Average lifetime: 68 years
Infant mortality rate: 32/1000
Literacy rates: Women 69,9 percent, Men 86,3 percent
UNESCO statistics 2009
The conflict in Iraq can be explained by the fact that the country was an imperialistic creation of the British and the French who, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire conquered regions to administer. The British took three provinces of the fallen Ottoman Empire – Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul – and welded them together into one country. The provinces had previously been divided with the populations disparate and antagonistic toward one another. In the north were the Kurds, in the central region around Baghdad were the Arab Sunnis, and in the south, and most populous region, were the Arab Shiites. There were also many other, smaller, groups populating the area.
The authoritarian and militaristic Baath regime of Saddam Hussein favored the minority Sunni group. State implemented discriminations were enforced to repress the Shiites, and the Kurds were seen as a threat to Iraq’s survival. During Al Anfal (1986-1989), the extermination of every living thing was ordered during the attacks on the Kurdish north. An estimated 182 000 people were killed.
After the USA launched a war against Iraq in 2003, the Baath regime fell. 4,7 million people fled or were forced from their homes. Tensions between different ethnic and religious groups surfaced again and has led to an on-going fight for power. The number of documented civilian death toll from violence estimates at between 100 000 and 600 000. At the end of 2011 the US military withdrew from Iraq. Insurgency attacks have increased since the withdrawal.
Women’s participation in the peace process
The political groups in Iraq have been the centre of political discussions and negotiations in shaping the new Iraq. Peace negotiations and discussions have included all parties, but largely excluded women. Consequently the dialogue and agenda have been limited to hard security matters concerning militarism and boundaries. The peace and security perspectives of women are completely overlooked, as well as the strong connection between conflict and violence on the streets and the increased domestic violence that affect women.
After the US occupation women demanded that violence against women should be criminalized and that the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security should be implemented. These demands were ignored by the civil administration in Iraq. Of the 55 members of the committee working with Iraq´s new constitution, 8 were women. And only one of them did not belong to a religious party. Secular women were marginalized during the whole process.
How has the conflict affected women?
The latest Iraqi constitution, from 2005, explicitly guarantees women the right to public participation, voting and running for public office and a minimum of 25 percent parliamentary seats to women. In the Kurdistan parliament the quota is 30 percent. The competition is hard for women politicians as the political parties are not providing equal opportunities for women and men to fully participate in the party life. The party loyalty makes it difficult for women to co-operate on issues of common interest across party lines.
The constitution furthermore accords equal status to men and women. It specifies that no discrimination shall be based on sex and forbids violence within the family. But there are serious contradictions in the legislation regarding women’s rights. The constitution gives Iraqi citizens the right to choose between religious or civil courts in family law disputes (for example issues regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody). And religious courts strictly discard the rights of women. This means for example that a women only gets to inherit half as much as a man, that men are allowed to marry more than one woman and that adultery is a crime when committed by women but not by men.
Existing laws that in some form state women’s equal value are not implemented by courts or enforced by the police. So women advocate for the amendment and passing of new laws and training of police, lawyers, judges and prosecutors. In parallel to this, there are no politicians who put women’s situation on the political agenda or advocate that women rights should be a government priority. Women organizations try to mend some of the gaps by setting up shelters and women’s centers and offer legal support to women who have been victims of violence etc.
War widows and internally displaced people (IDPs)
With almost 1,8 million people internally displaced across all of Iraq and the majority of the IDPs being single women, children or elderly people, women organizations work increasingly with their situation.
These women who are either widows or divorced, and hence lack male relatives, are extremely vulnerable as governmental aid is lacking. Problems of poverty, shelter, lack of health care and unemployment has resulted in them being subjets of forced labour, trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Tens of thousands of women were already widowed since the war with Iran in the 1980s. The Iraqi government estimates the current number of widows to be between 900 000 and 1 000 000. The Ministry of Social Affairs pays widow’s benefits to 86 000 women, most of whom lost their husbands in the latest war, providing minimal assistance, about $80 a month.
Women’s situation in the Kurdistan region, Iraq
With its own constitution and judiciary system the Kurdistan region, Iraq, issues its own laws that do not go hand in hand with the Iraqi constitution. When the polygamy law was to be amended in the Kurdistan region’s parliament women activists called on its abolition, however, as this would go against the Iraqi constitution and the Sharia laws, it only became stricter to marry a second wife. The result has been that men travel south of the Kurdistan region borders where it is easier to marry and then return.
Significant progress has been made in the Kurdistan region as a law against domestic violence was approved in June 2011. In Iraq the penal code still gives a husband the right to hit his wife, a paragraph that has been changed in Kurdistan region. Furthermore in 2002 the Kurdistan region’s parliament repealed articles in the Iraqi law, making “honour” killings equally punishable as other killings.