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"Leaning in" in Iraq: Women's Rights and War?

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Whose feminism?                                                                                                                                    

A first query is: whose interests does imperial feminism meet in its rendering of gains for women? Whose interests are met by Sandberg's notion of lean in? Obviously corporate America or she would not be receiving such endless publicity. But it is also more complicated than this because much of what Sandberg writes in Lean In many women from across class and racial and geographical lines can identify with. Her stories may readily remind people of their own insecurities, lack of self-confidence, and self-regulating personalities. Yet, most women in our jobs and lives cannot do what we must do to make a living and care for our loved ones without working beyond our limits - standing firm, and stirring things up . Most women - especially those who live in war-torn countries already " lean in" to their lives with no choice but to do so.

Sandberg says that the feminist revolution is stalled; that women need more ambition to get to the top and change things from there. Really? Corporate exploitation of the 99 percent is left intact. The rigid structuring of work and home remains in place even if she wants men and women to traverse the divide equally.

Women in leadership posts just mean that women will be in place to lead this structural exploitative imperial nightmare. We do not need more women in the power slots that already exist. We need a different non-hierarchical formulation of power - one that is not rooted in gender violence across the globe, and then feminists of whatever sex and race can occupy places of leadership.

Few people would criticise Sandberg's feminist wish that her/our children find happiness and passion in whatever desires they choose. So let me extend this view beyond her "blind-spots" and dialogue from there. She invites us to "keep talking" and not end the conversation too quickly. So I will continue, but differently.

Wars and women in Iraq

Wars start and often continue all too silently. They continue even when they supposedly have ended. New forms of war are in process and few of us may be looking in the right places. And, the oldest war - on female bodies - is too often made invisible when it is horrifically real. Local wars - named for their geography - like Iraq or Afghanistan trump the war on gender, but in name only. Yet, gender violence is systematic: kidnappings, public beatings, death threats, sexual assaults, and killings make women the particular targets. One Billion Rising gave public viewing to a global war of sexual violence.

MADRE, a US-based international women's human rights group, has been on the ground in Iraq for over the past decade. They work against gender violence in conflict situations and are presently working alongside their partner group, the Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), to combat growing violence against women in the country. It is hard to say which is worse: an almost secular state with a totalitarian ruler named Saddam Hussein, or right wing religious extremists vying for their patriarchal vision of life. But the Iraq War has left its women with less rights and more violence.

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