Gender norms affecting day-to-day life for Iraqi women
Salma, like millions of women in Iraq, struggled to navigate a simple legal process - being a woman was her biggest challenge.
Women in Iraq
Navigating legal processes is never easy – they are lengthy, complex, and often expensive. This reality holds true in Iraq, where women – including widows – may face additional hurdles due to gender norms which restrict their movement and – in some cases – their rights.
Women in Iraq are also disproportionately affected by poverty, making the direct and indirect costs associated with these processes more difficult for them to bear.
This is true for Salma*, who says she was feeling overwhelmed by the legal and administrative processes she needed to complete following her husband’s death, necessary for her to claim her widow’s pension and secure full guardianship of her three children. When she heard about the legal aid being provided at DRC’s community center in Muqdadiya, Diyala Governorate, she hoped they could offer help navigating the process:
‘[I heard that] This center provides legal services for women, children, IDPs, returnees – for everyone.’
She was eager to get these done, particularly as she was relying on her husband’s pension for income:
‘I don’t work, and I am in debt with [family members] who have helped support me and my children. I need to complete these documents to get my husband’s pension.’
With DRC’s support, she has completed the process to claim her widow’s pension and is now working on the guardianship procedures. The majority of women in Iraq are not formally employed, due to both the limited availability of jobs as well as cultural norms that restrict their economic participation. Therefore, access to even these limited benefits are essential resources for the survival of female-headed households.
Legal aid activities provided at the center in Muqdadiya include legal information dissemination, and individual legal counselling, administrative assistance and representation – from the start of the process until the end, as Salma received. This includes supporting with the costs associated with these processes, like legal fees and transportation costs.
Salma says her DRC lawyer even encouraged her to call and hang up, so that the lawyer could call her back and save her the phone fees. This type of support, Salma says, is particularly important for women in the community:
'There are a lot of women without money. There are a lot of women without work. There are a lot of women without good information about administrative and legal processes.’
DRC has also heard from women about some of the harassment and stigmatization that they face if they move about their community (even to the market) without a male family escort, therefore DRC legal staff accompanying them throughout the legal process also helps them safely complete the procedure.
Supporting women with this type of legal aid helps give them peace of mind, and access important sources of income or other rights – like housing, land and property rights or access to basic services. Additionally, Salma says, community centers like the one in Muqdadiya provide safe spaces for women to gather and establish a social network of support:
‘If any woman visits the center, she can feel free and happy during her stay.’
In a context where women’s roles are often limited to the home, this additional impact should not be discounted.
*Name changed for anonymity