Iraqi Women Need to be at the Forefront of Reconstruction Efforts
In the aftermath of the battle against ISIS, there is still a wide range of challenges facing Iraq. Its humanitarian situation, which has been in decline especially since 2014, has only made minimal steps towards improving. There are currently 8.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and 2 million internally displaced persons. At 3.9 million, the number of returnees exceeds the number of IDPs, but they are faced with a number of problems upon return, including access to water, food, healthcare, and income. Women, who confronted some of the harshest consequences of life under ISIS, are struggling to find ways to return to normal life, despite the strides made towards reconstruction.
Two months prior to ISIS’s assault against Iraq, the country became the first in the Middle East to authorize implementation of UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace, and Security. Originally adopted in 2000, the resolution called on countries to increase the participation of women in peace and security efforts and take measures to protect women from gender-based violence.
Whatever potential the resolution had for elevating the status and protection of women was quickly diminished with the onset of ISIS. An emergency action plan was developed by an alliance of civil society groups to secure implementation of the resolution, but its success was limited. Now that the threat of ISIS has been removed, the challenge is not only how to reimplement the national action plan, but how to address the remaining threats facing women.
Many of the current problems facing women are either a continuation or a repercussion of threats under ISIS. As in many conflicts where women are left vulnerable, one of the most widespread threats under ISIS was the prevalence of sexual violence. As a result, some girls were married off young by their families because of the perceived correlation to safety, while others were abducted and forced to marry ISIS fighters.
Some of the most notorious stories of sexual violence came from the Yazidis. Over 6,000 members of the religious minority were captured, while an estimate of 3,000 were murdered. Of the thousands of women and girls that were abducted, tortured, and sexually abused by ISIS, nearly 3,000 remain in captivity or unaccounted for.
As reconstruction plans are contemplated, strategic solutions will have to be developed for the lasting threats against women. Gender based violence, as an example, remains one of the greatest hurdles to women’s safety and well-being. Some have attributed the persistence of gender-based violence to a provision in the Iraqi Penal Code, which allows honor to be used as mitigation for crimes committed between family members.
Along with gender-based violence, access to sufficient healthcare remains as another hurdle to women’s safety and well-being. The World Health Organization warned that nearly 38% of health facilities are in danger of closing by the end of this month. In 2018 alone, shortages of funds forced the closure of 22 health service delivery points. The closure of health facilities is concerning because they offer services to over 900,000 displaced Iraqis and their hosts.
Despite the challenges presented, international actors and civil society groups have worked together to develop solutions. One such solution is the development of women’s centers by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). As part of its emergency response, UNFPA currently supports 140 women centers throughout Iraq. In addition to recreational opportunities, the centers also provide health support, such as psychosocial support, references to health facilities, maternal health care, legal assistance, and methods to find help for gender-based violence.
The international community has also made commitments towards facilitating reconstruction efforts. After it was announced that post-ISIS reconstruction efforts would take $88 billion to fund, seven donors committed $30 billion. Turkey pledged $5 billion in investments and loans, which was the largest of all contributors. In an effort to help Iraqis return home and secure its border, Turkey will also help reconstruct the cities of Kirkuk, Mosul, Tal Afar, Baghdad, Irbil, and Sulaymaniyah.
To keep the momentum of reconstruction efforts going, one of the next steps for Iraq should be to ensure that women are at the forefront of negotiations and peace processes. Breakthroughs have already been made in the realm of environmental protection, where an inter-ministerial initiative was developed to include women in national environment protection, disaster preparedness, and response to climate action. The inclusion of women could help to not only secure further breakthroughs, but ensure that the reconstruction process properly addresses the needs of those whose voices need to be amplified the most.