There are some new faces among Iraqis who have made it their business to protect their neighborhoods and their nation from lawlessness and nihilism, and they are not what you might expect. The Sons of Iraq are being joined by a small but growing number of daughters.
The LA Times reports that approximately 900 out of the roughly 90,000 citizen security sentinels are women who have come forward to perform duties like searching females at some checkpoints and within key facilities such as government buildings and hospitals. Islamic proscriptions against such tasks being performed by men have created a marked security hole, through which an alarming number of female suicide/homicide bombers have slipped. The "Daughters of Iraq" are thus far prohibited from carrying weapons in the performance of their duties, and cannot operate at open-air checkpoints or markets. However, their presence creates a deterrent which cannot help but increase operational risk for planners of suicide operations utilizing women.
But the significance of having women perform these duties goes even beyond the obvious benefit of allowing the search of potential female bombers. The presence of women in societal roles which are traditionally the exclusive province of men could be a tremendously empowering factor. It creates a strong counter-narrative to the idea that women cannot handle such jobs, a precedent which will be extremely difficult to erase from Iraqi society going forward. Naturally, the example of "Rosie the Riveter" comes to mind. The American women who worked in WW2-era factories may have been de-mobbed after the War, but the imprint of strong, capable females stepping up to a plate which didn't have dinner on it was permanently etched on the American zeitgeist, and had a profound influence on subsequent feminist thought and activism. I sincerely hope that a similarly salubrious set of memes will inoculate the women of Iraq against passivity in the face of reactionary pressures to retreat back into the home and hijab.
It is a telling dichotomy indeed which exists between al Qaeda in Iraq, and the irregular security forces of the legitimate Iraqi government. The former taps into the rage and helplessness of women who have no path to honor and productiveness, and seduces them into laying down their lives in the cause of their own servitude. The latter offers a way to earn a respectable income protecting their families and their communities from the depredations of enemies whose berserker rage erupts from a pathology of powerlessness...and to discover a measure of their own power in the process.
EDITED: 6/4/2008, for clarity and flow