With the illiteracy rate among Iraqi women twice as high as that of men and women making up only 18 per cent of the country’s labour force, a United Nations conference that opened in Baghdad today is seeking ways to improve the situation of women in the fledgling democracy.
According to information compiled by various UN agencies, some of the greatest disparities between women and men in Iraq are in the areas of literacy and labour force participation.
Around 70 per cent of all illiterate Iraqis are women, and female illiteracy is particularly serious in 39 out of the country’s 115 districts. In the area of work, women make up 82 per cent of all Iraqis outside the labour force.
In the personal sphere, 1 in 10 Iraqi households are headed by women, more than 80 per cent of whom are widows. In addition, one in five married Iraqi women has been a victim of physical domestic violence, while one in three has been subject to emotional violence.
“Over the years, the women of Iraq have borne the brunt of the effects of violence, conflict and sanctions,” David Shearer, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Iraq, told the opening of the conference on women’s rights.
“We have an obligation to make women the centre of Iraq’s recovery and ensure they thrive in their homes, schools, jobs and in public life,” he added.
Organized by the human rights section of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the two-day conference is expected to set forth a series of recommendations to Iraq’s Government and Parliament on issues holding back women’s equality in the country.
It aims to set a strategy to improve women’s political participation and to provide constitutional guarantees that address violence against women and the general impact of conflict.
Participants at the meeting include high-level Iraqi officials and representatives from a number of human rights and women’s organizations from around the region.