When well-known feminist activist Mona Eltahawy put forth her theory that women are hated and detested in the Middle East, she faced objections from both men and women in various Arab countries.
Yet, when we consider the Iraqi model and watch the decline and regression in the status of women and feminist activism, we might have no choice but to accept this theory.
Iraq was a pioneer of women’s movements demanding equality between women and men in Arab countries. Very early on, Iraq saw the emergence of important figures who fought for women’s rights and to liberate them from social and religious persecution.
In 1910, the famed Iraqi poet and teacher Jamil Sidky Zahawi published an article in the Egyptian journal Al-Moayed about the need to liberate women from the shackles of backward social traditions.
It was later republished in the Iraqi journal Tanweer al-Afkar. This article sparked a widespread social movement, with participants split between supporters and opponents of the idea.
In 1924, renowned Iraqi journalist Hussein al-Rahal and his colleagues founded a broad social movement for the liberation of women. The same year, the Women’s Renaissance Club was established in Baghdad.
Since that time, women activists emerged calling for the liberation of women. Among the most famous of these activists is Paulina Hassoun, one of the leaders of the women’s renaissance. Hassoun launched the first Iraqi feminist journal in 1923, called Layla. Moreover, Iraq witnessed the first female minister of state in the entire Arab world, with Naziha al-Dulaimi serving as minister of municipalities from 1959-62.