About the Author: Lida Noory is a program analyst for the Iraqi Women's Democracy Initiative in the Office of Global Women's Issues.
Recently, the world watched as Iraq held national elections, and now it eagerly awaits the formation of a government. Female political leaders in Iraq persevere, often at the risk of their lives, in ensuring they have an active role in decision-making at the national and provincial levels. For two weeks, I had the extraordinary opportunity to closely interact with 15 of these remarkable people.
Through the Office of Global Women's Issues, a delegation of Provincial Council leaders visited Washington, DC for a capacity-building training program. They met with several senior State Department officials, Members of Congress, state legislators, think tanks and NGOs.
Together, the delegation represented eight provinces and governorates, including Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Maysan, Najaf, Salah ad-Din, Kirkuk and Dhi-Qar. All the visitors were influential women leaders in their communities and either members or chairs of provincial committees on Human Rights, Health and Environment, Public Relations, Woman and Children, Public Services, Disabilities, Economic and Essential Services, and Transportation and Communications.
For nearly all of the delegates, this was their first visit to the United States and the first time they had met one another. As they began talking, it was immediately clear to me that they came from different backgrounds and held very different opinions and political views and favored different approaches. It was also very evident, however, as they shared their experiences not only as politicians but also as mothers, sisters, and daughters that each had endured tremendous adversity and suffered through unimaginable experiences. Out of their diversity, one common element gradually emerged over the course of the two weeks: they were all determined, dedicated, strong and resilient leaders, who had traveled far from their familiar surroundings in order to tell Americans about the capabilities of Iraqi women, to learn from their meetings in the United States, and to learn from each other.
And that they most certainly did. In meeting after meeting, they crossed cultural barriers and honed in on the commonalities women face of overcoming critics and meeting challenges. For those of us who accompanied them, this was as much of a learning experience for us as it was for them. They inspired everyone they met.
On the final day, as each reflected upon the journey spent in the United States, they agreed this was not the end, rather the beginning -- the beginning of new ideas, understandings, and relationships. One woman who'd become the unofficial spokesperson for the group put it simply, "We all came here leaving our home in Iraq, but are returning with 14 new homes."
For four of the delegates, the new networks of support, both at home and abroad, could not have come at a better time: during their visit, the news came in that they would return to their communities as newly-elected parliamentarians.
Related Entry:The Unwavering Spirit of Iraqi Women