IRAQ: Displaced women still struggle for survival

BAGHDAD, 7 December 2010 (IRIN) - Displaced Iraqi female-headed families who have returned home are still experiencing major livelihood challenges, says the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

An IOM survey of 1,355 female-headed displaced families who have returned to their places of origin found that 74 percent are struggling to secure adequate nutrition for their families.

Delays in receiving subsidized government food rations or lack of some food items in the rations force women to buy food with whatever money they have, adding to their struggle, the report, [ Headed Households.pdf ] issued on 3 December, states.

The survey also found that health problems and social norms had prevented nearly 40 percent of them from finding jobs. Of those who are able to work, 71 percent are unemployed.

About 40 percent of those surveyed said they depended on relatives, neighbours, NGOs and religious groups to meet their needs. And more than 25 percent had a family member with chronic disease while one in four lacked access to healthcare.

"These women have to support their children and elderly family members. Without a steady income, they become reliant on support from whoever can give it but it is not systematic," said Antonio Salanga, IOM's head of the Baghdad regional hub.

New approach needed

Iraqi activist and former lawmaker Salama Smeisim said a swift and new approach had to be taken by the government, local and international organizations towards female-related issues in Iraq, especially the displaced.

"The oppression against women is still continuing in Iraq," Smeisim told IRIN. "The plight of the displaced women has not been dealt with seriously. They need adequate houses to preserve their dignity, schools for their children, electricity and drinking water."

She said Iraqi women in general, but mainly the displaced, faced a series of challenges, beginning with securing their livelihoods if they headed their families to the hardship in finding work either because of the social norms or discrimination, lack of awareness of their rights and the corruption that prevents government funds from reaching them.

"I do believe that we need a special programme to spread awareness among women about their rights and support them on how to start a project that can secure a steady income for their families without relying on anyone," Smeisim said.

The IOM survey also found that domestic violence against women had substantially increased in the past five years due to the country's unprecedented displacement, with one in five Iraqi women subjected to physical violence and a third to psychological violence.

Political and security turmoil

Mohammed Abdul-Jabbar, a Baghdad-based analyst, said that neglect of women-related programmes was due to the political and security turmoil experienced by the previous governments.

"Of course politicians, whether inside or outside the government, were not dealing with women's issues as one of the urgent needs to [rebuild] the society as they set a list of priorities in the political and security fields," Abdul-Jabbar said.

"It is highly unlikely that any progress could be achieved in this field by the next government as the same problems in the security and political arena still exist and are deep," he added.

Nine months since Iraq held its national elections, no government has been formed as politicians are struggling to reach an agreement to share power and distribute government posts.