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30 Sep 2013

The decline of women rights in Iraq

  • Monday, 30 September 2013

The state of human rights as a whole in Iraq has been effectively in decline for decades. The collective impact of wars, embargos, repression and the lack of security and living essentials has negatively affected the Iraqi community in general. The condition of women inside Iraq is of particular interest when considering that females outnumber males in Iraq, the large number of female headed households, the increase in violence against women, and the continued marginalization of women rights and participation in the community and public offices.

Ironically, Iraq was historically a leader in “Women Rights” among the Arabic countries. In the 1950s, Iraq was the first Arab country to have a female minister, as well as the first to issue a law that gave women the ability to initiate divorces and dissolutions of marriage contracts. Iraq ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1986, seven years following the treaty’s initial drafting. However, the Baath era and the wars associated with it triggered a steady series of setbacks to Iraqi women’s progress, thus the social status and participation of women in their communities has been receding steadily since the 1990’s.

Today, with the country facing its most testing crisis, the women of Iraq outnumber males but are increasingly removed from the picture at a time where all inputs are needed to move forward. SGBV (Sexual and Gender Based Violence) usually increases in times of war and the periods that follow, which is a pattern that is evident in the Iraqi case. An Oxfam survey recently revealed that 55% of the female respondents had been a victim of violence and 22% had experienced domestic violence.

In terms of participation, women have been marginalized in the public sphere as the number of female ministers declined from six in 2003 to just one in the last 2010 government formation. Such discrimination against women in political office violates the Iraqi Constitution, which states that at least 25% of the parliament must be made up of women (since 2005). Furthermore, the quota system has not resulted in greater inclusion or support for women issues in the overall political agenda; instead women remain under-represented in local bodies and the national government. However, there are some positive points as the Iraqi constitution gave women the ability to pass their citizenship on to their children by non-Iraqi husbands, making Iraq one of a handful of Arabic countries with such a provision for their female citizens.

Poor education and awareness of rights severely limits the empowerment of women. According to recent UN statistics[1], 38.6% of women in Iraq do not view men and women as equals in society, while 31.5% think they are partially equal. Among women that consider men and women partially equal, 47.7% think the reason for the inequality is that men are superior. When looking deeper into the reasons behind the weak status of women, the same source indicates that 50% of all surveyed women think that the government and the parliament can empower women to perform their social role by providing support projects and providing equal opportunities.

As the status and participation of women is directly connected to economic growth, effective governance and stability, it is in Iraq’s best interest to reinforce the presence of women in the public and economic spheres and develop mechanisms to protect their rights. The latent power of women can be better utilized by providing a framework for inclusion and ensuring its application on the ground. Furthermore, stakeholders must work with the authorities to provide better protection for women, raising the community’s awareness on the role of women and the value of their participation, and providing tangible opportunities that enable women to contribute. In these uncertain and difficult times, protecting women’s rights and ensuring their participation cannot be considered simply a luxury; it is an absolute necessity in order to have a reasonable chance at successfully moving forward with the rebuilding and the healing of Iraq.

[1] UNCT – Women Fact Sheet – March 2013

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