by Souad N. Al-Azzawi
For centuries, Iraqi women struggled for their human rights. It wasn't until the 1960's that some improvements in constitutional women's rights were implemented. During the seventies and eighties, women's rights improved significantly, providing better educational opportunities, political involvement, equal job opportunities, health care and development of laws and regulations to ensure a better life for Iraqi women and girls.
Deterioration of women's rights in Iraq began during the US-UN comprehensive economical sanctions imposed on Iraqi during the nineties. In 2003, the invasion of Iraq by the USA and its allies resulted in the descent of the rights of women just like other elements in Iraqi society, infrastructure and the general quality of life.
To define the extent of the USA occupation impact on women's rights and living conditions, a survey composed of 21 questions was distributed in two major cities:
- Inside Baghdad, Iraq in the Karada District, and
- Kudsiya area in Damascus, Syria where more than 200,000 Iraqi refugees live.
The 150 women who answered the survey were a part of 150 families or households composed of a total of 502 Iraqis.
Statistical analysis of the questions of the survey indicated dangerous trends in the security status that drove Iraqi women out of their jobs, where 85% of the studied women are unemployed (taking into consideration that the large majority of this percentage have a formal education). The study also indicated that 36% of the studied families lived with no income or a very low income of $100/month or less which has lead to women and children doing menial labor or begging. Also, it was found that 87 families have a victim of either occupation forces or sectarian violence. The mortality rate among this targeted displaced population is 193 per 1000. this high mortality rate is an indication of genocide existing amongst the migrated and displaced population. Missing family members rate at 12.7, and it is also estimated that 20% of the students of the studied women's families are having difficulties and failing schools. A percentage of other students quit school altogether.
The occupation is totally responsible for the deterioration and destruction of women's lives and rights in Iraq. Iraqi women under occupation need the help of their sisters in international women's organizations abroad to help protect them and protect their rights. They also have the right to resist the occupier in every way available to reclaim their lost lives and ensure a better life for themselves and their families.
Prior to 1920, Iraqi women’s rights were not truly recognized under the Ottoman Empire rule. Iraq was occupied for four centuries under this rule which saw virtually no advancement of rights for women. The situation did not improve much under the tribal, religious ruling during the British occupation and colonial period of 1920-1958.
In 1958, Iraq became a Republic and for the first time ever, women’s rights began to improve, when the government of General Abdul-Kareem Kasim supported by the Iraqi Communist Party amended Personal Status Law to grant equal inheritance and divorce rights. This Personal Status Law also relegated divorce, inheritance and marriage to civil, instead of religious, courts, andprovided for child support.
After that, Iraqi women and girls began enjoying relatively more rights than many of their counterparts in the Middle East .
The primary underpinning of women’s equality is contained in the Iraqi provisional constitution, which was drafted by the Ba’ath party in 1970 .
Article 19 declares all citizens equal before the law regardless of sex, blood, language, social origin, or religion .
Enrolment of women and girls in rural areas in literacy centers under the illiteracy eradication legislation of 1979 transferred women in Iraq into a new level of education, labor, and employment. With other employment laws, the opportunities in the civil service sector, maternity benefits, and stringent laws against harassment in the work place allowed Iraqi women larger involvement in building their careers .
Women attained the right to vote and run for office in 1980. In 1986 Iraq became one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
During the 1990’s, the (US-UN) sanctions imposed on Iraq had a great impact on women and children in Iraq. The financial crippling of families resulted in an increase of female illiteracy as many families could not afford to send their children to school.
To compare through numbers, according to (UNESCO) by the year of 1987, approximately 75 percent of Iraqi women were literate, but by end of 2000, the percentage of literate women dropped to less than 25 percent .
The criminal comprehensive economic sanctions imposed on Iraq not only prepared the situation in Iraq for the American aggressor to occupy the country and take over the oil reserves, but it also put a halt to the significant advancement in women rights and the improved living conditions they had struggled hundreds of years to earn.
By the end of the nineties, the economic constraints pushed women to leave their jobs and return to their traditional role in the home. The tremendous pressure and burden the Iraqi women have gone through since the illegal sanctions is indescribable, where she has had to feed the children with no food, take care of ill family members with no medicine, and bury her loved ones as an advanced sacrifice to the US invasion of Iraq.
Iraqi women proved to be reliable, enthusiastic and hard workers when given the chance to have a proper education and human rights.
By the end of the year 2000, many Iraqi women who worked as scientists, engineers, medical doctors, artists, poets, journalists, and educators proved that they not only can be equal to their counterparts, but more responsible to their historic challenge as an important integral half of society.
Iraqi Women Under Occupation
Like other parts of society, Iraqi women lives, rights, and living environment was drastically changed by the military operations during the invasion of Iraq in March-April 2003.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi women, children, and men were killed, injured and families were shattered as a result of using conventional and internationally banned weapons like White Phosphorous, Napalm, Depleted Uranium, Cluster Bombs, chemical agents and gasses    . About 100,000 deaths were estimated as a result of occupation military operations for the period from March 2003 and August 2004 .
Due to the continuing existence of US-led occupation forces and the intentional collapse of security, the economy, and civil services, women’s lives have become worse than ever. One reason of many is the new amendments made under the occupation government to the constitution and personal status laws. The majority of occupation assigned political parties are composed of religious clerics and fundamentalists who have their own sectarian explanations and interpretations of Islamic Sharia. These interpretations are often conflicting or contradictory from one faction to another. The new USA-written Iraqi constitution includes laws and regulations that leave much room for conjecture and interpretation by clerics and religious figures. This has resulted and will continue to result in a sure and swift deterioration of women’s rights as most of the old laws protecting women are now arguable under this more ‘flexible’ constitution. The occupation is responsible of the deterioration in women rights and living environment through the following:
- Contrary to Geneva Conventions, Iraqi women are arrested, detained, abused and made to collaborate with the occupation forces and to inform against resistance. 
- There has been an increase of sexual assaults, torture and violations of women’s right by US forces in Iraq. 
- The majority of women lost their jobs. Seventy percent of the previously working Iraqi women today are unemployed for different reasons. Before the invasion, women formed more than 40 percent of total workers in the public sector. 
- The dismantling of Iraqi security forces and police led to an increase in violence and crimes against women. Women are no longer leaving their homes unaccompanied by the relatives.
- Women suffered from great loss of their loved ones through the unjustified killing of Iraqis by the “self-immune” from prosecution US soldiers. The total number of deaths in Iraq since the start of the invasion in 2003 is estimated to be 1,127,552  due to different causes. The majority of these deaths are due to the troops use of excessive force and violence and the intentional creation of a sectarian civil war by the occupier to control the country.
- Iraqi women are losing basic rights under the new constitution where women’s rights are implemented only if they don’t contradict the Shariaa, which is interpreted differently by each sect .
The Struggle of Iraqi Women Under the Occupation: Numbers and Statistics
To investigate the effects of the occupation and its related political, economical, educational and social consequences, a survey through the questionnaire shown in Appendix  was conducted. The selected population of the survey was divided into two categories:
- Iraqi women within families in the largely refugee area of Kudsiya in on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. This population is largely comprised of Iraqis who were under high threat for various reasons.
- Iraqi women within families in Karada District on the Rasafa side of Baghdad, Iraq. This area is considered a relatively stable, safe area.
The author and her assistants carried out the questionnaires and randomly distributed them to women within the families in these areas, and asked them to fill it out, and finally collected them for analysis. Due to the great fear of the women, the study team collected only 70 questionnaires from the women or families in Karada area in Iraq, and 80 questionnaires from the women in the Kudsiya area in Syria. In other words, the survey included 150 Iraqi families. Statistical analysis of the survey was split into the following categories:
- Marital Status
- Educational Level
- Age Distribution
- Employment Status
- Reasons for Current Unemployment
- Family Provider (Guardian)
- Monthly Income of the Family
- Family Members Killed During Violence or Conflict
- Circumstances of Family Member Deaths
- Missing Family Members
- Existing Chronic Illnesses Needing Treatment
- Existence of Chronic Illness Amongst the Women
- Displaced Families – Causes of Displacement
- Education and School Attendance Status of Students in the Families
More news from Iraq:
* Deterioration of Iraqi Women's Rights and Living Conditions Under Occupation [PDF] - A survey by Dr. Souad N. Al-Azzawi - 34 pages - 19 December 2007 - Mujer iraquí y ocupación - Traducido del inglés para IraqSolidaridad por Consuelo Delgado [HTML]
* The effects of the American use of prohibited weapons on the health condition in Fallujah [PDF] - 15 pages - MHRI 10 December 2007
* Notes On Genocide In Iraq [PDF] - Dr. Ian Douglas - 44 pages - July 2007 -
* Iraq’s Lost Generation: Impact and Implications [PDF] Dr Ismail Jalili's Report to the House of Lords Commission on Iraq - 18 pages - 17 June 2007
* Research on Death Squads in Iraq [PDF] Report of Monitoring of Human Rights in Iraq Network (MHRI) - 45 pages - December 2006
* Depleted Uranium Radioactive Contamination In Iraq [PDF]- Dr. Souad N. Al-Azzawi - 20 pages - August 2006
* Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under Occupation [PDF]- Dahr Jamail 38 pages - June 2005
PDF file: http://www.brusselstribunal.org/pdf/WomenUnderOccupation.pdf