The Tikrit man entered the elections office in the city c enter accompanied by three women, all fully veiled, their faces completely covered. The man, in his 50s, asked the official there to give him four sets of voting papers for himself and his wife and two daughters, who were there with him. The official refused, saying that every Iraqi had to have their own set of papers. Then the man became angry and after a more senior official intervened, the papers were eventually given to him. This is despite the fact that it was already clear that the man intended to vote on behalf of the women in his family.
My father used to take us to the polling centre in his car, he’d come in with us and then he used to vote for us. He’d simply pick whichever candidate he liked.
And in this more conservative province he is not the only one. In Salahaddin many men refuse to allow women to vote and they simply come to polling offices, carrying the females’ IDs and vote on their behalf.
Tribal traditions in Salahaddin say that women here should submit to the will of male relatives, whether those are fathers, husbands, or brothers, when it comes to choosing a political representative. Men here have always voted for the women in their families and usually without any discussion at all about the candidates. They simply choose them themselves.
A local tribal leader, Hamid Nasser, then arrived at the electoral office, bringing 14 different IDs belonging to female members of his family with him. He says he wants to vote on all of their behalves even though his house is only 400 meters away from the polling station.
“Our women do not leave their houses and they don’t mix with strange men,” he insisted. “This is our culture and our tradition, so we will vote for them.”
The officials in the electoral centre argued with him anyway, saying they wouldn’t let him vote for so many women.
Mohammed Atiya, an administrator working in a polling centre in the Jazeera area, west of the city of Samarra, says that there are 2,600 voters registered at his office. In the end, only 2,000 of them voted last time. But, Atiya says, he cannot recall one single woman coming to the polling office.
“My father used to take us to the polling centre in his car, he’d come in with us and then he used to vote for us. He’d simply pick whichever candidate he liked,” says Sari Mahmoud, 28, a woman from Dour, east of Tikrit. “Our only input was the fact that we had blue fingertips.”
In the past, once an Iraqi had voted their fingertip was marked with long-lasting ink to prevent them from voting again.
A poster in Salahaddin calls on voters to register.
Cynics would say that in Iraq’s last three elections, rural and provincial women remained fairly marginalized. The names of female politicians were added to party lists in order to attain the legally mandated quota for gender equity and female voters were often forced to vote as their families required them to. However, the new electronic voting systems could change at least half of that equation because they require people to come to the polling station and enter the voting booth alone, without any interference from their families.
The country’s authorities have been distributing electronic voter cards, which contain biometric information – such as fingerprints – that will be checked against every ballot cast.
“Besides helping facilitate the vote count, we are confident that this new system will stop anyone from taking away the rights of others,” Issa Omran, a spokesperson from the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, told NIQASH. Omran added that the IHEC felt confident that more women would be voting this year because of the increasing profile of female politicians in Iraq, as well as the electronic system.
That may be true. Then again, other locals fear that the opposite could happen: Women may not vote at all, because their families won’t allow them to and there will be no other way of casting a vote.
“The increase in political awareness among the Iraqi people and their hopes for a better future make me optimistic that women will take an active role in political decision-making this time,” suggests one of the local female candidates, Nagham al-Samarrai. Al-Sammarai says she wants to promote a more active role for the local women in conservative, tribal society. “I think they can be effective in their society instead of being marginalized.”
Hassan al-Ubaidi, a civil society activist, agrees with al-Sammarai. “There will be a change in 2018 and women will be actively involved in these elections,” he told NIQASH. “The whole society wants the situation to change and they want new faces and new policies. Additionally, I believe political parties are going to be more active in their support of female candidates. Women are becoming more educated and are having more of an influence on their own communities,” he argues.