UN Women in Iraq

UN Women was established by the General Assembly with a mandate to assist Member States and the United Nations system to progress more effectively and efficiently towards the goal of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women. The agency faces a unique situation in Iraq as it tries to carry out its mission.

The Iraqi people, estimated at more than 39 million, have been facing mounting challenges since 2003 due to wars and violence. Armed conflict has caused population displacement, with an estimated 5.8 million Iraqis being displaced due to conflict since 2014. As of May 2018, more than 2.1 million continue to be displaced. In addition, more than 250,000 Syrian refugees were registered in Iraq, 37 per cent of them living in camps and the remainder among the Iraqi population in cities and villages.

The conflict was harsh especially for women as, in addition to displacement and insecurity, it has created thousands of widows and female-headed households, aggravating women’s vulnerability. Women are more exposed to poverty and food insecurity because of lower overall income levels and particularly disadvantages in terms of education, employment and adequate shelter. It is estimated that 10% of Iraqi households are headed by women, with 80% of these women being widows, divorced, separated or caring for sick spouses. They represent the most vulnerable segments of the population and are more exposed to poverty and food insecurity. This is added to the fact that 5% of married women (girls) are under the age of 15 years, and 21% are under the age of 18, according to Ministry of Planning figures. In addition to child and under-age marriage, many girls are deprived of their right to education, with around 18% of girls above the age of 10 being illiterate.

Women have a 25% quota in the Iraqi Parliament as per the 2005 Constitution, which is considered the biggest gain for Iraqi women. Unfortunately, this percentage is not reflected elsewhere in other branches of power, as women continue to be under-represented in the Cabinet as well as most senior posts. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which is the government authority supposed to work on gender equality and women’s empowerment (GEWE), was abolished in 2015, with the GEWE file getting fragmented among government institutions.

This situation raised the need for UN Women to continue its support for Iraq and further highlights the importance of work for gender equality and empowerment of women, particularly that work is underway to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with gender equality constituting a central element to achieving all these goals.

UN Women Iraq works with the Federal Government, the Kurdistan Region Government and other partners on enhancing women’s political participation and leadership, supporting women’s economic empowerment, putting an end to all forms of violence against women, pushing forward the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda to ensure women’s full and equal representation and participation in peace processes and security efforts, and ensuring that women and girls are not helpless victims of crises, and that they are beneficiaries of humanitarian action on equal footing with men and boys. UN Women is Chair of the UN Gender Task Force (GTF) and provides technical support to UN Country Team through GTF in mainstreaming gender.

UN Women Representative in Iraq Dina Zorba continues to lead efforts by the country team in Baghdad and Erbil to help the Government, CSOs, UN and other partners in the country to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in various fields of cooperation and through various programs and activities, in addition to combatting gender-based violence.


Some of the key areas of support by UN Women include:

Leadership and Political Participation: The Iraqi political scene has witnessed the election of 83 women to parliament in the May 2018 polls under a 25 percent quota system. UN Women has been working closely with women parliamentarians and helped them to launch their caucus in October 2018 with the aim of advocating for women’s causes in parliamentary, government and other spheres, offering them training and workshops to enhance their performance and leadership role. During the election process, UN Women’s role has always been there through observing the campaigning and polling stages from a gender perspective and making interventions to support women leadership and enhance their political participation. UN Women also continues its close contacts with various levels of Iraqi leadership in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of power to lobby for gender equality and women’s rights.

Economic Empowerment of Women: UN Women considers economic empowerment of women as key to addressing gender-based violence and promoting gender equality. In this context, it works with the national and provincial governments on developing related legislative and policy frameworks. Aiming at enhancing the capacities of rural women in Kurdistan Region, UN Women, in collaboration with UN sister agencies and the Provincial government, has established programs to support the socio-economic empowerment of rural women.

Ending violence against women and girls: UN Women collaborated and extended support to the Government and CSOs and advocated for legislative reform and adoption of policies nationwide. Standardizing the draft law on protection from domestic violence in accordance with the international principles and lunching the campaign on Ending Female Genital Mutilation in Kurdistan Region are some of the areas that UN Women jointly with sister agencies have dealt with.

Women, Peace and Security: Participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives in peace negotiations and humanitarian planning is essential to ensure that peace agreements are not narrow, and that they are supported and sustained by the nation as a whole. Iraq is the first country in the Arab region to develop a National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325. In this context, UN Women is also working closely with the Government of Iraq, UNAMI and CSOs on encouraging greater participation of women in the field of peace and security in line with Iraq’s commitments under UN SCR 1325.

Governance and National Planning: In pursuit of its mandate to mainstream gender-responsive approaches into the country’s strategies and policies, UN Women has been advocating and supporting the government in introducing Gender-Responsive Budgeting into the country-wide budgetary system. A series of training activities have been organized for officials in various areas of the country. The country office continues to follow up on the implementation of CEDAW by the concerned authorities by monitoring successes and challenges in eliminating discrimination against women and girls through analyzing legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures. UN Women carries out these efforts in cooperation with sister agencies that include UNAMI, UNFPA, UNDP, UNMAS and FAO.

Humanitarian Action:  In response to the appalling humanitarian crisis in Iraq, which has made millions to flee their homes, mostly women and children, UN Women and sister agencies joined efforts to assist the Syrian refugees and internally displaced women with a focus on women headed families through setting up income generation projects in the north and central of Iraq.