Women in Iraq

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Women in Iraq
Iraqi women in their kitchen preparing a meal for a luncheon.jpg
Iraqi women in their kitchen preparing a meal for a luncheon.
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.557 (2012)
Rank 120th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 63 (2010)
Women in parliament 25.2% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 22.0% (2010)
Women in labour force 14.5% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index
Value NR (2012)
Rank NR out of 136

Women in Iraq at the beginning of the 21st century are immersed in social upheaval. Their social status is affected by many factors: wars (most recently the Iraq War), sectarian religious conflict, debates concerning Islamic law and Iraq's Constitution, cultural traditions, and modern secularism. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women are widowed as a result of a series of wars and internal conflicts. Women's rights organizations struggle against harassment and intimidation while they work to promote improvements to women's status in the law, in education, the workplace, and many other spheres of Iraqi life.


The gender gap with regard to Iraq's literacy rate is narrowing. Overall, 26% of Iraqi women are illiterate, and 11% of Iraqi men. For youth aged 15–24 years, the literacy rate is 80% for young women, and 85% for young men.[1] Girls are less likely than male students to continue their education beyond the primary level, and their enrollment numbers drop sharply after that. Education levels attained by Iraqi women and men in 2007 were:[2]

Level of education Female (%) Male (%) Total (%)
Primary 28.2 30.2 29.2
Secondary 9.6 13.7 11.6
Preparatory (upper secondary) 5.0 8.9 6.9
Diploma 3.8 5.4 4.6
Higher 3.1 5.6 4.4

Women's rights[edit]

An Iraqi girl, center, runs to show her identification card to members of the 7th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Federal Police Division so she may receive a backpack filled with school supplies April 14, 2011, 2011, during 110412-A-WI226-084.jpg

On International Women's Day, 8 March 2011, a coalition of 17 Iraqi women's rights groups formed the National Network to Combat Violence Against Women in Iraq.[3]

The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) is another Non-governmental organization committed to the defense of women's rights in Iraq. It has been very active in Iraq for several years, with thousands of members, and it is the Iraqi women's rights organization with the largest international profile. It was founded in June 2003 by Yanar Mohammed, Nasik Ahmad and Nadia Mahmood. It defends full social equality between women and men and secularism, and fights against Islamic fundamentalism and the American occupation of Iraq. Its president is Yanar Mohammed.

OWFI originated with the Organisation indépendante des femmes, active in Kurdistan from 1992 to 2003 despite government and religious oppression, and the Coalition de défense des droits des femmes irakiennes, founded in 1998 by Iraqi women in exile. OWFI concentrates its activities on the fight against sharia law, against abduction and murder of women and against honour killings. Thousands of members strong, it has at its disposal a network of support from outside Iraq, notably from the United States. It also has members in Great Britain, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Its activists and its directors have many times been the object of death threats from Islamic organizations.

The circumstances resulting from the Gulf War and then the Kurdish uprising in Iraq in 1991, gave the Kurdish region of Iraq an essentially autonomous situation for a period, despite the conflicts between zones controlled by the largest nationalist parties. This allowed the development of some claims to women's rights, which in turn influenced some of the women who would become active in founding OWFI.

The founding statement of OWFI contains a mandate in six points :

  • To put in place a humanist law founded on equality and the assurance of the greatest freedom for women, and to abolish all forms of discriminatory laws;
  • To separate religion from the government and education;
  • To put an end to all forms of violence against women and honour killings, and to push for punishment for the murderers of women;
  • To abolish mandatory wearing of veils, the veil for children and to protect freedom of dress;
  • To put in place the equal participation of women and men in all social, economic, administrative and political spheres, at every level;
  • To abolish gender segregation in schools at all levels.


Some militant women's rights advocates in Iraq, who seek to establish a dialogue with Islamist women, maintain a distance from the radical feminism and secularism of OWFI.[5]

Sharia law[edit]

Seldom worn at home by young urban women, the wearing of the black veil has expanded rapidly in Iraq under pressure from Islamists since 2003.

On January 29, 2004, the interim Iraqi government, supported by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and despite the strong opposition of the American Administrator Paul Bremer, launched Resolution 137 which introduced sharia law in the "law on personal civil status", which since 1958 established rights and freedoms for Iraqi women. This resolution permitted very different interpretations from the law of 1958 on the part of religious communities. It opened an additional breach in the civil law and risked exacerbating inter-religious tensions in Iraq.[6] In a statement, OWFI affirmed :

Iraq is a secular society. Women and men in Iraq never imagined that they would defeat Baaist Fascism only to have it replaced with an Islamic dictatorship.[7]

Despite its reputation for being relatively secular, sharia law was never totally absent from Iraq before 2003. The "law on personal civil status" provided that, in the case that it was not expressly forbidden in the law, it would be sharia law that would prevail.[8] A coalition of 85 women's organizations, through means of international communication, launched a protest movement.[8] One month later, on January 29, 2004, the resolution was withdrawn.[9]

Beginning in September 2004, OWFI launched a new campaign against the forced wearing of the veil being enforced by Islamic militias, notably in the universities.[10]

In 2005, there was once again debate over the new constitution, which considered islam as one of the sources of Iraqi law.

The outline of the constitution proposes, in article 14, the repeal of existing law and to refer merely to family law, in concordance with Islamic sharia law and other religious codes in Iraq. In other words, it makes women vulnerable to all forms of inequality and social discrimination. and makes them second class citizens, lesser human beings

writes Yanar Mohammed[11] For the same reasons, OWFI denounced the 2005 elections, dominates by parties hostile to women's rights.[12]

Women's groups also denounce "pleasure marriages", based on a practise commonly believed to be founded on Islamic law, which was revived during the occupation of Iraq: it authorizes a man to marry a woman, through a money gift, for a determined period of time. In most cases, groups such as OWFI charge, it provides a legal cover for prostitution. [13]

Honour crimes[edit]

Attitudes towards domestic violence are ambivalent even among women. A UNICEF survey of adolescent girls aged 15–19, covering the years 2002-2009, asked them if they think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances; 57% responded yes.[1]

In 1990, Saddam Hussein introduced in a new penal code article 111, exempting from punishment a man who kills a woman in defense of the honour of his family.[14] Since then, honour crimes have not ceased to grow.

Information supplied by OWFI on the resurgence of honour crimes since 2003 was included in the September 2006 report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).[15]


OWFI created shelters in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Arbil and Nassiriya for women and couples whose families have threatened them with honour crimes.[16] The location of shelters was kept secret and they were under permanent guard. A crisis phone line number was available in each issue of 'al-Moussawat. An "underground railroad" was put in place, with the help of the American association Madre, to allow some women to clandestinely escape the country.[16] Several other organizations from abroad assisted this initiative.[10][17][18]

Since the end of 2007, the shelters, determined to be too dangerous for the residents, were closed and many of the women were accommodated in host families. The operation costs OWFI around $60,000 per year.[19]

Abductions and killings of women[edit]

Beginning in August 2003, OWFI organized a protest to attract attention to the rapid growth in rapes and abductions.[10] A letter sent by OWFI to Paul Bremer, in charge of the American administration in Iraq, on the question of violence against women, remained unanswered.[20]

An enquiry was initiated by OWFI to examine abductions and killings of women. Yanar Mohammed comes to the following conclusion :

According to our estimates, no fewer than 30 women were executed by the militias in Bagdad and in the suburbs. During the first ten days of November 2007, more than 150 unclaimed women's corpses, most of them decapitated, mutilated, or having evidence of extreme torture, were processed through the Bagdad morgue.[16]

For OWFI, these deaths are linked to honour crimes,[21] but in this case, in a new form, since the killings are taken beyond the family circle to become the business of paramilitary groups.

Beginning in 2006, OWFI initiated an enquiry into the link between widespread abductions of women and prostitution networks. Activists for women's rights in Iraq have mapped and studied prostitution in their country to understand how it functions and how trafficking spreads, showing that the majority of prostitutes are minors and that the trafficking networks extend throughout the Middle East. This campaign of enquiry, publicized by an interview on the channel MBC in May 2009, was denounced by the pro-government channel Al-Iraqia, which held that it constituted a "humiliation for Iraqi women".[22] Indeed, shortly before his resignation, MInister of Women's Affairs Nawal al-Samarraie had declared that the traffic in prostitution was limited and that the young women were involved voluntarily, which Yanar Mohammed had denounced.[23]

Women's prisons[edit]

OWFI has set up an observation group of activists, directed by Dalal Jumaa, which focusses its action on the defense of the rights of women in prison and in police detention. It has notably obtained authorization to regularly visit the Khadidimya prison, in Baghdad, and to denounce the detention conditions: rapes during interrogations, poor treatment, and the presence of children in the cells. OWFI has taken part in negotiations with the municipality of Bagdad to open a daycare in proximity to the prison.[24] In 2009, OWFI was alerted to the situation of 11 women condemned to death, detained in this prison, after the execution of one among them.[25] In 2010, OWFI observers met young girls aged 12 years, expelled from Saudi Arabia for prostitution and imprisoned in Iraq.[22] In February 2014 Human Rights Watch released a 105-page report 'No One is Safe' alleging there are thousands of Iraqi women in jails being held without charge, that are being routinely tortured, beaten, and raped.[26]

Women's workplace rights[edit]

In February 2004, OWFI launched a campaign to support fifty female bank employees held on charges of embezzling millions during exchange operations involving banknotes. Embarrassed by the affair, U.S. authorities freed them and their informant was arrested.[27]

OWFI has denounced the Islamist-influenced licensing process for women in professions. Nuha Salim declared :

The insurgents and militias do not want us in the professional sphere for various reasons: some because they believe women were born to stay at home - and cook and clean -- and others because they say that it is contrary to Islam that a man and woman should find themselves in the same place if they are not related.[28]


  1. ^ a b "UNICEF - Iraq - Statistics". UNICEF. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Life for Iraq". UNESCO. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Founding Statement, National Network to Combat Violence Against Women in Iraq". Women's Leadership Institute. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) Founding Statement". Worker-communist Party of Iran. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  5. ^ (English) Nadje Al-Ali,Nadje Sadig Al-Ali,Nicola Christine Pratt, What kind of liberation? Women and the occupation of Iraq, University of California Press, 2009 p. 130.
  6. ^ (English) Isobel Coleman, Women, Islam, and the New Iraq, Foreign affairs, January / February 2006.
  7. ^ (English) OWFI, Statement of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq on the Governing Council’s adoption of Islamic Shari’a, January 14, 2004
  8. ^ a b Nicolas Dessaux, La lutte des femmes en Irak avant et depuis l’occupation, Courant Alternatif, n° 148, avril 2005.
  9. ^ "Chaos de la societe civile". Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c Laurent Scapin, Interview d’Houzan Mahmoud : Irak, Résistance ouvrière et féministe (2/2), Alternative libertaire, novembre 2004.
  11. ^ Yanar Mohammed, Irak : une constitution inhumaine pour les femmes.
  12. ^ (English) Nadje Al-Ali,Nadje Sadig Al-Ali,Nicola Christine Pratt, What kind of liberation? Women and the occupation of Iraq, University of California Press, 2009 p. 105.
  13. ^ Jervis, Rick (May 4, 2005). "'Pleasure marriages' regain popularity in Iraq". USA Today. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  14. ^ Nicolas Dessaux, Les femmes dans le marasme irakien, Bulletin de l'Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture n° 273, 2007.
  15. ^ (English) Iraq: Analysts say violence will continue to increase, IRIN, 21 septembre 2006.
  16. ^ a b c (English) Madre's Sister Organization in Iraq. The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, Madre, 2007.
  17. ^ (English) Shelter gives strength to women, IRIN, 12 décembre 2003.
  18. ^ (English) Nadia Mahmoud, Supporting a Women’s Shelter in Baghdad is a humanitarian task!, 25 août 2003.
  19. ^ (English) Anna Badkhen, Baghdad Underground, Summer 2009.
  20. ^ Enloe, Cynthia (2004). The curious feminist. Searching for Women in a new Age of Empire. University of California Press. pp. 301–302. 
  21. ^ (English) Vidéo : Fighting for women's rights in Iraq, interview de Yanar Mohammed au sujet du meurtre de Dua Khalil Aswad, 26 juin 2007, sur le site CNN.
  22. ^ a b (English) OWFI, Prostitution and Trafficking of Women and Girls in Iraq, March 2010.
  23. ^ "Iraq's unspeakable crime: Mothers pimping daughters". Time Magazine. March 7, 2009. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  24. ^ Organisation pour la liberté des femmes, Rapport été 2006
  25. ^ (English) Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, The Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has launched an on-line petition calling on the Iraqi Government to end capital punishment., 25 juillet 2009.
  26. ^ "Abu Ghraib culture lives on in Iraq prisons". ’’Iraq Sun’’. Retrieved February 13, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Eyewitness view of women in Iraq". News and Letters. Retrieved August 21, 2011. 
  28. ^ Irakiennes forcées au chômage et au divorce, IRIN, June 1, 2007.


  • Nicolas Dessaux, Résistances irakiennes : contre l'occupation, l'islamisme et le capitalisme, Paris, L'Échappée, coll. Dans la mêlée, 2006. Critiques par le Monde Diplomatique, Dissidences, Ni patrie, ni frontières. Publié en turc sous le titre Irak'ta Sol Muhalefet İşgale, İslamcılığa ve Kapitalizme Karşı Direnişle, Versus Kitap / Praxis Kitaplığı Dizisi, 2007. ISBN 978-2-915830-10-1 [Interviews de personnalités de la résistance civile irakienne, dont Surma Hamid, Houzan Mahmoud et Nadia Mahmood, avec notes et introduction permettant de les contextualiser]
  • Yifat Susskind, Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq, Madre, 2007 (lire en ligne, lire en format .pdf) [Bilan de la situation des femmes en Irak depuis 2003]
  • Houzan Mahmoud, Genre et développement. Les acteurs et actrices des droits des femmes et de la solidarité internationale se rencontrent et échangent sur leurs pratiques. Actes du colloque 30 et 31 mars, Lille , Paris, L'Harmattan, 2008, p. 67-76.
  • Osamu Kimura, Iraqi Civil Resistance, Video series « Creating the 21th [sic?] Century » n° 8, VHS/DVD, Mabui-Cine Coop Co. Ltd, 2005 [DVD produced in Japan profiling several civil rights activist organizations in Iraq, one of which is OWFI.
  • Osamu Kimura, Go forward, Iraq Freedom Congress. Iraq Civil Resistance Part II, Video series « Creating the 21th [sic?] Century » n° 9, VHS/DVD, Mabui-Cine Coop Co. Ltd, 2005 [durée : 32 mn] (DVD documentary produced in Japan focussed on civil resistance in Iraq, notably includes an interview with Yanar Mohammed.)

External links[edit]