Thinkers respond to recent controversy

Iraqi intellectuals sign Gender Statement: Let the parties return to their tasks and leave us to work and think

BAGHDAD, August 8 — Hundreds of Iraqi intellectuals and writers have signed a detailed statement on “gender, freedoms and social justice.” In the statement, they warned against “demonizing the concept of gender” and called on authorities to stop measures that began with removing the term from official documents.

The signed document further urged political entities to “focus on their political and legal tasks in line with the democratic system of governance, and allow citizens to exercise their rights to work, express themselves, and think freely.” Researchers, in conversations with 964, expressed their belief that raising this debate without social contexts is part of a partisan campaign to attract the public to a “fake battle,” just months before provincial council elections.

The statement stated, “In recent weeks, the country has witnessed a systematic and orchestrated campaign that is still escalating, targeting the use of the concept of gender, or social gender, in the public domain. This campaign was launched and led by influential forces within the state, personalities, and circles close to its ideological orbit. They present gender as a serious moral threat to society, undermining the true meaning of family and religion, by arbitrarily, fallaciously, and deliberately linking this concept to homosexuality, atheism, and gender transformation.”

Over the past two weeks, a political controversy has escalated over the concept of “gender,” and bloggers have republished an old video clip of Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Wisdom Movement, calling for “strengthening the concept of gender and urging the government to commit to relevant international agreements.”

Hakim delivered this speech before EU ambassadors and representatives of international organizations at a conference on countering violence against women in September 2021.

Following the resurgence of Hakim’s speech, a campaign emerged dominating public discourse, linking the concept of social gender to homosexuality and atheism, followed by swift actions by government institutions to ban the use of the term in their official publications.

The campaign also comes after months during which the leader of the Sadrist Movement issued warnings against “homosexuality and Westernization.”

The statement by Iraqi intellectuals pointed out that “this campaign has disturbingly and seriously created an atmosphere of intimidation within specialized academic circles, affecting civil society institutions that are active in the fields of gender and social equality.”

The statement clarified that “the concept of gender has no connection to individuals’ sexual orientation, regardless of what it may be, and it does not deal with the biological change of sex as certain ruling political forces claim.”

“The concept of gender and development is based on the belief that addressing the issue of unequal power relations between women and men is a fundamental requirement for achieving sustainability in advancing women’s lives. In this context, the responsibility lies with both women and men to address and redefine the prevailing challenges in gender relations.

Insight from Thinkers

Researcher and academic Iyad Al-Anbar:
“Raising this issue in Iraq is purely for political calculations, and the evidence is that the term ‘gender’ appears in reports by the Central Bank, the general budget, and human development, as one of the concepts used for managing diversity. On the other hand, the Ministry of Education issued a statement prohibiting the use of the term.”

“The term was used for political defamation by distorting its meaning to support the LGBTQ+ community, attempting to drag the concept into the political conflict.”

“This confusion gives the impression that the political understanding of this concept has become entangled in the context of the conflict and its fate awaits the outcome of the struggle between the coordinating framework’s factions or between the latter and its adversaries.”

Researcher and academic Aqeel Abbas:
“As the provincial council elections approach, political forces are trying to distract people with imaginary dangers related to gender, in order to appear as defenders of morals, identity, and Iraqi values, rather than engaging in electoral debates about their performance in government institutions.”

“The Sadrists are exploiting this situation to embarrass the coordinating framework, accusing it of collusion with the West through Mohammed Shia’ Al-Sudani’s government and making deals with Western governments that promote LGBTQ+ rights and target the Quran.”

Researcher Ghaleb Al-Shabandar:
“With the approaching provincial council elections, the situation between Iraq and Iran, and between Iran and America, alongside the failure of the political class in fulfilling its duties, competition and debates among politicians have been ignited, leading them to exploit this situation to settle scores.”

“If society in Iraq is accepting of gender, it is due to the poor economic and social conditions it is experiencing. The parties that are against gender should address the reasons behind society’s acceptance of it.”