Mona al-Hilali

Produced by: Yara Chehayed
Part of the Curated Collection: Taboos & Society,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Iraq
Production Team:
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I am Mona al-Hilali from Iraq, southern Iraq, from Dhi Qar Governorate, from a small district called al-Shatrah district, a district distinguished by customs and traditions and everything difficult. I was one of the pioneers of humanitarian work and one of the pioneers of journalistic work in this district. I am the first woman to enter the world of the Internet and Internet cafes, and also the first woman in the district and governorate to open a civil society organization whose purpose is to defend women's rights. I did that over the years under very difficult circumstances, conditions governed by a bad security situation, customs, traditions and many dangers, but thanks to Allah I was able to overcome some of them.

My work as a journalist and my work in civil society was a strict taboo. Everyone knows that there are very limited rights for women and that they do not have the space to travel, go out and move between countries. The field of work was also not available to them, but, thanks to Allah, I became a pioneer and a role model for many women. Before, the Internet was not available in homes, and it was only available in cafes. I was the only woman with a group of men sitting in a coffee shop. Of course, this caused me embarrassment in many situations with my first-degree relatives. They used to complain about me to my parents and wondering how I could sit in such places as a woman. But praise be to Allah, my family was somewhat understanding and believed in the work I did in terms of leading community work and campaigns to defend women's rights and help their relief, and they supported me, whether my husband or my father in particular. If we can find a definition of social taboos. We are a tribal society in which it is difficult for women to move from one place to another. I have reached this age, and yet I still face some of these taboos. I cannot take off my veil, and I have given up one of my hobbies, which is popular poetry. I had many contributions, but with the increasing abuse of women poets with words and accusations that persecute them, I decided to leave this field despite being very creative in it, and my family is also one of the first pioneers of popular poetry in Iraq.

I come from a clan and from a very big family that sees me as a leading woman and as a reliable person. However, there are some things that no woman can overcome, and they also make it difficult for my family and friends, such as enduring criticism and obscene words, especially comments on the Internet, defamation of honour, and others. These things happen to us in Iraq, and I do not want my family to be exposed to such situations, especially now that I have grandchildren and I have other families that have entered my life, such as the families of my daughters’ husbands and the family of my son’s wife. I went out of the ordinary, from the usual, which is followed by my family and my clan.

There are many girls who cannot appear in the field of popular poetry. It is not possible for them to appear on screen as poets, but they write poetry and present it under an alias name. Being the leader of women's organizations, I am always involved with the problems of these women. For example, I currently have a case of a battered woman. This woman is a basketball player and is currently confined to her home because she was not allowed to travel from Nasiriyah, her home city, to Erbil in order to attend a tournament. Many of those who practice these hobbies are subjected to such violence. Many women in our southern governorates have become shelved because of customs, traditions, and society's view of these hobbies.

There are some discriminatory laws that are considered social taboos. When talking about women, we find that some discriminatory laws stand a very big obstacle in front of women, as well as customs and traditions. We, as a society in southern Iraq, are a closed society, a society dominated by customs, traditions, and sectarian and religious strife, which stands as an obstacle to women. If we talk about the political situation in Iraq, we find that women do not have political opportunities to be part of peace convoys, nor are they participants in negotiation, nor are they participants in decision-making positions. They are controlled by virtue of customs and traditions, in addition to sectarian and religious strife. Likewise, the partisan domination of female politicians, which makes them unable to take any step if the party does not agree with this. Therefore, as women, they cannot participate in the prosperity and peace of the country.