Remaining Barriers to Women’s Rights in Iraq


SEATTLE, Washington — With years of conflict and a history of being overlooked, the women of Iraq have had to climb a steep mountain towards equality. Men have dominated most of the households, labor force and other opportunities essential to living a prosperous life. Policies and bills implemented in the past have been undeniably discriminatory against women and girls. These political decisions and legislation have omitted women from decision making for years. Lack of representation and poverty have played roles in limiting women’s rights in Iraq as well.

Foreign and Domestic Conflict

The women of Iraq have endured lots of hardship due to losing their husbands and/or partners to war. Decades of fighting with Iran, the 1991 Gulf War and the U.S war post 9/11 have resulted in many Iraqi widows. With men being the breadwinners of their households and women relying on them, the aftermath of losing these men has been detrimental to women. It’s hard for women to make enough money on their own and, therefore, their families often fall victim to poverty. Aside from conflict hurting women’s rights in Iraq, women and girls have also been killed by their own people. In 2001, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women reported that “honor killings” took the lives of 4,000 women and girls.

Household Roles

Males have been the dominant member of families and overall Iraqi society for years, while the women have been on the back burner. For every 10 households in Iraq, only one family can say the head of the house is a woman according to the United Nations Development Program in Iraq. Also, due to recent conflicts, women have held jobs traditionally held by men. However, those opportunities don’t last long when the men come back home.

In October of 2014, Iraq’s prime minister implemented a law that highly restricted the movement of women. The law gave men the ability to divorce their wives for multiple reasons. Meanwhile, women can only divorce their husbands if they become impotent or lose their penises. The law also prevents women from deciding whether or not they want to have sex with their husbands. Additionally, women can’t leave the house unless given permission from their male partners.

Economy Issues and Push Back

Trying to find work has also been an immense challenge for the women of Iraq who face so many barriers. Some of these barriers involve male dominance in the workplace and at times physical and/or sexual harassment. Only 2% of female heads of households the International Organization for Migration interviewed are employed with a consistent income rate. Another 6% are just getting by with odd jobs. The other 92% of women in this interview that do not work remain in the traditional, submissive role of females.

Giving women the opportunity to make a steady income in high-income occupations might empower them to play a role in government decision making. In turn, they could use their resources and platform to continue to fight for their rights. Last October, in a watershed moment in the gender equality fight, a mass number of women and girls protested in the streets against several issues concerning women’s rights in Iraq. They were protesting against social, political and economic practices in Iraq that have prolonged male dominance and violence towards women. By allowing women to be more involved, women’s rights in Iraq can move forward

– Dorian Ducre

Photo: Flickr


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