Voices of Iraqi Jewish Women, 1921-52

Stuart 101

This lecture examines the history of Jewish women in Iraq from 1921 to 1952. These women lived in a society where the rights of all women were expanding. The debate about the rights and duties of Jewish women was conducted both within the boundaries of the Jewish community and outside these boundaries. The push for women’s rights often met with resistance from conservatives, whether they were rabbis or nationalists who saw women as nothing more than mothers responsible for raising the next generation of Iraqi patriots. By appropriating national discourses and challenging them in equal degrees, however, Iraqi Jewish women became more educated, entering the labor market in large numbers. They worked as writers, journalists, and poets, and they represented Iraq in international conferences concerning women's rights. The nonsectarian and pluralistic outlook of some prominent Iraqi Muslim intellectuals who challenged social norms grounded in religion and cultural norms deserved a fair amount of the credit for these positive processes. In the 1940s and 1950s, radical voices among Iraqi Jewish women took center stage, and women found new political avenues for the expression of their hopes, anger, and anxieties. This lecture will detail these processes and introduce translations of works written by Iraqi Jews at the period.