Reporters on the Job

FROM FLAK JACKET TO ABAYA: As she reported the three-part series on Iraq that starts Monday, the Monitor's Ann Scott Tyson found a little shopping was in order. She went with her interpreter to the market to purchase an abaya - an undertaking that drew a crowd and more than a few laughs.

But ducking under the head-to-toe covering, which Ann needed to enter mosques, gave her a sobering perspective on many women's experience - and certainly stood in sharp contrast to her first trip into Iraq as an embedded reporter with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

"I put on the abaya and sort of felt like Harry Potter in his invisibility cloak," Ann says about her trip to the mosque near Najaf. But she could hardly disappear. Ann went with her male interpreter into an area in the main courtyard. "One old man came up to me and tugged at the scarf, saying that my hair was showing a bit and the scarf needed to be pulled down."

Ann got further insight to the difficulties women can face when she visited the police station in Karbala. "There was a young woman totally covered up, crying, because she had been beaten up by mosque 'enforcers,' " Ann says. The woman - who had left her husband because he beat her - had taken a job searching women at the station. The enforcers accused her of taking prostitutes to the Americans - and they also wanted her to tell them the names of others who were working for the Americans.

"The women had taken the job simply to survive. But even the Iraqis at the station were saying she must be a prostitute, or else she'd be with her family. The Americans were saying that she couldn't win - and they couldn't help because they couldn't go to the mosque. Because she wasn't doing what was expected, she was automatically labeled a prostitute. It was quite upsetting: Her credibility was nonexistent because she wasn't in her place."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

CUltural snapshot

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