On , International Women's Day we recognize the resilience and strength of displacement-affected Iraqi women.
Updated 08 Mar 2023
Women in Iraq
Women in Iraq
Over the course of the conflict with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), more than six million Iraqis were forced into displacement. Now, nearly five years after the end of major military operations, the vast majority have returned home. Still, nearly 1.2 million people remain displaced, with women and female-headed households disproportionately represented among them.
“It’s been almost 10 years since my family was displaced,” shares Hala*, 56, who now lives with her adult daughter in Baquba, in Diyala Governorate.
She says she hopes one day she will be able return to her home near Muqdadiya – another town in Diyala – but until now, she still fears for her family’s security: “From what we can tell, because of the armed groups that control the area, the risk of kidnapping or killing is too high.”
Like hundreds of thousands of other displacement-affected Iraqis, Hala was missing core documents. While – unlike many others – her family managed to flee with their identity documents in 2014, they’d since expired. Iraq’s complex system of re-issuing documents often requires displaced populations return to their areas of origin to complete the process there – something Hala felt was too dangerous.
Through its specialized legal assistance, DRC supported Hala through every step of re-issuing her documents. This support, she says, helped her overcome many of the challenges in completing the process: “We didn’t know how to go about the process to obtain new government documents, and we had no financial ability to do it, considering the travel expenses.” Research has shown that women face particular challenges re-issuing their documents because they are more likely to struggle to cover the costs associated with the process, and limitations on their freedom of movement due to gender norms make it harder for them to access the needed government offices alone.
Women also tend to rely more on the social welfare schemes that are only accessible with core identity documents. Now that Hala’s family have been renewed, she’s been able to apply for additional support from government schemes for her daughter.
…the achievement of durable solutions to displacement in Iraq will remain incomplete without taking into account the specific challenges women face.
Life in Margins Report, Sep 2022
Nearly six million displaced
And, while nearly six million formerly displaced Iraqis have returned to their areas of origin, many still face barrier to re-integrate in their communities. This includes economic challenges and difficulty earning an income, which are especially acute for women.
“The experience of displacement were the hardest days of my life. I don’t want to repeat it ever. I preferred to return and live in my home village – even it is a wreck,” shares Fatima*, 49. “This village was a paradise before I was displaced because of safety, the availability of water, farms, job opportunities and the closeness of neighbours and relatives, all of whom are present and lived in harmony and peace. Many didn’t come back, but moved elsewhere. Others were lost and died in the conflict.”
Like Hala, Fatima is a widow. She lives with her three teenage children in a village near Muqdadiya, Diyala. Her family relies almost entirely on the social welfare they receive from the government, and whatever small income she can bring in from seasonal agricultural work. Recently she’s also started selling some dairy products produced by the family’s cow, which was provided to her by the Red Cross after she was referred for that assistance by DRC.
Women risk harassment and exploitation
“It’s difficult to obtain money, especially for widows and divorced women, due to society’s unfair view of their rights to inheritance and to work… They also face restrictions in their ability to move freely and seek employment opportunities to support their children,” shares Fatima. She also shares that women can face challenges accessing government offices when trying to get support due to restrictions on their movement, but also risk being exposed to harassment or exploitation – something Hala says is also true when seeking to access civil documentation.
Focus on women and gender based violence
And, to further compound these challenges, the impacts of climate change and water scarcity have also reached Fatima’s village; recently, the river on which the family depended for access to water dried up. “This forced me to ask for water from my neighbour, who has a well. But as days went by, he started to harass me and try to exploit me.” Without a stable and sufficient income, purchasing bottled water was out of the question. So, DRC supported Fatima with specialized protection assistance, covering the cost of digging a well for her and her family. This meant her family had enough water for living necessities, but also protected her from potential exposure to gender-based violence.
While poorly understood, experiences of displacement and return can interact closely with exposure to gender-based violence. Recognizing this – and the other particular challenges women face in the achievement of durable solutions to their displacement – DRC joined up with Baghdad Women’s Association for a discussion with the Ministry of Migration and Displacement, the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) and women’s rights organizations to initiate a discussion on what these experiences look like, and how they can be better addressed in policy and interventions.
The message from participants at this event was clear: the achievement of durable solutions to displacement in Iraq will remain incomplete without taking into account the specific challenges women face. The discussion helped provide direction and entry-points to support ongoing efforts by DRC, Baghdad Women’s Association and other organizations to promote more gender analysis and mainstreaming across policy, planning and response to displacement-related needs, so that women like Fatima and Hala can be better supported and Iraq’s recovery can also support progress towards gender equality.
*Names have been changed.
The interventions highlighted in this case study were made possible by funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Responsibility for this content rests entirely with the creator. SIDA does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.