In dialogue with Iraq, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women stresses the importance of female political participation

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the seventh periodic report of Iraq on how it implements the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Committee Experts raised concerns about the political participation of women. More broadly, they stressed the importance of the inclusion of women in decision-making processes, notably those related to peace and reconciliation.

At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts noted that the State party had made positive steps in promoting and protecting the rights of women. Though positives changes were happening, major challenges persisted. All United Nations bodies that were active in Iraq had noted significant gaps in the participation of women in decision-making processes. What had the Government done to address this issue? They requested information on the quota for women’s representation in Parliament. Would the State party consider creating an independent, unified mechanism on women’s affairs?

Hussain Mahmood Alkhateeb, Permanent Representative Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the period of the control of Islamic State (Daesh) over vast areas of Iraq had paralyzed economic and social life, and led to a total cessation of women's participation in political and public life, and the exploitation of women in hostilities or as a commodity to satisfy the wishes of terrorists.

Dindar Zebari, Head of the Kurdistan Regional Government delegation, said the draft constitution of the Kurdistan region of Iraq determined that the percentage of women's representation should not be less than 30. The Parliament of the Kurdistan region had issued its new rules of procedure which stipulated that the presidential body of the Parliament should include at least one woman.

The delegation remarked that it was necessary to set aside budget lines for a full-fledged Ministry of Women’s Affairs to be created. The Government hoped that by the end of the year, this would be the case. A bill was being drafted to that end. The Government had realized there was need to fund women’s empowerment. On the women’s quota in the Iraqi Parliament, the delegation stressed that the quota established a minimum. There was no maximum. In that regard, it should be noted that the percentage of women in Parliament currently stood at 30, whereas the law established a 25 per cent minimum. This was a source of pride for the Government; there were very few States that had been able to achieve such a level of representation.

In her concluding remarks, Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the open manner in which the dialogue had been conducted.

Mr. Alkhateeb said it had been a wonderful experience. The delegation had endeavoured to be honest and transparent, and engaged with the Committee in an interactive manner.

The delegation of Iraq was made up of representatives of the Iraqi Parliament, the Council of State, the Iraqi Presidency, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Migration and Displaced Persons, Iraq’s Cabinet, the Mayoralty of Baghdad, the Independent High Electoral Commission, Endowment of the Christian, Ezidian, and Mandaean Religions Divan, the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 October to consider the fourth periodic report of Andorra (CEDAW/C/AND/4)

Report

The Committee is considering the seventh periodic report of Iraq (CEDAW/C/IRQ/7).

Presentation of the Report

HUSSAIN MAHMOOD ALKHATEEB, Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the period of the control of Islamic State (Daesh) over vast areas of Iraq represented the darkest phase in the life of the Iraqi woman, notably in the province of Nineveh and the surrounding areas, in the southwest of Kirkuk, the province of Salehaldhin, and parts of the provinces of Diyla and Anbar. Women’s role had been changed from being a partner in the building of the society into a tool of combat and a target for brutal crimes and one of the weapons used by ISIS to destroy the morale of multiple groups in these areas, especially religious and ethnic minorities and rural communities. Terrorist crimes included killings, abductions, rape and torture; thousands of women had been killed in areas controlled by ISIS. This had paralyzed economic and social life, and led to a total cessation of women's participation in political and public life, and the exploitation of women in hostilities or as a commodity to satisfy the wishes of terrorists.

Despite the abolition of the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of State for Women's Affairs, the work related to the implementation of the Committee’s observations had continued, whether through the Department of Women's Empowerment in the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers or through the competent ministries and the Higher Committee for the Advancement of Women.

Iraq was studying and reviewing the legislative system on a continuous basis to ensure its compliance with international human rights standards. The Supreme Judicial Council had developed drafts of proposed amendments to the Penal Code and other laws to ensure the effective implementation of international conventions. The State Council was currently considering those proposals.

Over the past years, Iraq had adopted several policies for the advancement of women’s affairs, such as a National Strategy to Combat Violence against Women, a Poverty Reduction Strategy, a National Plan for the Implementation of the Universal Periodic Review Recommendations, and a National Strategy for Reproductive Health and Maternal, Legal Guardian, Child and Adolescent Health 2018-2020. These policies and strategies had contributed to, and continued to enhance the status of women in society towards the full enjoyment of their rights, and to enable them to exercise their important role in public and political life.

Women contributed to the Coexistence and Community Peace Committee in the Office of Implementation of the National Reconciliation Recommendations in the Prime Minister's Office with the aim of promoting women's participation in the process of restoring security and stability to areas affected by terrorist acts and ensuring women's participation in security and peace through dialogue, reconciliation and negotiation committees. The Women's Office of the National Reconciliation Commission was working to raise the status and participation of women in the national reconciliation process.

The Iraqi Government programme 2018-2022 made reference to human rights issues and the eradication of poverty, and promoted participation.

The Supreme Judicial Council had taken a number of steps to ensure that sexual violence-related crimes were addressed. As soon as the areas under the control of the terrorist organization were liberated, including the city of Sinjar, the Nineveh Plain and Tal Afar areas, the Council had reopened all courts in these areas, including investigative courts where investigating judges had launched legal procedures, which were continuing.

The process of democratic building in Iraq after the spring of 2003 was characterized by the active participation of women in the parliamentary and local elections and the Kurdistan regional elections. The electoral quota allocated to women contributed to enhancing women's opportunities in the transitional period. Women also had a significant influence in local governments, within the Parliament and the Kurdistan Regional Government.

DINDAR ZEBARI, Head of the Kurdistan Regional Government delegation, addressed the steps taken by the Kurdistan Regional Government authorities to adopt legislation and regulations aiming to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and create an equal society for both genders. The law against domestic violence in the Kurdistan region of Iraq guaranteed the rights of women in all aspects of life. The draft constitution of the Kurdistan region of Iraq determined that the percentage of women's representation should not be less than 30.

The Parliament of the Kurdistan region had issued its new rules of procedure which stipulated that the presidential body of the parliament should include at least one woman. During elections held in September 2018, members of parliament elected the first female speaker of the Kurdistan Region Parliament. Moreover, in the current government, women had received three ministerial positions.

To ensure the protection and enhancement of women's rights in the region, there were several specialized institutions and departments acting in the field, including the followings: more than 150 civil society organizations for women in the Kurdistan region, five shelters for women exposed to violence, the High Council for Women’s Affairs and the General Directorate for Combatting Violence against Women and the Family in the Ministry of Interior, which consisted of six directorates and 28 offices in districts and sub-districts, in addition to its offices in refugee and internally displaced people camps.

In addition, women had an active role in all public and private sectors, and this had had an impact on the decline of unemployment among women: in 2015 the percentage of working women stood at approximately 76 per cent.

Questions from the Experts

Committee Experts noted that the State party had made positive steps in promoting and protecting the rights of women. Though positives changes were happening, major challenges persisted. They requested information about the implementation of resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The Committee looked forward to further legislative amendments to address legal provisions that were discriminatory, including constitutional ones.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that Iraq was the first country to develop a plan to implement resolution 1325, before the rise of ISIS. The Government had implemented numerous plans to notably contain the massive displacement experienced by the country. The Government was drafting a plan to implement resolution 1325 over the period stretching between 2019 and 2022. This plan aimed to rebuild the areas affected by the occupation of ISIS and reintegrate women. Civil society organizations played an important role in the development of this plan. The Government hoped that by the end of the year the plan would be finalized, and appropriate funds would be allocated to it. Iraq was in a post-conflict situation and this had a bearing on the implementation of the resolution.

Questions from the Experts

Committee Experts expressed concerns about the absence of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs that was autonomous and full-fledged. They noted that the delegation had said the Government was considering the creation of bodies dedicated to women’s affairs. Would the State party consider creating an independent, unified mechanism on women’s affairs? If so, by when would it be formed?

Hopefully, in the second national plan to implement resolution 1325, there would be clear and sufficient budgetary allocations.

They requested information on the Government’s transitional justice programmes and its efforts to reduce sexual violence during conflicts.

All United Nations bodies that were active in Iraq had noted significant gaps in the participation of women in decision-making processes. What had the Government done to address this issue?

Responses by the Delegation

On the creation of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs, there was a body in charge of women’s affairs. To achieve development, security and stability was required, something that Iraq did not have. It was necessary to set aside budget lines for a full-fledged Ministry of Women’s Affairs to be created. The Government hoped that by the end of the year this would be the case. A bill was being drafted to that end. The Government had realized there was need to fund women’s empowerment.

The delegation went on to explain that 123 women had been appointed as inspectors, and over 100 had been appointed as judges. Support was provided to women who had been victims of rape, including in the form of fellowships.

In 2014, Daesh had attacked a number of provinces, leading to the displacement of over 4 million people. The number of families that had been able to return stood at 226,000. A number of projects had been put in place to encourage women to return home, in collaboration with civil society organizations. The Government hoped to be able to close all camps for internally displaced people.

The Kurdistan Regional Government had taken several steps to document and address atrocities committed by Daesh.

There were still political and social obstacles on the way to greater political participation of women in Iraq. A woman was recently appointed to the Ministry of Education and Baghdad had a female mayor. Four women had been appointed as ambassadors. The Prime Minister had addressed a note verbale to Ministries encouraging the appointment of women at the director general level, and this had led to many women accessing senior positions. Legislation promoting the promotion of all communities, including Yazidi women, had been adopted.

Since the restructuration of the judiciary in 2003, there had been an increased representation of women in that branch of Government. The Supreme Council of the Judiciary promoted the participation of women.

An initiative had been launched to provide women with increased political representation. On the implementation of the quota, a Federal Court had stated that women’s names should figure on the ballot. This had been a positive judgement.

The Government was working on establishing a bill to update the law on social protection aiming to broaden coverage. The draft would be submitted to relevant ministries for approval. The bill would notably target minors and widows, amongst others. The law on social protection did not draw any distinction between men and women. The Government had also submitted a draft bill on the protection of persons with disabilities, which specifically addressed the situation of women with disabilities.

On women’s quota in the Iraqi Parliament, the delegation stressed that the quota had established a minimum. There was no maximum. In that regard, it should be noted that the percentage of women in parliament currently stood at 30, whereas the law established a 25 per cent minimum. This was a source of pride for the Government of Iraq; there were very few States that had been able to achieve such a level of representation.

There was a woman who headed a political coalition and there was a member of the delegation who was a female elected member of parliament. There were also female religious leaders. There were no obstacles preventing women from holding positions of power.

In the region of Kurdistan, there had been a decrease in the number of honour crimes. There were over 1,000 beneficiaries from programmes addressing this issue, which provided, inter alia, psychological support.

Questions from the Experts

Committee Experts noted the series of positive legal amendments mentioned by the delegation in its opening remarks, which, if indeed carried through, would undoubtedly lead to positive impacts for women.

Stereotypes against women persisted; patriarchal remnants made it difficult for women to fully play their role in society. How could these be shattered?

There needed to be, at the very least, a consultative body that would consider all women’s affairs, Experts said.

Turning to violence against women, Committee Experts requested quantitative data on prosecutions and punishment meted out against perpetrators, as well as information on public policies on shelters, and the extent to which they allowed for civil society to run their own.

It seemed that if a rapist chose to marry the victim, it was deemed that there had been no rape. Could the delegation provide more information on this matter?

Experts inquired about plans to develop a trafficking database. Could the delegation provide information about sexual violence and sexual exploitation against women in detention centres? There seemed to be an insufficient number of investigations into this matter.

They also requested information on forced marriage and kidnappings.

Responses by the Delegation

A new education policy had been adopted based on the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission. The drafting of new curricula was underway. Stereotypical content had been removed from most school books. The Government intended to continue this work and remove remaining stereotypical content to highlight the positive role and participation of women. This was paramount to inculcate human rights. The Government focused on the training of teachers, as they played a key role in implementing plans related to human rights and the rights of women.

The Government of Kurdistan had created 19 Gender Equality Units. The Ministry of Education’s Gender Equality Unit had been working on updating school curricula. On early marriages, the Government promoted the school system and adopted a law seeking to limit the number of girls dropping out of school.

The delegation explained that Iraq was bound by traditional customs and religious principles and this was what made it difficult for the Government to allow civil society organizations to manage shelters.

The Cabinet had abolished various ad hoc courts. According to the new law on domestic violence, there would be no additional family courts. This law had been referred to the Council of State by the Government, and was now undergoing the last stages of review. It should be submitted to Parliament as soon as possible.

The new law on domestic violence defined it in a comprehensive way, taking into account various forms of harm imposed on family members. A fund would be established to empower victims of domestic violence and provide resources to shelters. Measures would be put in place to ensure the appropriate referral of victims to clinics and hospitals. If the victim was a minor, it was up to the court to determine the guardianship within seven days. The Government had also put forth several texts to sanction perpetrators of various forms of domestic violence, including psychological, economic and physical violence.

The author of a rape could marry the victim, if the victim or the victim’s parents consented.

The Government had created a central committee to combat trafficking as well as a mechanism to care for victims. The Government was planning on reviewing current laws to notably specify how much compensation could be granted to support victims. It was also drafting a practical guide on domestic workers. The Government was aware that sexual exploitation could also be carried out through the Internet.

On trafficking, the delegation said that Iraqi law prohibited any gifting of organs by a displaced person or the gifting of organs in exchange for remuneration. In that regard, investigators were asked to process cases as soon as a complaint had been filed. Legal provisions had been reviewed to avoid overlap. It should be noted that the law drew distinctions between various offences and that victims did not face sanctions when their status as victims had been established.

An amendment had been put forward by the Kurdish Government on the law on domestic violence to inter alia take into account third-degree family relationships. A general office entrusted with combatting domestic violence within the Ministry of the Interior collaborated with other relevant bodies, such as the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Questions by Experts

Experts welcomed progress achieved since the last dialogue to accelerate women’s participation in political and public life. Did the delegation have detailed data on the percentage of women in each rank of the executive branch of the Government; the number of female judges, prosecutors and officials of the judiciary involved in investigations in each court; and the number of women in political parties.

The Independent High Electoral Commission sought to foster awareness of the need for women’s participation in all areas. While that was good, there were no women working within this body. Why? Did the Government believe it could foster awareness of the need for women’s participation without them?

Experts requested information on women’s participation in peace-building and reconciliation processes.

On nationality, Experts recalled that the Convention required that men and women have equal rights to acquire, change or retain it, also in respect to children. They requested information on the application of the Nationality Act and its planned revision.

Responses by the Delegation

Since 2003, there had been an increase in women’s participation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There were many Iraqi women in Iraq’s missions abroad. Before 2003, women were banned from being posted abroad unless they were accompanying their husbands, as diplomats’ wives.

Delegates agreed that 25 per cent was a low percentage for the minimum representation of women in parliament. But as had already been said, there was no upper limit.

Women’s right to transfer nationality to their children without meeting any kind of precondition or particular requirement was enshrined in the law. If a child was born outside marriage, it was registered after a decision of the court.

The Government was fostering the development of women’s skills. It had endorsed various mechanisms to that end. It supported peacebuilding bodies exclusively for women, notably in liberated provinces, to accelerate reconciliation in the wake of the occupation by the terrorist organization Daech. Women would take part in peace committees that engaged with tribal leaders, paving the way for internally displaced persons’ return to their hometowns. The Government also relied on women for volunteering activities centred on the promotion of peace.

Questions by Experts

Experts remarked that to empower women, the focus should be put on education. Was the Government planning to increase the budget allocated to education?

The empowerment of women was without a doubt part of the solution to the economic challenges faced by Iraq. The Experts inquired about changes to the maternity leave scheme. It seemed they had not been as effective as expected. Iraq needed to promote women’s jobs at all levels and in all sectors. Was the Government ready to implement a comprehensive policy on professional equality?

Responses by the Delegation

The education system did not make any distinction between boys and girls; education was compulsory for all children aged from 6 to 10 years old. On enrolment and dropout rates, a delegate said the figures for girls and boys were almost the same. Turning to measures taken to deal with drop-outs, the delegate said there were programmes addressing the situation of internally displaced children which had achieved the return of thousands of pupils and students to schools and other educational institutions.

Article 7 of the Labour Code stipulated that women should receive equal pay for equal work. Maternity leave was granted to working women for a total of eight weeks following the delivery upon the provision of a doctor’s note. However, provisions of the previous Labour Code on that matter were still being enforced. Amendments and proposals on maternity leave had been rejected.

Delegates from the Kurdish Government said the number of schools had gone up and the percentage of girls attending education at all levels had also increased.

Questions by Experts

Experts asked about steps taken to ensure access to healthcare for, inter alia, rural and displaced women. They inquired about measures in place to address HIV/AIDS amongst women. How was the Government overcoming the reluctance of women to undergo early testing to detect breast cancer?

Experts also asked about access to sexual and reproductive healthcare as well as prenatal and postnatal care.

On abortion, what steps had been taken to decriminalize abortion? Could the delegation provide information on post-abortion care offered to Iraqi women?

They also requested additional information on social protection schemes in place in the State party.

Responses by the Delegation

The Government provided onsite visits to displaced persons and there were also mobile clinics. In total, services had been provided to 4 million displaced persons. Vaccines were given to children under five. There were approximately 6 million children that benefitted from education, and tons of medication had been provided, thanks to mobile units.

On family planning, contraception was part of essential medication. Pills were offered, as well as hormonal treatment and condoms, as part of the provision of contraception services. About 89 per cent of women had benefitted from the Government’s contraception-related services. On abortion, there were guidelines in place, and a group of experts made up of doctors and various specialists ruled on whether an abortion should take place, taking into account various factors.

There were also specialized centres on breast cancer that organized awareness-raising campaigns to encourage women to undergo mammograms. Training on self-examination was also provided to women.

A draft law was being prepared which would aim to progressively decriminalize abortion. Religious precepts and social norms had to be considered; the State could hardly take unilateral decisions that went against social practices.

In Kurdistan, there were 121 centres that provided contraceptives to young women. Many of the hospitals in Kurdistan provided maternal care.

Follow-Up Questions by Experts

Experts asked follow-up questions on rural women’s access to decision-making instances and the obstacles posed by their husbands; the minimal age of marriage, which was 16 years; the law on nationality and the transfer of nationality by Iraqi women to children born under the Daech, including those who were born to mothers raped by Daech fighters; and the situation of girls with disabilities and their access to education; divorce; the situation of Afro-descendant women; and polygamy.

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, said the delegation could provide answers to these questions in writing within 48 hours.

Concluding Remarks

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the open manner in which the dialogue had been conducted.

HUSSAIN MAHMOOD ALKHATEEB, Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said it had been a wonderful experience. The delegation had endeavoured to be honest and transparent, and engaged with the Committee in an interactive manner.

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