Iraqi women suffering silent emergency, survey finds

BAGHDAD (IRIN) - Marking International Women’s Day on 8 March a new survey has painted a grim picture for Iraqi women who it says are suffering a “silent emergency” as they endure insecurity, poverty and a lack of basic services.

Entitled “In Her Own Words: Iraqi women talk about their greatest concerns and challenges”, the survey was conducted in 2008 by aid agency Oxfam International in cooperation with the Iraqi women’s NGO al-Amal. It surveyed 1,700 women from five provinces: Baghdad, Ninevah, Basra, Kirkuk and Najaf.

The survey found that continuing insecurity has devastated women’s physical wellbeing and greatly restricted their day-to-day lives.

About 60 percent of respondents said security was their number one concern, despite an improvement in security since mid-2007.

Some 55 percent said that they were directly or indirectly victims of violence since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled the government of former president Saddam Hussein.

Fifty-five percent also said that they were displaced at least once since 2003. A third said they had received no humanitarian assistance over the past five years while 76 percent of those who were widows said they had received no governmental support.

“Incomes have disappeared, poverty has deepened, (and) the Iraqi government has not been providing sufficient financial assistance to vulnerable groups, such as widows, and at-risk women are in need of humanitarian aid,” the 19-page survey said in one part.

It also found that a quarter of the women surveyed had no daily access to potable water while half cited difficulties in getting access to quality healthcare in 2008 compared to 2006 and 2007.

Forty percent of those interviewed who were mothers said their children were not going to school. Nearly 36 percent said they were the head of household, primarily for violence-related reasons.

“Countless mothers, wives, widows and daughters of Iraq remain caught in the grip of a silent emergency,” the report stated. “They are in urgent need of protection and – along with their families – are in desperate need of regular access to affordable and quality basic services, and urgently require enhanced humanitarian and financial assistance.”



Photo: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Flickr Nawal al-Samaraie (right), Iraq's former minister for women’s affairs Report recommendations

In light of the report, Hanaa Adward, head of Baghdad-based al-Amal, called on the government to adopt an immediate and effective strategy for women to save “the country’s future generations”.

“The Iraqi woman is still suffering from an acute and harsh situation and daily circumstances and marginalization in her own society,” Adward told IRIN. “She is missing the minimum basics of life, whether she lives in the city or the countryside.”

She suggested that the strategy include finding jobs for unemployed young women and for widows so that they can be productive and active elements of society.

Most importantly, Adward said, would be the establishment of a higher women’s commission with sufficient state financial support to identify and resolve women-related problems.

“We are determined to push for this strategy with all decision-makers in the government,” she said. “If the government wants a healthy society, then it must start with women.”

On 3 February, Nawal al-Samaraie resigned as minister of women’s affairs, protesting a lack of resources to implement her plans to help improve women’s lives.

Al-Samaraie accused the government of ignoring what she called an “army” of uneducated women, widows, victims of domestic violence and female internally displaced persons who were in dire need of assistance.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accepted her resignation but the post is still vacant.