The current legal status of Iraqi women

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Raya Abu Gulal writes for nina-iraq.com

Raya Abu Gulal writes for nina-iraq.com

Raya Abu Gulal

I am delighted to be editing the Laws and Ideas page for Nina, as I believe that creating a safe environment legally for women to work and do business in is essential for the future of Iraq. I was born in Baghdad, grew up between the Netherlands and the UK and am educated in both countries. I am currently running my own legal consultancy firm, providing legal advice specializing in the Middle East. My practice covers a broad range of corporate and commercial work. Prior to setting up my legal consultancy, I worked in the Abu Dhabi offices of two leading international law firms. I specialize in corporate and commercial work for local and international clients.

Linked but different, I also wear a couple of other ‘hats’. I am an active member of various women’s development initiatives in the MENA region, and am the co- founder of the Women Lawyers Group Middle East and member of various UAE business groups. I am also an appointed committee member of the International Women’s Business Group (Abu Dhabi).

An Introduction – the Current Status of Iraqi women, Issues of Security

Iraqi women have enjoyed fundamental women’s rights since the late 1950s. This made Iraq one of the first nations to uphold modern standards of women’s rights in the Middle East.

In Iraq, women continue to face security threats across the country. These include random attacks by extremist groups and honour crimes. Moreover, various reports show that many Iraqi women who wish to participate in the political process are facing threats and kidnappings. Lack of security and initiatives from extremist groups have proved to be the main obstacles preventing the advancement of women’s rights in the country.

The security situation is having a serious impact on Iraqi society as a whole, but Iraqi women have always been among the first to feel the impact of violence and negative developments. There has been a sharp increase in the exploitation of Iraqi women, particularly from extremist groups, resulting in the use of Iraqi women in suicide missions, forced prostitution, violence (including rape and honour killings) and other terrible situations. This has also led to an increase in women suffering mental problems and other acute illnesses. This further impacts on Iraqi society, as well as affecting the country’s economy.

It is foreseen that women will keep facing security challenges in the next few years, until governments adopt more effective initiatives and policies, in some cases, or conflicts come to an end, in other cases.

However, efforts should be made to offer more security for women, in particular, in areas affected by war. Policymakers on a national and international level should recognize the importance of security for women by: increasing the participation of women in decision- making; implementing actions, by rewriting the penal codes to add gender violence definitions; and imposing tougher punishments.

It is also important to note that a viable country cannot be built on the persecution of women – nor can any stable society. Iraq cannot simply ignore half of its population.

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