With years of conflict curbing progress towards equality for women in Iraq, the United Nations has called for bolstered steps to ensure their rights are protected and advanced.
“A major UN priority for 2009 is to improve conditions for women and girls who have yet to feel the full benefits of Iraq’s recovery,” said David Shearer, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.
He pointed to some positive signs, such as one-quarter of those elected in the governorate polls in January being women.
“We now need to build on this achievement by joining forces with Iraq’s government and civil society to further improve women’s opportunities and human rights,” Mr. Shearer said, cautioning that “there is still much to do.”
One in 10 Iraqi households are headed by women, more than 80 per cent of whom are widows.
Women comprise 17 per cent of the country’s labour force, compared to 81 percent of men, with the low participation rate of women partially attributed to illiteracy. Nearly one-quarter of women and girls – many of whom were afraid to attend school due to the violence – above the age of 10 are illiterate, compared with just 11 per cent of boys.
The UN also expressed concern over women’s health indicators, with maternal mortality rates reaching 84 per 100,000 live births compared to 41 and 65 in neighbouring Jordan and Syria respectively.
“Most of children and women mortalities in Iraq can be prevented through simple interventions – from antenatal and emergency obstetric care to breastfeeding and safe hygiene at home,” said Sikander Khan, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in the country.
He stressed the importance of cooperation with Iraq’s health system to prevent further deaths.
Mr. Shearer also said the high rates of violence against women, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day which was observed yesterday, are still worrying. “We are putting more resources into initiatives to address this problem – to raise community awareness, increase support and strengthen legislation to protect women’s rights,” he said.
The UN is teaming up with local and international organizations to put dozens of protection, shelter, health, governance, education and other programmes into place.