March 8, 2012, was International Women’s Day. Several festivities within Iraq marked the event. The state of females within the country however, is not very good. Women face difficulties going to school, finding employment, and escaping cultural mores that not only places them in a secondary position to men, but also approves of abuse.
|Members of the Women for Women International on International Women's Day in Baghdad, Mar. 8, 2012 (AP)|
Obtaining an education is difficult for a large number of Iraqi girls. 33% of girls aged 12-14 years old are not enrolled in school according to the Iraq Knowledge Network Survey conducted by Iraq’s Planning Ministry. 10% of young women that age have never been in a school. That is a major factor behind the 24% illiteracy rate amongst Iraqi women, which is just over double the rate for men, which stands at 11%. Tests have shown that women, 15-24, in rural areas are more than 50% illiterate, compared to 18-20% in urban areas. The main reasons given for girls not attending school were parents refusing to let them go, 50%, the school being too far away, 23%, money, 16%, other, 7%, illness 3%, and work, 1%. Even women aged 15-24 who have completed primary school have high illiteracy rates at 45%. Overall, Iraq’s education system is struggling. The country does not have a policy to deal with literacy, and not enough money to fund enough schools to meet demand. That plus the fact that so many Iraqi families object to having their daughters get an education to begin with means that these problems will persist.
Finding a job and joining the work force is another major difficulty for Iraqi women. Only 14% of women in the country are part of the work force, meaning that they either have a job or are looking for one. That was down from 17% in 2008. In comparison, 73% of Iraqi men were in the labor force in 2012. Not only that, but Iraq has far lower participation by women in the economy than neighboring countries such as Jordan, Iran, and Kuwait. Over 20% of Iraqi women are unemployed as well according to the Iraq Knowledge Network Survey, double the rate for men. Not only that, but the United Nations found that the percent of women joining the work force has gone down since 2008, and the number of out work has gone up. This affects young women the most with only 10% of females aged 15-29 in the labor force, and 33% of those are jobless. Oddly enough, the more education a woman has the more likely they are to both be in the labor force and be unemployed. Only 10% of women with a primary education are looking for jobs. That goes up to 30% for those with a secondary education, but 41% of those are out of work. 80% of women with a college degree are part of the labor force, but 68% of them are unemployed too. For those that do work, the government is almost the only option with 94% being employed in the public sector. Even then, the International Women’s Resource Network reported in 2010 that the government wanted to keep women at home, and a U.N. report stated that 92% of families said that women needed permission before they could work. 71% of women that do work in the private field have little to no education, live in rural areas, and are employed in agriculture. Iraq has structural limits to how many jobs that its economy can provide because it is so dependent upon oil. That makes it hard for anyone in Iraq to find work, but that is doubly so for women. They not only have to compete with men for jobs, but with cultural mores that look down on women leaving the home for employment. That severely limits their opportunities, which even an education cannot assist them with. Since the population is almost evenly split between men and women, this large pool of potential talent is being wasted.
|The majority of women who work in the private sector are employed in agriculture like these women seen in Amarah, Maysan province in southern Iraq (AP)|
Finally, it is very common for Iraqi women to face violence, usually from their family. This includes domestic abuse, where 21% of women aged 15-48 said that their husbands had physically abused them, 33% faced emotional violence, and 83% said they had controlling partners. Genital mutilation is also very common. In Kurdistan for instance, 41% of women in the three northern provinces have suffered this practice. Honor killings are still a major issue. A 2009 survey found that 68% of young men said that it was okay to kill a girl for dishonoring the family. There were also continued reports of attacks upon women by non-family members, usually Islamist groups going after people they felt were dressing or acting too Western. Iraq is the home of a lively sex trade and trafficking networks as well. Many girls are placed into fake marriages, for instance, where their supposed husband actually turns them into prostitutes. Many of these problems stem from cultural attitudes too. These go beyond just limiting women's work possibilities, but controlling their bodies as well. This can go from confining their movements, to disfiguring their bodies, and killing them if they cause the family to lose face. The young and the old both seem to believe in these traditions, meaning they will be maintained for the foreseeable future.
International Women’s Day is supposed to celebrate the contributions of females to society and the world. The status of women in Iraq is far from ideal. Whether it be education, employment, or physical safety, females in the country are always at risk. This is largely due to Iraq’s traditional culture, which sees women as secondary beings that should stay at home. Despite all the stories of the freedom that women experienced under Saddam Hussein, the trend of limiting women’s public space started in the 1990s, and has continued to the present day. The new Iraq provides some new openings for Iraq’s females, but there are plenty of other factors that are keeping them down.
Inter-Agency Information and Analysis Unit, “Factsheet on Iraq Youth,” United Nations, August 2010
- “Iraq Labour Force Analysis 2003-2008,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, January 2009
- “Literacy in Iraq Fact sheet,” September 2010
- “Women in Iraq Fact sheet,” March 2012
IRIN, “IRAQ: No country for women,” 11/28/10
Susman, Tina, “IRAQ: Unemployment bad and getting worse,” Babylon & Beyond, Los Angeles Times, 2/15/09
U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking In Persons Report 2011,” 6/27/11
United Nations Country Team – Iraq, “The Millennium Development Goals In Iraq,” August 2010
United States Commission On International Religious Freedom, “Annual Report 2011,” March 2011