Deputy SRSG Irena Vojáčková-Sollorano’s Remarks at the International Women’s Day Commemoration [EN/AR/KU]

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Dr. Hamid al-Ghazi, Secretary-General, General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers Distinguished Civil Society Representatives, Distinguished Guests and Panellists, Colleagues in the United Nations family,

I thank you for extending an invitation to the United Nations to be part of this year’s International Women’s Day commemoration under the national theme ‘Women’s Participation is a Guarantee for Peace and Stability.

At this point, I wish to welcome the Iraqi Parliament’s adoption of the Yazidi Female Survivors Law on 1 March. This is a major step in addressing the needs of survivors of atrocities that include reparations and proof of Iraq’s commitment to address the crimes they endured under the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The enactment of this law will contribute to sustainable peace and security for the communities ravaged by the conflict and especially by related sexual violence.

This year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day is overshadowed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has, in every aspect, taken a toll on families and communities in Iraq as well as globally. Among other negative effects, the pandemic has also impacted women’s ability to access much needed services and specifically needed support in case of gender-based violence and its documentation. Gender-based violence impacts women and men, and results in isolation.

Today we honor the women in Iraq for their vital role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and its gendered effects in the healthcare sector, public sphere, and at home. In doing so, their vision and leadership has not gone unnoticed. We stand in solidarity with all women and girls in Iraq and celebrate their many achievements in the advancement of women’s human rights and gender equality, whilst recognizing that a lot still remains to be done.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iraq, the UN has collaborated with female Iraqi artists, graphic designers, rappers and leaders of youth groups to disseminate vital health protection messages across Iraq about preventing transmission of COVID-19, as well as highlighting human rights dimensions of COVID-19, including gender-based violence and access to education. UN engagement has furthermore focused on developing responsive measures addressing the rights of women and girls in crises and recovery. To this end, a platform consisting of a body of eleven women activists and participants from public institutions has been formed to develop innovative solutions in addressing crises from a gender perspective.

Various commemorative activities supported by the UN will be held in Baghdad, Erbil, Basra, Dohuk, Anbar and Sulaymaniyah with government partners, civil society organizations and religious leaders. As the national theme today states, the participation of Iraqi women is a key factor in contributing towards sustainable peace and stability. Women, alongside men, shall make their voices heard and access opportunities in all spheres of life- in politics, in employment, in rebuilding societies and in the economy.

As the UN, we are pleased that the second National Action Plan on 1325 was launched last December. Supported by the UN, key emphasis has been on supporting national efforts to promote women’s engagement in decision making. Some efforts have been undertaken to promote women’s participation, particularly at the community level. The UN, for example, has established women peace committees in governorates previously under ISIL control and three “Women for Peace” groups in Anbar, Diyala, and Ninewa governorates were formed with a total of 72 members. They were introduced to social innovation and entrepreneurship models and engaged in a participant-led process using conflict analysis and innovation principles to design solutions within their communities. Initiatives in 2020 included a release of a high-profile web series on communal peace and social cohesion, launch of a Women’s Book Club, and various campaigns combating gender-based violence and hate speech. In 2021, the UN launched the Iraqi Coalition on Youth, Peace, and Security where young women are offered a platform to engage in decision-making for peace and reconciliation process.

In addition, in Ninewa, the UN continues to operate with mixed-sex mine clearance teams to normalize women participation in the traditional male dominated peace and security sector. One of the core pillars of the UN in the peace and security sector, is its work within the Ministry of Interior and the goal of promoting women participation and providing equal employment opportunities for women. In so doing, the UN took the approach of delivering technical trainings for Iraqi female police officers from various governorates in first response to explosive hazards. Furthermore, a detailed gender assessment conducted for 28 local police stations across Anbar, Baghdad, Basra, and Ninewa was completed in 2020 focusing on access to local police stations and their services for women, girls, and youth from minority groups. The data from this assessment will be used to improve conditions on the ground.

The achievement of women’s full participation in all areas of life is only possible when women’s rights and freedoms are protected and promoted from the family level to the public sphere. To this end, the UN family has collectively undertaken and continues to undertake efforts to urge the passing of the anti-domestic violence bill including as part of an integrated response to address domestic violence cases which spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Addressing this worrying trend, the UN supports 70 women safe spaces where they offer cases management, recreational activities, awareness sessions as well as psychosocial support. In Dohuk, the UN expanded the works of the Women and Girls Health and Treatment Centre, under the management of the Duhok Directorate of Health. The centre provides much-needed medical and psychosocial assistance to survivors of sexual violence, especially to Yezidi women and focuses on their reintegration in their communities.

Iraqi women have expressed their desires to be better represented in governance and have voiced their demands as seen in public protests across the country. As the UN, we will continue to support the Government of Iraq and relevant entities to advance women’s political and electoral participation. Last year, the UN, in collaboration with the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia and the Iraq Foundation, a local NGO, conducted research on the needs and challenges of Iraqi women entering politics. The findings of the research confirm that Iraqi women entering politics and those already in public office at the national and subnational levels continue to face financial, socio-cultural, and institutional challenges, hindering their development as effective leaders. Collectively, we should all work together to remove these challenges.

Lastly, speaking on behalf of the UN family in Iraq, I reiterate our continued support to the Government of Iraq not only in implementing the commitments under the women, peace, and security agenda but also those that relate to the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on women and girls’ empowerment.