An estimated 4,000 women died from honor killings in the ensuing years. By 2000, Iraqi women, once considered the most highly educated in the Middle East, had literacy levels of only 23%.
Under the pretext of fighting prostitution in 2000, Saddam's Fedayeen forces beheaded 200 women "dissidents" and dumped their head on their families doorsteps for public display. These women obviously lost whatever "rights" granted to them once they got in Saddam's way.
He expands his comment on his blog.
Blar's comments are a necessary corrective to Rassam's article, which definitely should have disclosed that many of her points were mentioned in the report, even if they were given little weight in the Report's conclusions.
The Report makes a number of questionable claims, such as, "Illiteracy is on the rise." From what I could determine from searching online, it appears that female literacy is up from the appalling 23% it was in 2000. The Report also blames the low female literacy mostly on impoverishment caused by the embargo (with little candor on the "oil for palaces" or "oil for weapons" program): "Impoverishment forced families to keep their female children out of school, and illiteracy soared." Blar quotes this line as if it were a negation of Rassam's point.
Human Rights Watch, no friend of the Bush administration, paints a somewhat more colorful picture of the actions of Saddam's regime:
"In 1998, the government reportedly dismissed all females working as secretaries in governmental agencies. In June 2000, it also reportedly enacted a law requiring all state ministries to put restrictions on women working outside the home. Women's freedom to travel abroad was also legally restricted and formerly co-educational high schools were required by law to provide single-sex education only, further reflecting the reversion to religious and tribal traditions."
To get a more general sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the Report, consider the first paragraph in the Report's Executive Summary:
From 1958 to the 1990s, Iraq provided more rights and freedoms for women and girls than most of its neighbors. Though Saddam Hussein's dictatorial government and 12 years of severe sanctions reduced these opportunities, Iraqi women, before the occupation, were still active in many aspects of their society. Now that situation has dramatically changed. While women in Iraqi Kurdistan have made gains since the U.S. invasion, in the rest of the country, women today face violence, hardship and fear daily, and their futures are more uncertain than ever.This seems both to recognize the terrible security problems and to underplay the problems for women under Saddam's regime.
The report ends with this non sequitur:
And most importantly, women around the world, especially those from the countries that are participating in the occupation of Iraq, should push to end their governments' support for the war. None of us can sit and talk about empowering Iraqi women, while the occupation continues to disempower the Iraqi people.
How ending the occupation would empower Iraqi women is not mentioned. And the threats of radical Islam or an Iranian-style regime that the Report itself expresses would seem to be greater dangers if the US were to withdraw any time soon.