Author Topic: Oxfam International Women's Day Report on Iraq  (Read 3255 times)

Phil Talbot

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Oxfam International Women's Day Report on Iraq
« on: March 08, 2009, 05:07:10 PM »
Oxfam International Women's Day Report

In her own words: Iraqi women talk about their greatest concerns and challenges

The plight of women in Iraq today has gone largely ignored, both within Iraqi society and by the

international community. For more than five years, headlines have been dominated by political and

social turmoil, the chaos of conflict and widespread violence. This has overshadowed the abysmal state

of the civilian population’s day-to-day lives, a result of that very turmoil and violence.

Behind the headlines, essential services have collapsed, families have been torn apart and women in

particular have fallen victim to the consequences of war. The specific hardships that some of Iraq’s

most vulnerable individuals cope with on a daily basis, as told by them, have overwhelmingly gone


As an international humanitarian agency working with Iraqi non-governmental organisations that help

civilians on the ground, Oxfam last year conceived the idea of conducting a survey of women in Iraq who

have been affected by the conflict, many of who represent some of the most at risk families in the

country. The largest group of women interviewed who are deemed especially vulnerable, consists of those

widowed by conflict who are now acting as the head of her household, and who have been driven deep into

poverty. This survey is a follow up to Oxfam’s 2007 report ‘Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in

Iraq,’ which found that one-third of the Iraqi population was in need of humanitarian assistance and

that essential services were in ruins.

At the time, there was a striking absence in the public sphere of a collective female voice from the

cities, towns and villages of Iraq about the specific challenges women and their families face on a

daily basis. In fact, there was very little comprehensive, detailed information available about the

daily challenges of the Iraqi civilian population as a whole and their struggle to make ends meet –

largely due to rampant insecurity. So a team of Oxfam-supported surveyors last year fanned out across

the country, knocked on doors, and unlocked hundreds of women’s voices that, until that point, had

found nobody to listen.

Oxfam and the Al-Amal Association, the Iraqi partner organization that conducted the survey in the five

provinces of Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, Najaf and Nineveh, do not claim that the information they gathered

from 1,700 respondents represents the situation facing all Iraqis, or even all women in Iraq. However,

it does provide a disturbing snapshot of many women’s lives and those of their children and other

family members. The information presented in this paper was collected over a period of several months,

starting in the summer of 2008.

The women revealed that their families’ everyday lives had worsened in many cases since Oxfam released

its humanitarian report – and despite the improved overall security situation in Iraq that began in

mid-2007. Not only did a large proportion of women say that access to basic services had grown more

difficult, but they also told surveyors that they had become more and more impoverished over the past

six years, and that their own personal safety remained a pressing concern.

Some of the survey results were:
Nearly 60 per cent of women said that safety and security continued to be their number one concern

despite improvements in overall security in Iraq
As compared with 2007 and 2006, more than 40 per cent of respondents said their security situation

worsened last year and slightly more than 22 per cent said it had remained static compared to both

55 per cent had been a victim of violence since 2003; 22 per cent of women had been victims of domestic

violence; More than 30 per cent had family members who died violently
Some 45 per cent of women said their income was worse in 2008 compared with 2007 and 2006, while

roughly 30 per cent said it had not changed in that same time period
33 per cent had received no humanitarian assistance since 2003
76 per cent of widows said they did not receive a pension from the government
Nearly 25 per cent of women had no daily access to drinking water and half of those who did have daily

access to water said it was not potable; 69 per cent said access to water was worse or the same as it

was in 2006 and 2007
One-third of respondents had electricity three hours or less per day; two-thirds had six hours or less;

80 per cent said access to electricity was more difficult or the same as in 2007, 82 per cent said the

same in comparison to 2006 and 84 per cent compared to 2003
Nearly half of women said access to quality healthcare was more difficult in 2008 compared with 2006

and 2007
40 per cent of women with children reported that their sons and daughters were not attending school
After analysing the survey results, it was also found that 35.5 per cent of participants were acting as

head of the household, primarily as a result of conflict. Nearly 25 per cent of women had not been

married. If this reflects Iraq as a whole, it is the highest rate in the larger region, a result of the

loss of men of marrying age as a result of the conflict. 55 per cent of women said they had been

displaced or forced to abandon their homes at least once since 2003. Nearly half reported sharing their

homes with other families.

In early 2009, reports of improved security in Iraq, and even a return to ‘normality,’ began appearing

in the media. Similar reports of diminished suicide bombs and other violent indiscriminate attacks

emerged at the time of the initial data collection last year. However insecurity remains in many

provinces including Baghdad, Kirkuk and Nineveh where small-scale attacks, assassination and

kidnappings continue. Women in particular are less safe now than at any other time during the conflict

or in the years before.

Beyond security, the overwhelming concern women voiced was extreme difficulty accessing basic services

such as clean water, electricity and adequate shelter despite billions of US dollars that have been

spent in the effort to rehabilitate damaged or destroyed infrastructure. Availability of essentials

such as water, sanitation and health care is far below national averages. Both the Iraqi organisation

and researcher that carried out the survey and analysed its findings corroborated that the overall

challenges facing women and the Iraqi population as a whole remained the same in early 2009 as they did

in the second half of 2008 when the data presented in this paper was collected.

Women especially appear to have been hard hit by the crippled essential services sector because many

have also been driven into debilitating poverty since 2003. The survey and more detailed interviews

revealed that a large number of women have been left unable to earn an income because many of their

husbands or sons – the family breadwinners – had been killed, disappeared, abducted or suffered from

mental or physical illness. Although there are no precise figures, it is estimated that there are now

some 740,000 widows in Iraq.

Many of the women interviewed reported that they have been unable to secure financial assistance, in

the form of a widow’s pension, or compensation from the government for the loss or debilitating injury

of family members during the current conflict or previous ones. Of the widows that were surveyed (25

per cent of respondents), 76 per cent said that they were not receiving a pension from the government.

As a result, women who are now acting as head of household are much less likely to be able to afford to

send their children to school, pay fees to access private community generators or buy clean water and


In summary, now that overall security situation, although still very fragile, begins to stabilise, and

as the Iraqi government is now benefiting from tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues (despite

falling global prices), countless mothers, wives, widows and daughters of Iraq remain caught in the

grip of a silent emergency. They are in urgent need of protection and – along with their families – are

in desperate need of regular access to affordable and quality basic services, and urgently require

enhanced humanitarian and financial assistance. Considering recent security gains, it is in the best

interest of the Iraqi government to now begin robust investment into the lives of the war-battered

civilian population, with the support – including technical support – of the international community.

« Last Edit: March 08, 2009, 10:58:33 PM by nestopwar »