As Iraq enters a new recovery phase in 2019, the country now faces the challenge of addressing the short- and long-term consequences of conflict and mass population displacement. These consequences have had a tangible impact on livelihoods in Iraq for both displaced and non-displaced populations. Women’s labour force participation in Iraq is low: as of 2018, only 12.3% of women of working age in Iraq were either employed or looking for work. Of these women who are in the labour force, 12% were unemployed (looking for work) in 2018.1 Conflict-affected women, specifically, face numerous challenges in accessing employment, including limited economic opportunities, individual- and community-level barriers, legal restrictions, and exacerbated vulnerability, particularly for displaced people and female-headed households.2 In the Iraqi context, the nature of these challenges for specific groups of women (i.e. refugee, internally displaced, returnee and host community women) are not yet fully understood and addressed, especially since the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-related displacement crisis began in 2014.
Based on discussions with representatives from UN Women, UN Women plans to work with the Ministry of Labour and Social Services (MoLSA) to promote decent work opportunities for conflict-affected women in 2019 and beyond. To inform this work, REACH conducted a qualitative assessment on behalf of UN Women to provide an indicative, evidence-based understanding of the challenges faced in accessing employment and the current working conditions in key employment sectors among women in Iraq, specifically female Syrian refugees and IDPs both in and out of camps, returnees, and host community women. For each of the groups of women, the research focused on three sub-groups: (1) women who are employed in target sectors (i.e., agriculture, education, health); (2) women who are unemployed (i.e., not currently employed but actively seeking employment); and (3) women who are out of the labour force (i.e., not currently employed and not seeking employment). Target sectors were chosen based on the relatively high number of women working in each sector and corresponding prospects for economic growth.
REACH carried out qualitative data collection between 22 January and 10 March 2019. In total, 655 women and 46 men participated in this assessment. Specifically, individual interviews (IIs) were conducted with 614 conflictaffected women (IDPs, Syrian refugees, returnees, and host community women) living in seven governorates in Iraq: Anbar, Baghdad, Duhok, Erbil, Ninewa, Salah al-Din, and Sulaymaniyah. These women were selected through a combination of purposive and snowball sampling using REACH and UN Women networks; findings from these interviews are therefore indicative only and cannot be generalised to the populations of interest. Also, due to the challenges in accessing certain groups of women during data collection, some groups may be over- or underrepresented in the final sample for this assessment.
Women from the populations of interest and male family members of women from these groups also participated in 12 sex-disaggregated focus group discussions (FGDs) to contextualise and provide further insight into the findings from the IIs (Six FGDs were conducted with 32 women, while the remaining six FGDs were conducted with 32 men). Finally, REACH conducted 20 key informant interviews (KIIs) with 23 individuals from government ministries, international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and private employers. These provided a more thorough understanding of the legal frameworks that shape how women access and engage in employment, as well as existing strategies to promote and facilitate women’s employment.
This report first reviews the policies and strategies that the government and non-governmental organisations have implemented to support women’s access to employment and develop employment opportunities in Iraq. The individual- and community-level factors that enable women to work, including motivations for seeking employment, decision-making capacity, and perceptions of appropriate jobs for women are then explored, before assessing why some women do not work, and the challenges faced in getting a job by women who are seeking employment.
Finally, it assesses the working conditions and risks for currently employed women, including awareness of labour laws and policies, and issues related to contracts, transportation, discrimination, and harassment, with a focus on the agriculture, education, and healthcare sectors.