Force for Change

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Force for Change

Sarah L. Courteau

Christina Asquith's personal experience informs her review of a book about women in the Middle East.

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1m 23sec

While she was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 2007, Christina Asquith was working on her book Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq. The two years that Asquith had spent in Iraq as a foreign correspondent after the American-led invasion in 2003 gave her a window into the fragile opportunities for women in Iraq, and the risks they ran to seize them. In conversation, she often worried about doing justice to the stories of the women she profiles in the book: two Iraqi sisters, a U.S. soldier, and a U.S. aid worker.

To judge by the reactions of two of the women she featured, she need not have worried. Zia Groosh Flossman, one of the Iraqi sisters who worked for Americans in Iraq and eventually had to flee the country, and Manal Omar, a Muslim activist who strives to promote women’s rights as a program officer at the U.S. Institute for Peace, appeared on a panel at the Center to launch the book last fall. Both Flossman and Omar stressed—sometimes emotionally—the importance of the stories that Asquith tells. The women’s rights agenda that was touted in the early days of the occupation has been sidelined as the war drags on, but the need for change remains.

In the current issue of the WQ, Asquith reviews Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East, Isobel Coleman’s book about how women in the region are employing Islam—which many Westerners see as a force for subjugating women—to claim greater autonomy.