IRAQ

Backlash against ‘immoral’ Iraq trend of kissing politicians’ posters

 Although the issue of security was foremost in most people’s minds during the lead-up to Iraq’s legislative elections, held on April 30, some Iraqis were preoccupied with a rather different issue – kissing posters of female candidates. This phenomenon quickly generated backlash.

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Photos of an Iraqi civilian and a police officer kissing the posters of female candidates for the legislative elections.

 

Although the issue of security was foremost in most people’s minds during the lead-up to Iraq’s legislative elections, held on April 30, some Iraqis were preoccupied with a rather different issue – kissing posters of female candidates. This phenomenon quickly generated backlash.

 

A number of photos of young Iraqis kissing female candidates’ posters on the mouth were uploaded to Facebook and Twitter during the campaign. Several of the candidates have said they found this distasteful. However, some have defended the actions on social networks, claiming that it is an expression of frustration about low salaries and high unemployment, which is preventing young people from getting married.

 

The Iraqi Minister for Women’s Affairs firmly condemned this behaviour, which she characterised as disrespectful and “immoral”. Furthermore, the president of the commission in charge of running the election claimed that certain actions would be taken against these young men, without being more specific.

 

A young man kissing the poster of a female candidate, with help from a friend.  

"During the elections, many female candidates display their faces, and some aren’t veiled. So these men see it as an opportunity to express their frustration"

Hana Edward is an Iraqi feminist activist.

 

"These actions need to be framed in the current Iraqi social context. The relationship between young men and women is very complex here. Schools are generally not co-ed, and interactions between the genders are strictly supervised at universities. If there is any hint of a relationship between a female and male student, they may be expelled. As for going out, there are basically no public places where young men and women can meet without generating gossip and rumours. Cafes tend to be only for men.

 

Iraq has always been very conservative, but it has gotten worse in the last years with the return to power of Islamist parties and radical religious discourse in public spaces. As a result, all this frustration means that young men only see women as sex objects. This is the case even during the electoral period, with respect to female politicians. And since, because of the elections, female candidates are showing their faces — some without wearing a veil — they see it as an opportunity to express their frustration through this type of behaviour.

 

 

It’s true that some female politicians use their physique to get noticed by the electorate. This doesn’t really shock me, because having an attractive physical presence is important in political communication. But people tend to criticise them, saying they do this because they have no policy platform. As if the other candidates did! The entire political class is to blame on this point, since, most of the time, candidates win based on their ethnic or tribal background. But in a context of equal incompetence, it’s the women who are targeted. And they’re also the ones who get blamed for the young men’s behaviour, for being ‘too good-looking’.

 

The Iraqi constitution has a minimum quota for women, requiring that 25% of seats in the parliament be reserved for them [Editor’s note: out of 328 seats in total]. Then, there is the reality on the ground. When you look at the list of candidates, men are always listed on top, and women are relegated to last place. So, yes, it’s a good thing that the authorities are reacting against this degrading phenomenon. But if we want it to stop, politicians should lead the way by having more consideration for women in politics. Female politicians may actually have something to contribute; they shouldn’t be used just to look nice!"

 

A poster for the counter-campaign: “Together to stop the degrading campaign against female politicians” 

 

 Of the 9,040 candidates, 2,500 were women. The results of the legislative election will be released on May 15.

 

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira (@SarraGrira).