Baghdad cafe waitresses break down barriers

Sun May 2, 2010 5:50am EDT
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By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Hind al-Bidairi's dream of owning a cafe with an all-female waiting staff haunted her for years while Iraq was gripped by sectarian violence.

Islamic fundamentalists would most likely have slaughtered her and her employees had she dared.

But now, as Iraq struggles free from widespread bloodshed and the Islamist militia and insurgents who once sowed terror by killing women they considered inappropriately dressed have retreated to the shadows, her dream has come true.

"I stand behind every woman trying to change the pattern of our society, to show that women are strong and have the right to get involved in all kinds of business," Bidairi said.

In the sectarian war that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, groups like al-Qaeda fought to establish a system where the wearing of western style clothing by women instead of the hijab -- a Muslim headscarf -- was "haram," forbidden.

Running a business that employed waitresses would likely have been viewed with outrage by religious purists.

The rise to power of Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority after the fall of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein was accompanied by the rise of religious parties not all that sympathetic to calls for gender equality.

Violence has fallen sharply, although there are still daily bombings and attacks by a stubborn Sunni insurgency.   Continued...