Naziha al-Dulaimi

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Naziha Jawdet Ashgah al-Dulaimi (1923, Baghdad – 9 October 2007, Herdecke) was an early pioneer of the Iraqi feminist movement. She was a cofounder and first president of the Iraqi Women League 10-3-1952, the first woman minister in Iraq's modern history, and the first woman cabinet minister in the Arab world.


Al-Dulaimi, whose grandfather had left al-Mahmudia (Between Baghdad and Babylon) and settled in Baghdad in the late 19th century, was born in 1923. She studied medicine at the Royal College of Medicine (later attached to University of Baghdad). At the age of 19, she was one of few female students at the Medical College. Influenced by colleagues who were deeply concerned with the plight of the people and homeland, she joined the "Women's Society for Combating Fascism and Nazism" and was actively involved in its work. Later on, when the society changed its name to the "Association of Iraqi Women," she became a member of its executive committee.

In 1941 she graduated as a medical doctor. While still a college student, she had become familiar with the ideals and objectives of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). Nominated to the party membership in 1947, she became a full member of the ICP in 1948. In January 1948, Dr Naziha was actively involved in the popular uprising "al-Wathbah" against the colonialist Portsmouth Treaty, and in other patriotic struggles. Her increasing involvement in patriotic political work, and her growing awareness of the suffering of the people, as a result of oppression by the rulers and social backwardness, convinced her of the close interconnection between the struggle for patriotic objectives and the fight for social progress.

After graduating, she was appointed in the Royal Hospital in Baghdad, and was then transferred to Karkh Hospital. Throughout that period she was subjected to harassment by the security apparatus of the monarchy, because of her sympathy for the poor and the free medical treatment she offered them at her clinic in the Shawakah district. Transferred to Sulaimaniyah (in Kurdistan), her clinic once again turned into a refuge for destitute patients who received her care and support for free. From Sulaiminiyah she was transferred to other cities and provinces (Kerbala, Umarah) as punishment for the humanitarian sentiments she had expressed towards the poor, the free medical service she offered, and her patriotic political work.

But this forcible transfer allowed the young Dr. Naziha al-Dulaimi to see more closely the difficult conditions under which people were living in various parts of the country. It made her especially aware of the conditions and plight of Iraqi women. This experience led her to write a booklet entitled The Iraqi Woman.

She attempted to revive the Association of Iraqi Women and, supported by dozens of women activists, applied to the authorities to set up a 'Women's Liberation Society'. But her application was rejected "based on public interest requirements"! In response, the signatories led by Dr, Naziha, decided to go ahead and set up this organization anyway, though clandestinely, after changing its name to the League for Defending Iraqi Woman's Rights. The League thus came into being on 10 March 1952. Among the League's objectives were:

  • Struggling for national liberation and world peace;
  • Defending Iraqi women's rights;
  • Protection of Iraqi children.

Under the leadership and active participation of Dr Naziha the League (its name was subsequently changed to Iraqi Women's League) developed during the following years and turned into a mass organization after the 14 July 1958 Revolution. With its membership rising to 42,000 (out of a total population at the time of 8 million), it achieved many gains for Iraqi women, in particular the progressive Personal Status Law No. 188 (1959).

In appreciation of its role and achievements, the Iraqi Women's League became a permanent member of the Secretariat of the International Women's Federation. Dr Naziha was elected to the Federation's assembly and executive, and later became a vice-president of this international organization. She became a prominent women figure on an international level, as well as in the Arab world and "Third World."

During the 1950s, Dr Naziha was an active participant in the Iraqi Peace Movement, and was a member of the preparatory committee for the Peace Partisans conference that was held in Baghdad on 25 July 1954. She was also a member of the World Peace Council.

She spent the 1950s researching and eradicating the indigenous Bejel bacteria in southern Iraq.

After the monarchy was overthrown, she was picked by President Abd al-Karim Qasim as Minister of Municipalities in the 1959 cabinet as the sole representative of the ICP in his republican government. She was the first woman minister in Iraq's modern history, and the first woman cabinet minister in the Arab world. She later assumed the post of State Minister in a later cabinet formation.

During her government career, al-Dulaimi was instrumental in turning the vast slums of eastern Baghdad into a massive public works and housing project that came to be known as Thawra (Revolution) City—now Sadr City. She also helped author the secular 1959 Civil Affairs Law, which was way ahead of its time in liberalizing marriage and inheritance laws to the advantage of Iraqi women.

As a result of her multi-faceted activities in the Communist Party and the patriotic movement, Dr Naziha suffered considerable harassment and repression at various periods. She was forced to leave the country and go into exile several times. But this did not stop her from joining her comrades in the party and patriotic movement, and her sisters in the women's movement, in the struggle for women's legitimate and democratic rights.

Dr. Naziha was a true communist fighter, and a dedicated and reliable party cadre. She thus occupied a leading position in the party and became a member of its Central Committee. In the late 1970s, when the ruling dictatorial clique was preparing to launch its treacherous bloody campaign against the Iraqi Communist Party, she was a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee.

Throughout the years of her forced exile, she was totally and emotionally attached to her people and homeland and to their just cause. It is in this context that she played a prominent role in the leadership of the Committee for the Defense of the Iraqi People, set up after the fascist coup on 8 February 1963. The Committee was headed by the Iraqi poet Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri. Even during the 1990s, when she was old and frail, she did not cease her work in the women's movement, particularly in the Iraqi Women's League. The last important event in which she was actively involved was a seminar on the situation of Iraqi women, held in 1999 in Cologne, Germany.

She participated in preparations for the 5th Congress of the Iraqi Women's League, but before it was convened (in March 2002) she suffered a stroke that effectively paralyzed her.

She died on 9 October 2007 in Herdecke at the age of 84, after battling the effects of a debilitating stroke for several years. She is survived by her brother Hisham al-Delaimi who is currently in the United States of America and a number of nephews and nieces scattered between Iraq, Lebanon, Germany, England and USA, the eldest being Dr. Layth al-Delaimy


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