Strong, Smart & Female In Iraq

In Iraq, U.S. administrator Paul Bremer indicated to an Iraqi women's group he will block any attempt to make Islam the main source of law in the country's new constitution.

Many Iraqi women fear Islamic law would take away rights they now enjoy, and as CBS News Correspondent Thalia Assuras reports, that fear is grounded in experience.

In the Shi'ite Muslim holy city of Najaf, Nidal Jehrayoh dresses in the traditional head-to-toe abaya, a long shroud worn by women.

But indoors, she sheds the covering and gets to work, as 16 years ago she became the area's first female attorney.

"It was difficult back then," she says. "Judges tried to provoke me into crying."

Today she can claim another milestone and faces similar fury in pious, arch-conservative Najaf. She has been appointed its first female judge, but with critics calling it an affront to Islam, her appointment has been blocked.

"They object because I'm a woman," she says simply, then with a mischievous smile, "Doesn't a man have emotions? I know a male judge who is affected by beautiful ladies."

The opposition to Jehrayoh's appointment from clerics, other lawyers and even women scuttled her advance to the bench. She may have hit the glass ceiling, an indication of the difficulty women will face in achieving a significant political voice in Iraq.

The more secular Baghdad already boasts female judges, and now with Saddam Hussein gone, women in government, among them Dr. Raja Habib Khuzai.

"It will be a bit bitter, I think, for the men to be taken over by the women you know, but it will settle," Khuzai says.

Khuzai is one of three women on Iraq's governing council, making her a feminist pioneer in a country where women make up 60 percent of the population.

"They are looking to me as if I am the symbol of the Iraqi women. They can follow in my steps," she says.

Khuzai wants to build a political stepladder for women in a new Iraqi constitution, including language that would ensure female election candidates and nominees to government ministries and agencies.

"Iraq's educated women are more than qualified," she says, and counts among them the nemesis of Najaf's religious conservatives: Nidal Jehrayoh.

"I don't think it's a religious problem. It's sort of tradition, or some other lawyers jealous from her," says Khzai.

Despite the hurdles, these two trailblazers say they have faith that women will achieve their rightful place in a new Iraq.

  • Lauren Johnston

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