Iraq: Advancing Women's Rights Key to Good Governance

3 minute read

With support from Global Affairs Canada, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is implementing a large scale project on fiscal federalism and decentralization in Iraq. While the project has a wide range of good governance and capacity-building objectives, one of its specific goals is to empower women to step into leadership roles. The program targets female elected officials (at the federal and provincial/governorate levels), public servants, and civil society leaders for up-skilling and training. The efforts focus on building awareness of government processes, best practices for community engagement, and the communications skills (and other competencies) needed to achieve optimal results through a series of workshops, meetings, and formal training through a cohort-centric model. 

Women’s rights in Iraq have seen uneven progress.  According to the OECD, women and women’s rights in Iraq have been, and continue to be, negatively impacted by the country’s recent conflicts.  Women continue to face challenges to their safety in their homes and society and continue to participate at a lower rate in the workforce and government.   

Nonetheless, advances are being made. Article 14 of Iraq’s 2005 Constitution states that all Iraqis are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on sex.   Iraq ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1986.  The Electoral Law and system ensures that at least 25% of federal Members of Parliament are women.  As far as governance systems are concerned, Iraq is working on implementing mechanisms to ensure each Iraqi feels that they have a voice in the decisions affecting them – featuring more inclusive governance structures, in which women can engage more successfully.   IOG’s work – with parliamentarians, with civil society organizations, and in connecting women and leaders across these jurisdictions, is helping to advance the issue.


Working with Parliamentarians

This past year saw some substantial advances in these efforts. The first cohort aimed specifically at female parliamentarians and civil society leaders was launched in 2017, with a session held in Ottawa and Toronto in October. The delegation of women was recognized during Question Period both on Parliament Hill and at Queen’s Park – receiving a standing ovation in the latter. The group was very well-received, meeting with: the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien, Minister Maryam Monsef, Minister Bibeau, Minister Hunter, Minister Naidoo-Harris, Minister Naqvi, Senator Ataullahjan, Senator Boniface, Ambassador of Iraq to Canada, H.E. Dr Abdul Kareem Kaab, and gender and democracy experts from Global Affairs Canada.  


Working with Civil Society Organizations

Not long after, the IOG hosted and facilitated a meeting with a number of women’s groups and female community leaders in Karbala, Iraq with a focus on how they can contribute to (and benefit from) the plan to build a locally-based centre of excellence on governance. The women participating in the forum included elected officials, public servants, health professionals, professors, and leaders of civil society organizations (CSOs). Through discussion, the women expressed an interest in training in executive leadership, communications skills (especially social media), and innovation/change management. Another suggestion was for work on advocacy and lobbying for greater women’s rights.  A third addressed the hardships female entrepreneurs face and how skills training could help. 

Additionally, the IOG worked with Susan Aref, Director of the Women’s Empowerment Organization to host a meeting of Iraqi Alliance for 1325. (The alliance is an umbrella organization for a number of NGOs working in Iraq to advance the aims put forward in UNSCR 1325.  They successfully advocated for a national action plan.) The IOG hosted a strategy and goal setting session in Baghdad. The group discussed their successes to date, as well as what opportunities might be coming up. The IOG is looking forward to supporting these efforts further.  


Multi-Level Discussions

Under the auspices of the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament and with support from Global Affairs Canada, the Iraqi Parliamentary Committee on Regions and Provinces and the IOG together hosted a conference on “Governance and Decentralization in Iraq: The Road to National Reconciliation and Development’’, January 24-25, 2018 in Baghdad. At the conference, Salim al-Jabouri, Speaker of the Iraq Parliament stated “Any federal decentralized system that marginalizes the youth and women and moreover does not consider them critical to a developing, unified, and cooperative society is estranged from federalism and decentralization in their simplest forms.”

In conclusion…

Change is happening. Women are running for office. They are achieving senior positions in their respective public service organizations. They are organizing together to mobilize for policy and advocacy goals.  Male champions are emerging, advocating for them to move on to greater things.  The IOG is honoured to support these efforts.  We look forward to the next phase of our work in Iraq as part a broader effort to advance governance practices in Canada and abroad.  

About the author

Jason Landry

Jason Landry

Administrator, Information Technology
613-562-0090 ext. 227