‘I knew some of them wouldn’t make it’ – Middle-Eastern women and voting
GYPSUM – Henri-Karen Stone says she went to Kuwait to help Middle Eastern women get involved in voting and politics in countries where their rights have long been suppressed by male-dominated societies. As a lecturer for the Regional Women’s Campaign School in Kuwait, she said, she tried to give these women the tools to spread democracy and women’s rights.”The progress of democracies in this region is tied directly to our struggle against terrorism,” Stone says. She also brought home a solemn promise to share the stories of some of the women she met, she says. Many of these stories are not happy, and some are tragic, even highly disturbing, she says. Sharing these stories has become her obsession, she says. “It was a life-changing experience,” says Stone.Creating campaignsStone, a Gypsum resident, went to Kuwait in late September as one of five featured lecturers for the Partners in Participation Conference, a five-day workshop at the Regional Women’s Campaign School. The conference was put on jointly by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, both nonpartisan organizations, says Stone, an active Republican and wife of County Commissioner Tom Stone. “We were there to help these women run a good election,” says Stone.The Partners in Participation Conference was the fourth in a series that included meetings in Tunisia and Qatar. Kuwait City was chosen because of its proximity to Iran and Iraq, Stone says. When Stone first landed in Kuwait City, she was a bit overwhelmed by the foreign culture. She found herself surrounded by a sea of women swathed head to toe in cloth, much of it black. Some of those women were headed to the conference.
“It was a little intimidating,” she says. Attending the conference were hundreds of women from 20 different countries, including Libya, Sudan, Syria, Bahrain and Iraq. The sea of headscarves – each varied style and color denoting a different country or region – was an amazing site, says Stone. Most of these women also wore earphones, listening to translations of the lectures while they furiously scribbled notes.Speakers at the conference included Katie Campbell, the first female prime minister of Canada and the prime minister of Kuwait. Stone spoke about campaign strategies., such as research, staying on message and budgeting. “Before that, they were just going to talk to friends, or talk on a street corner,” she says. “I told them they needed an issue to get people to rally around.”The woman also participated in a mock campaign. They were told to act as if they were marketing a one-day sale and instantly related, Stone says.”In some of these women’s countries, 25 percent of the elected parliament have to be women; some are now up to 41 percent,” Stone says. North African countries are far more progressive and women wear modern clothes, but in some Middle Eastern countries, their participation is politics not at all welcome. She compares these women to early American suffragettes, blazing a new trail in women’s rights in the Middle East.”As women, they couldn’t go knock on doors,” but they could send their message through a social route, by inviting friends over to dinner, and then having the husband pass the message on, she says. The women were surprised about how Americans settle conflicts with each other, Stone says. “It was interesting to these Middle East women that when we disagree, we do not kill each other,” she says.Human rightsSeveral of the women Stone met, particularly the Iraqi women, had been the target of death threats and assassination attempts, she says. One woman’s son and daughter had been kidnapped. Another Iraqi woman survived several attempts on her life, including a car bomb that killed her driver, because she wrote, ‘Saddam is crazy’ on a blackboard – and that was after Saddam was driven from power, she says.
When Stone first arrived in Kuwait City, authorities had just arrested 36 terrorists sneaking into the country from Iraq. “I thought one of these ladies was probably one of their targets,” Stone says.Media reports coming out of Iraq detail a rising culture of violence and oppression against all well-educated women and women who work outside the home. The lack of a headscarf, the use of makeup, or being unescorted on a street has made numerous women and girls assassination targets. Their bodies are found in increasing numbers in rivers or dumps with a veil over their faces. They have had acid thrown in their faces, and are raped and beaten, according to news reports. Stone says she went to Kuwait with no preconceived ideas about the fighting in Iraq. “I was willing to be open minded,” Stone says. “If the Iraqi women said, ‘no,’ we should leave tomorrow, I would have said ‘fine.'”But she was that every women asked said “yes,” to the question of whether the coalition should have invaded in the first place, Stone says. “And I had a chance to ask a lot of people,” says Stone.One woman said if American forces leave Iraq now, it would be “the biggest recruiting tool Osama bin Laden has.” Other women turned deathly pale when asked about troop withdrawal, pleading, “No, don’t leave us,” Stone says. Some of the women feared they would be killed, or disappear into the night, she says.One Kuwaiti woman led Stone to a street lined with lampposts. She explained that, when Saddam Hussein and his army invaded Kuwait in 1991, men, women and children were routinely tortured then hung from the lampposts for three days. The woman watched as her own children and a friend hung there, Stone says. “I prayed every day for the Americans to come,” she told Stone. “It took you seven months.”But Stone says she worries the images of the fabric-swathed women de-personalizes their situation, and de-sensitizes Americans toward their plight. “People don’t realize these are women just like us, with children and lives,” Stone says. And when she hugged her new-found friends good-bye at the conference’s end, she says, “I knew some of them wouldn’t make it.”
==========================================Teaching democracyWhat: Lecture by Henri-Karen StoneWhen: Thursday, 6:30-8 p.m.Where: Eagle Public Library, EagleWho: Everyone is invited==========================================Suggested about the Middle East* “Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq,” Kanan Makiya.* “Cruelty and Silence,” Kanan Makiya.* “Mayada, Daughter of Iraq,” Jean Sasson. One women’s story of Saddam’s torture prisons.* “Study of Revenge,” Laurie Mylroe. Iraq involvement in the first World Trade Center bombing.* “Brighter than the Baghdad Sun,” Shyam Bhatia and Daniel McGrory. Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program.* “Saddam’s Secrets,” General Georges Hormuz Sada. How Saddam moved his WMDs to Syria.
* “Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America,” Yossef Bodansky.* “Atomic Iran,” Jerome Corsi Phd. How the regime bought the bomb and American politicians.* “The Third Terrorists,” Jayna Davis. Iraq involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.* “Kite Runner,” Khaled Hosseini.* “The Kingdom,” Robert Lacey. Arabia and the House of Saud.* “Reading Lolita in Teheran,” Azar Nafisi.* “The Bookseller of Kabul,” Asne Seirstad.* “Desert Queen: the Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell,” Janet Wallach.* “Tyranny’s Ally,” David Wormser. America’s failure to defeat Saddam Hussein.==========================================Vail, Colorado