Eileen Padberg Goes to Iraq in Support of Women Contractors 01/01/2005
Jan 1, 2005, Eileen Padberg — Women In Leadership
The first elections in Iraq since 1958 were a huge success! Since we now have cable television in our trailer, I was able to watch CNN, BBC and Fox News all day. It was so exciting. I was really moved by the many women that risked their lives to vote. It is always worse for them. I know that you were watching the same coverage – those smiling faces. It brought back memories of when I was in Guatemala for their first ever democratic elections. They didn’t have as many choices that the Iraqis had, and their candidates were rumored to be military coup candidates. When I asked them why they were voting, they would always smile and say, “Because we can.”
I was reminded by my friend Ladonna Lee this morning that she was in Haiti for the first democratic elections. The gorillas there machined gunned the place where the elections were taking place, killing many US AID workers. But the people were determined to vote. The voters were hiding behind huge concrete barriers and one at a time they would run in, all crouched down, vote and run back behind the barriers – while the gorillas were shooting at them. I only wish our own citizens thought voting was as important.
No matter what the turnout is here – and some say it is 70% – the elections will have been a success. No one here has been allowed to vote at all since 1958. And, just like the US, large numbers of voters chose not to vote – that is also their right. If you choose to sit it out, then you have little say in the construction of their first constitution.
The insurgents threw everything at us in the last few days trying mightily to scare the Iraqis away from voting. Literally on Saturday night there must have been 40 mortars, explosions and lots of gunfire. I kept trying to decide whether to put on my vest and helmet. One mortar hit the Palace/Embassy. Two people were killed, two people that I knew – although not very well, and many others were injured. If the mortar had exploded a lot more people would have died, but it did not explode.
We, as you know were not allowed to come to the office. We closed at 4:00 pm on Saturday and were not allowed back until today – Monday. Everyone in charge of security here were more worried that a mortar or even a suicide bomber would attack our building which is a prime target.
We won’t know for another 10-15 days whether or not Esra’s mother will win a seat. I am very excited for her. She says it isn’t about winning – but about running and putting yourself out there as a candidate.
Regardless of our reasons for being here in Iraq, I wanted all of you to know how proud I was when I watched the many people risking their lives to vote – and knowing that many of the voters were women. I was also proud when I watched as the cars took our own Iraqi ex-pats to the convention center to vote. I was not allowed to go because of security, but I was there in spirit as I sent Esra off. They all came back and held up their index fingers covered in purple ink.
I believe that yesterday’s elections brought a new sense of pride to the Iraqis. I don’t think that the insurgents will go quietly away, but I do think we will begin to see more Iraqis standing up for themselves in the coming months.
Esra and I are busy working on our next conference in Kirkurk. The travel and accommodations are incredibly challenging. No one is in charge! I’ve already lost my temper three times this morning. We started the process a week ago and we are not closer to securing a place or what they call around here – life support (accommodations, security and food).
Anyway, all is well. Thank you for your continued support.
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