Iraqi women are putting their lives at risk to run for seats in a new national assembly. The Los Angeles Times reported that female candidates in Iraq have been especially targeted by religious fundamentalists.

One female candidate was killed in December, and another was kidnapped and held for ransom. A third managed to survive an assassination attempt in May, but lost her son in the attack. Many Iraqi women are afraid to mention to friends and family that they are running for office, according to the Times. Other candidates are sending their families out of Iraq for safety.

Nevertheless, about a dozen women with established national profiles are running publicly. The rest of the women in Iraq’s upcoming elections are running, but in secret. After withdrawing their names publicly but remain candidates privately, these candidates will assume seats if their slates get enough support. Voters will choose among slates; each slate will be allotted assembly seats based on how many votes it gets.

Iraq’s interim constitution sets aside, as a minimum, 25 percent of the seats in the legislature for women. Many women, especially those that have lost their civil rights in Iraq, have told the press that they feel the Jan. 30 election could provide them with a chance to help form a government that would empower women and the opportunity is worth the risks.

Other reasons to cheer this week:

–Essence, a magazine for women of color, has embarked upon an effort to challenge the prevalence of misogyny and sexism in hip-hop music and videos. The 12-month campaign, entitled “Take Back the Music,” seeks to incite public dialogue via magazine articles that offer a range of perspectives on the entertainment industry. The campaign was announced in the January issue and has earned praise from members of the black community. Commentator and critic Stanley Crouch wrote in his Daily News column that Essence is the “first powerful presence in the black media with the courage to examine the cultural pollution that is too often excused because of the wealth it brings to knuckleheads and amoral executives.”

–A new test will allow pregnant women to test for Down Syndrome and Trisomy 18 in early in their first trimester. NTD Labs, a bio-medical laboratory dedicated to pre-natal screening for birth defects, announced today that its at-home blood test provides early risk assessment with 91 percent accuracy. The test allows the patient to perform an at-home blood test as early as nine weeks of pregnancy. Other versions of the test require women to give a blood sample at the time of the 11-week ultrasound examination, meaning the patient must wait days after the ultrasound to know her baby’s status.

For more information:

Essence, Take Back the Music–

Letter from President Summers on women and science, posted Jan. 19–

Discontinuation of Women Workers Employment Series and Other Planned Changes to the Current Employment Statistics Survey:


Outrage erupted late last week when Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers suggested that women may not have the same innate abilities in math and science as men. Summers has spent most of this week explaining and elaborating on his remarks, which were made at a conference on women and minorities in science and engineering, yet has not issued a retraction.

In the third public statement issued in three days, Summers wrote about the reaction to his comments as if it were a misunderstanding. “I was wrong to have spoken in a way that has resulted in an unintended signal of discouragement to talented girls and women,” Mr. Summers said in a letter that was posted on his Harvard Web site. “Despite reports to the contrary, I did not say, and I do not believe, that girls are intellectually less able than boys or that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of science,” he wrote.

Then, on Thursday, Summers apologized personally to a group of distinguished women professors. The Standing Committee on Women had reproached Dr. Summers in a letter on Tuesday, saying his remarks “did not serve our institution well” and had reinforced an institutional culture at Harvard that has made it difficult to recruit top women scholars. More than 100 professors on Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences had added their names to a letter endorsing the reproachful letter sent to him by the standing committee.

Despite the fact that some news outlets have referred to Summers’ recent tone as “contrite,” the National Organization for Women has called for his resignation from the presidency. A statement the organization released Friday said that Summers “has failed to lead the prominent (and previously all-male) university toward true inclusion of women. His recent comments generated a firestorm of response from Harvard/Radcliffe women who were outraged that he would embarrass Harvard with such a public demonstration of sexism and ignorance.”

Other reasons to jeer:

–A group of Iranian journalists have reported that they received death threats from government officials after testifying before a presidential commission about being tortured while in detention. Fereshteh Ghazi, who writes about women’s rights issues in a daily newspaper, told the commission that she endured severe beatings and a broken nose, according to Human Rights Watch.

— The Department of Labor is deciding whether it should continue to include gender information (and thus information specifically about women) on employment surveys. The current payroll survey provides detailed data, by gender, on employment, hours and wages of over 300,000 non-farm workers on a monthly basis. Citing a lack of demand for the information, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has proposed to stop collecting and reporting data by gender after July 2005. A letter requesting a reconsideration of this decision is being circulated in Congress.