Women's situation

Iraq is a war-torn country, characterized by an absence of the rule of law, corruption, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) and a weak state that does not have the capacity to protect its citizens. For women, the lack of protection is especially difficult.

Even before the Islamic State’s (IS) overtaking of power in parts of Iraq, the country has been characterized by systematic violations of human rights.

Violence is ever present in Iraqi women’s lives and shows no sign of abating. Violence taking place in the streets has entered the private sphere, a fact that many women’s organisations connect with the widespread presence of small arms and light weapons. After the US-led invasion in 2003, so-called honour killings, child marriage and prostitution have increased.

In some ways, women were better off before the invasion. They were able to move about in the streets, to work and to dress as they liked. On the other hand, there was no room for an independent civil society under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and his rule involved brutal repression, terror and purges of political opponents and different religious groups.

Religious courts

Iraq’s new constitution, adopted in 2005, states that men and women are equal. However, Article 41 opens up for cases belonging to family law to be resolved in accordance with the religious affiliation or beliefs of the citizens concerned. This means that issues concerning marriage, divorce and inheritance are being decided upon in religious courts – with the result that underage girls can be forced into marriages and that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. According to the Iraqi Penal Code, a man has the right to “punish his wife” and rape is permitted within marriages.

In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the situation for women is slightly better. In 2011, the region adopted a comprehensive law on domestic violence, which, among other things, prohibits violence within marriage, genital mutilation, forced marriage and attempts to prevent girls from getting an education.

Iraq ratified the UN’s CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) in 1986. However, the country’s reservations to Article 2, which establishes the principle of equal rights for men and women, prevents the convention from having any real effect in the country.

Limited by extremists

During 2011-2012 Islamic fundamentalists gained greater influence in Iraqi society, which has meant that dress codes for women now are stricter than before, and that women’s freedom of movement has been restricted. It has also become more difficult for women to educate themselves, to work and to live independent lives.

Because of their limited access to the labour market, poverty is a severe problem among women, especially in rural areas. Rural women also have less access to health care, education and infrastructure, and they are more likely to be subjected to female genital mutilation than women living in the cities.

Women belonging to Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities, as well as gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) persons, are particularly vulnerable to various forms of discrimination. Iraqi law does not prohibit homosexual relationships, but anything other than heterosexuality is completely taboo in society. LGBTQ persons in Iraq have suffered serious hate crimes and have even been murdered because of their sexuality or gender identity.

Political quotas

Although many women are active in civil society, it is difficult for them to participate in politics – especially if they are secular. According to a law introduced in 2005, at least 25 percent of the members of parliament should be women. In the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the quota is 30 percent. After the 2010 elections, the proportion of women in the Iraqi parliament was 25 percent, with a majority representing religious parties. The corresponding figure in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, after the 2013 elections, was 31 percent.

Senast uppdaterad: 2015-12-21