March 9, 2004
Hi. Thank you for joining me today. I look forward to taking your questions. We'll be discussing my recent trip to Iraq and my visit to the Al Zahra Center for womens rights and democracy in Hilla.
Jacco, from Amsterdam, Netherlands writes:
Dear mrs Chao,
I would to ask how you( and president Bush) will try to get more stability for
the women in Iraq. Because they need your help. I hope you will be able to
answer my question, because in Europe this is one of the top issues.
This Administration strongly supports women's rights in Iraq. This Administration will open a total of 18 women's rights and democracy centers around Iraq to help Iraqi women learn about their rights and give them access to education, vocational training and information about how democracy works.
In addition, the U.S. government has initiated a wide range of programs to meet the healthcare, education and vocational training needs of Iraqi women. Deep, lasting change must come from within and I was very encouraged by the determination of the Iraqi women I met with during my recent visit.
The US government has initiated a wide range of programs to meet the health care, education and vocational training needs of Iraqi women. Deep lasting change must come from within and I was very encouraged by the determination of the Iraqi women I met during my recent visit.
Waris, from Schenectady ,New York
Mrs. Secretary Chao thanks for answering our questions. How many members
of Iraqi council are women ? And will Iraqi women be part of a new Iraqi
government in the future? Thanks for your time.
There are three women members of the Iraqi Governing Council, all of whom participated in yesterday's signing of the new interim constitution that guarantees women the right to vote and that at least 25% of the members of the new National Assembly shall be women.
Samuel, from Katz writes:
It is my understanding that the constitution gaurentees women will get 25
of the seats. The U.S Government appears to have backed away from this. Is
the U.S government committed to guiding the Iraqis and the Iraqi justice
system to uphold the constitution?
The new interim constitution guarantees women no less than 25 percent of the seats in the new Iraqi national assembly. The commitment of this administration to women's rights in Iraq is unshakable. This is the reason why the administration is building 18 women's rights and democracy centers in and around Iraq.
Kenny, from Memphis, TN writes:
Hello I want to know the positive things that is happening in Iraq. For
example, like the building of homes, schools, etc.... And why do we not hear
of this on CNN.
So many positive things are happening in Iraq. We are rebuilding schools and universities, refurbishing orphanages that were seriously neglected under Saddam Hussein, building a major children's hospital, creating a stable banking system, establishing women's rights and democracy centers all the the country and helping the Iraqis rebuild their government ministries so they serve the people.
In addition, during my recent visit I learned of and witnessed many acts of personal kindness by our men and women in uniform and the thousands of volunters who are in Iraq helping to rebuild that country. It made me proud to be an American and affirmed my belief that America is unsurpassed in its generosity and compassion.
Patrick, from Highland, California writes:
How will the role of women be regarded in the new government of Iraq with the
foundation of the government based on Islam when Islam regards women as
property or second class citizens?
The new interim constitution of Iraq that was signed yesterday in Baghdad by all members of the Iraqi Governing Council is a good indication that the role of women in Iraq will be respected. Article 20 prohibits discrimination in voting on the basis of gender, and article 30 guarantees than no less than 25% of the members of the national assembly will be women.
In addition, while the constitution says that Islam is the religion of Iraq, it guarantees freedom of religion and says that no laws shall be enacted that contradict univerally recognized human rights.
The articles of the itnerim constitution regarding women are a step in the right direction and show, as Ambassador Bremer said yesterday, that Iraq is headed in the right direction and that women are helping lead the way.
Virginia, from Portland, Oregon writes:
Are the women in Irag ready or even willing to communcate with the women from
America? I would hope they would not believe the media or the movie industry
that all women are like that. I would love to go and be involved with the
recovery of Irag.
Not only are women in Iraq ready and willing to communicate with American women, but they are already doing it! During my visit in January to the Women's Rights and Democracy Center that has been set up in Hilla, Iraq by this Administration, I met several young American women who are already working with Iraqi women on democracy and women's rights projects.
They love their work, have gotten tremendous positive response from the Iraqi women in Hilla, and have extended their tours of duty because they believe so strongly in these projects. During my visit to the Hilla Women's Center, I visited the Internet Cafe where many Iraqi women of all ages were learning how to navigate the worldwide web.
They were so eager to remain in contact that I gave them the URL of the Labor Department and set up a special email address where they coudl correspond with me. In addition, this Adminsitration brought 3 Iraqi women officials working at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to the United States last year and they were delighted to meet with their American counterparts and learn about how the American government works.
The Iraqi women I met were hungry for democracy and for support from women around the world.
Craig, from Ogdensburg, NY writes:
How will the new Iraqi government be set up? Will it include three branches
of government like that of the United States? Also, I think it would be
different to see a female hold a high governmental position- how do you
think that would go over with the people of Iraq? Thanks for taking time to
answer a few questions
You can find the outlines of how the new Iraqi government will be set up by reading the Interim constitution that was signed yesterday in Baghdad. You can find a copy of the constitution on the website of the Coalition Provisional Authority at http://www.iraq.gov/government/TAL.html
You should also know that there are three women members of the current Iraqi Governing Council. While many challenges remain regarding women's rights in Iraq, the new constitution that guarantees women the right to vote and no fewer than 25% of the seats in the new National Assembly are clearly a step in the right direction. Remember, it took many years for women to gain full political rights in the United States and it wasn't until the early twentieth century that women won the right to vote.
Jamie, from Washington DC
How are women in the new Iraqi government treated? Can these women ever
reach the same level of equality we have in America?
During my recent visit to Iraq, I met with many women officials in the new government who are hard working, dedicated and determined. They were an inspiration. While many challenges remain regarding women's rights in Iraq, much progress has been made.
The new interim constitution guarantees women the right to vote and the right to no less than 25% of the seats in the national Assembly. Remember that deep, lasting change must come from within.
It took many years for American women to win their full political rights and we cannot expect Iraq to transform itself overnight. But I am very encouraged by the recent progress-- this Administration will continue to do everything possible to support the aspirations of Iraqi women for a strong voice in their country's future.
Dave, from Massachusetts writes:
Hello, I had a question about your recent trip to Iraq. Did you find that the
women in Iraq seemed more happier that they now had their freedom, as most
other women do in the world? Also do you feel the United States will be out of
Iraq soon? Thank you so much for answering my questions. Have a great day
There is no question that Iraqi women are happier and better off now than under Saddam Hussein, where they were subjected to such horrors as rape rooms, militiamen officially assigned to "violate women's honor" and where their access to educational and other opportunities was severely curtailed.
Perhaps the best indication of this was the report of an Iraqi woman who said that during a women's conference in Amman, Jordan held on December 13, 2003, the capture of Saddam Hussein was greeted with joyful relief.
"Almost all broke into tears and sobs that the man who had managed to reach into each individual's personal life and rip it apart by killing their husbands, sons and fathers-- raping and maining their women-- was brought to justice, she said."
Morgan, from Alexandria, VA
What is Iraq like? Meaning was practically everyone poor or sad?
If you were still there would you try to change the laws so it's like America?
Iraq is a beautiful country and I found the people of Iraq curious, hopeful and enthusiastic about building a democratic future for their country. During my recent trip I visited Baghdad, which was full of commerce and signs of life getting back to normal: the streets were congested with traffic, shops containing all kinds of goods for sale spilled out on the streets, and women and men holding the hands of small children could be seen everywhere going to school and to the markets.
I also visited Hilla, 90 miles to the south of Baghdad, which is near the ancient city of Babylon. We flew over hundreds of acres of irrigated small farmls-- green for the first time in many years because the Combined Provisional Authority has filled the irrigation canals once again with water. Many people waved to us as we flew by in helicopters.
Kelly, from Long Island, New York
Since the Iraqi War, how has the role of women in the Iraqi government and in
everyday life changed?
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, women are now free from the terror of Saddam Hussein's militia, which arbitrarily inflicted extreme cruelties and hardships on those who did not support the regime, including rape and mainming.
Many women have come forward since the war to help in the rebuilding of their country. I am personally acquainted with 3 of them who are helping to rebuild the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
This Administration is building women rights and democracy centers all over Iraq, rebuilding women's dormitories so they can go to school and supporting Iraqi women in their determintion to secure their fundamental human rights.
Hernst, from Silver Spring, MD
How involved are the Iraqui women in insuring the success of their new
Democracy? Are not the majority of men and women in Iraq happy that Saddam
Hussein is no longer in power?
Here is one story that I think illustrates the joyful relief of most Iraqis that Saddam Hussein is gone. This is a report from an Iraqi woman attending a conference in Amman, Jordan on December 13, 2003 when the capture of Saddam Hussein was announced.
"Almost all broke into tears and sobs that the man who had managed to reach into each individual's personal life and rip it apart by killing their husbands, sons and fathers-- and raping and maiming their women-- was brought to justice."
Jeff, from Philadelphia writes:
Dear Mrs. Chao,
When you went to Iraq, were the conditions what you expected? How is the job
outlook for Iraqis? I read and seen(on the news) that many of the workers
from the Saddam regime are "up in arms" because they have been jobless since
Saddam was removed from power. Thank you for taking my question.
The conditions in Iraq are far better than what is portrayed in the media, which tends to dwell on the violence to the exclusion of the real progress that has been made. The streets of Baghdad, when I was there, were clogged with traffic. Shops were open everywhere, with merchandise spilling out on the streets for people to buy.
Men and women walked freely on the street with their children, going to school, going to work, etc. The rebuilding of Iraq is proceeding and it will create many job opportunities for Iraqis.
The U.S. Department of Labor has provided $5 million to help rebuild the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and it has already registered 300,000 Iraqis who are looking for work and found employment for 25,000 Iraqis.
Lulie, from Norman, OK
Ms. Chao, With your experience as a female in the American political
system, and being married to a Senator yourself, what is your impression of
the liberation being given to Iraqui women currently? With the domination
of the sect of Muslim territory they lived under, have you found that the
Iraqi women as a whole or minority group are qualified with their education
and perspective for their culture to operate and be instilled with the new
The Iraqi women we met during my recent trip to Iraq were hungry for democracy and determined to have a voice in their country's future. Interestingly, some of the most outspoken women were in Hilla, Iraq, which is a predominantly Shi'ite community.
Shi'ites, as you may know, are characterized as conservative Muslims, and these women told me that they believe their religion is not a barrier to exercising their political rights.
Julie, from Boardman, Oregon
How can you honestly think, that a nation like Iraq, steeped in hundreds of
years of traditionally keeping women in a supserviant role can possibly do
anything but give lip service to "women in their government". Don't you
think Iraq is simply appeasing the United States for the time being in order
to get on with things?
There are many encouraging signs that the rights of women will be respected in a new Iraq.
The new interim constitution, which was signed yesterday by all members of the Iraqi Governing Council, guarantees women the right to vote and that no fewer than 25 percent of the members of the new national assembly shall be women.
In addition, it states that no laws shall be passed that contradict universally recognized human rights.
The comments of the President of the Interim Governing Council and others indicate that Iraq is moving in the right direction and that women are helping to lead the way.
Janet, from Edmonton, Canada
Are Iraqi women more hopeful and excited about a better and brighter future
for themselves in the new Iraq? What are some of the main obstacles they have
faced and may continue to face? Are a large number of Iraqi women university
educated? Will you continue to work with Iraqi women to help them reach
During my recent visit to Iraq I spoke with many Iraqi women who are determined to create a strong voice for themselves as their country progresses along the path towards democracy.
There will be many challenges along the way, but am encouraged that the interim constitution signed yesterday guarantees women the right to vote and a minimum of 25% of the seats in the new National Assembly. There are many Iraqi women with advanced education. In fact, I met with 3 of them-- all offcials of the interim Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-- last year and again during my recent visit.
This Administration has established a $15 million grant program to build partnerships between U.S. and Iraqi universities that Iraqi women will have access to.
And this Administration has also built women's dorms at the University of Bbabylon so female students could return to classes there in the new school year. I am committed to continuing to work with Iraqi women to help them reach their goals and have set up an email address for them to correspond with me personally.
rob, from brussels writes:
Dear Mrs. Chao, First of all, I want to express my admiration for your
wonderful career It reminds me of what you, Americans, call the 'American
dream', how an ambitious person can makehis way to the top, starting as a
young immigrant. My question now; do you see any perspective for women in
Irak to make their own life too?
During my visit to Iraq, we were very encouraged by the determination of the Iraqi women I met to have a voice in the future of their country.
The commitment of the United States to women's rights in Iraq is unshakeable-- that's why this Administration is building 18 women's rights and democracy centers all over Iraq.
Jonathan, from New York
Is it possible to have a female President in Iraq?
We hope that one day this will be a possibility. Many industrialized, developed countries have never had women Presidents and that it took nearly more than two centuries for women in America to gain the right to vote, so we must have patience and continue to work and support the aspirations of Iraqi women for a voice in their country's future.
Thank you very much for joining us today on this important subject especially this week in which we celebrate the international achievements of women everywhere.