One theme of La’Onf’s third annual Week of Nonviolence has been to affirm the importance of freedom for women both within the nonviolence movement, and in Iraqi society at large. La’Onf has consciously structured itself to be like the society its members hope Iraq will become. La’Onf is multi-religious, multi-ethnic, with space for secular members as well. The organization’s fundamental commitment to improving the status of and opportunities for women is part of La’Onf’s own leadership structure.
At the local level at least 30 percent of La’Onf’s elected provincial governing boards must be women. Members of La’Onf’s National Coordinating Committee serve for two years and are responsible for La’Onf’s strategic planning. The body requires that at least one of the two representatives from each region be a woman and at least 30 percent of its Executive Directory Board be women.
During the 2008 Week of Nonviolence, La’Onf has called upon the political parties and candidates to present their programs to the Iraqi citizens, including information about their “position on basic principles of human rights, especially the issues of non-discrimination against women and respect for freedom of expression.”
Several activities during the Week of Nonviolence have focused on the participation of women and women’s issues. On Wednesday (October 15), La’Onf member organizations in Najaf spent the day at the college of Education for Girls, facilitating discussions about nonviolence as well as key issues in the upcoming elections. Over 250 students participated. In Babylon on Tuesday (October 14), the Organization of Girls in Iraq ran the festival for children and youth. And in Dhuhok on Monday (October 13), La’Onf’s representative body visited the headquarters of the Kurdistan Women’s Union to denounce violence against women. Today they will be visiting shelters and clinics for women and children that face domestic and social violence. And last Sunday (October 12), the La’Onf group in Al-Anbar conducted a workshop for women focused on increasing their participation in the upcoming elections. The workshop participants are now seeking to increase the proportion of women elected onto provincial councils. They assert that women’s representation is important because of their role in building the society and raising their children.
In Baghdad, Najaf, and Diwaniyah, the La’Onf coordinators are women who have all been active in the nonviolence organization from its earliest days. Zainab was very impressed that a significant number of women attended La’Onf’s meeting in Sadr City, Baghdad; several of them expressed concern that they would not be able to vote because of the security risk, especially for women. Salama has organized many pubic events to promote discussion of the elections in Diwaniyah, where she is the coordinator. She is also co-chair of La’Onf nationally. Thawwar, who is a high school teacher in Najaf, asks searching questions about the connections between how a society raises its children and the kinds of violence that exist in that society. She has challenged the use of corporal punishment in the classroom.