Iraq 10 years on: Women yet to regain their place

In the 1980s, the UN says, Iraqi women enjoyed more basic rights than other women in the region. But years of dictatorship, sanctions and conflict, including the US-led invasion one decade ago, led to deterioration in women’s status.

“Across the board, women are suffering more [than they used to],” said Sudipto Mukerjee, deputy head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Iraq.

Despite steps taken towards gender equality since 1990, Iraqi women today do not have equal educational or employment opportunities, and too many are subjected to gender-based violence

Due to years of war and political instability, 10 percent of households are headed by women, most of them widowed, but many of them divorced, separated or caring for sick spouses.

“They represent one of the most vulnerable segments of the population and are generally more exposed to poverty and food insecurity as a result of lower overall income levels,” the UN said in a March 2013 fact-sheet.


According to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) conducted by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the government, the ratio of girls to boys in primary school rose from 0.88 in 2006 to 0.94 in 2011; in secondary school, the ratio rose from 0.75 in 2006 to 0.85 in 2011. According to IRIN calculations, the enrolment of girls is growing at a faster rate than that of boys.

However, had Iraq progressed at the same rate as other countries in the region, according to UNICEF, it would have already reached 100 percent enrolment for both boys and girls in primary schools - achieving the third Millennium Development Goal of eliminating gender disparity in education.

According to Iraq Knowledge Network (IKN) survey of 2011, 28.2 percent of women 12 years or older are illiterate, more than double the male rate of 13 percent. Young women - those aged 15 to 24 - living in rural areas are even less educated; one-third of them are illiterate.


Similar inequality can be seen in the labour force.

According to the IKN survey, only 14 percent of women are working or actively seeking work, compared to 73 percent of men. Those who are employed are mostly working in the agricultural sector, and women with a diploma have a harder time finding jobs: 68 percent of women with a bachelor’s degree are unemployed.

The representation of women in parliament increased from 13 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2006, meeting the one-quarter female representation quota imposed in 2005, but this is still far below the national target of half.

Physical safety

Women’s health concerns have seen some gains. The percentage of births attended by skilled personnel has risen significantly in the last decade. And the maternal mortality rate - which at 84 per 100,000 births in 2006 was the highest in the region - appears to have dropped significantly, to 24 per 100,000 in 2011, according to the World Health Organization.

Still, domestic violence, honour killings, female genital mutilation (FGM) and human trafficking remain threats to many Iraqi women and girls. In the northern autonomous Kurdistan region, 42.8 percent of women have experienced FGM, according to the 2011 MICS.

In 2011, nearly half of girls aged 10 to 14 were exposed to violence at least once by a family member, and nearly half of married women were exposed to at least one form of spousal violence, mostly emotional, but also physical and sexual, according to a survey by the government and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

For more, check out this UN fact-sheet on women in Iraq.

For other development indicators, visit IRIN's series: Iraq 10 years on.