U.S. Policy on Iraqi Women's Political, Economic, and Social Participation

Thursday, July 17, 2003
Department of State's Office of International Women's Issues
Western Asia

The Way It Was For Iraqi Women:

Saddam Hussein's brutal regime silenced the voices of Iraq's women and men through violence and intimidation. Iraq's women suffered human rights abuses for more than two decades under the Ba'ath regime, including rape, torture, imprisonment or even death for opposing the regime.

-- In 1990, Saddam Hussein introduced a law that exempted men who killed female relatives in defense of the family's honor from prosecution and punishment under the Penal Code. More than 4,000 women were victims of this law. (U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, January 2002)

-- Women were not allowed to organize or exercise their political voice except through the regime's highly controlled structure.

-- Iraq currently has the highest overall illiteracy in the Arab world at 61% for the population and 77% for women. (UNESCO Arab States Regional Report, May 2003)

U.S. Commitment:

President Bush has repeatedly stated that supporting and promoting respect for women's rights is a U.S. foreign policy imperative. Ensuring women's rights benefits individuals and families, strengthens democracy and civil society, bolsters prosperity, enhances stability and encourages tolerance.

The U.S. is committed to helping the Iraqi people transition to a sovereign, representative form of government that respects human rights, rejects terrorism and maintains Iraq's territorial integrity without threatening its neighbors. We recognize that the women of Iraq have a critical role to play in the revival of their country and we strongly support their efforts. They bring skills and knowledge that will be vital to restoring Iraq to its rightful place in the region and in the world. The U.S. will engage with Iraqi women to secure and advance the gains that they have achieved so far.

USG Actions To Date:

-- The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is engaging Iraqi women to promote and ensure their continued involvement as professionals, politicians and visible members of society.

-- President Bush, Vice President Cheney, National Security Advisor Rice, members of Congress and other USG officials have met and continue to meet with Iraqi women in the U.S. and Iraq.

-- Soon after arriving in Baghdad, Presidential Envoy Paul Bremer met with more than 40 Iraqi women to hear their views on the current situation in Iraq and issues of concern, such as security and engagement in reconstruction efforts. He encouraged the women to organize themselves to address these issues and pledged CPA support for their efforts.

-- Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky traveled to Iraq to meet with Ambassador Bremer and participate in the Voice of Women in Iraq conference on July 9. She met with Iraqi women to seek their input on activities to address issues critical to women's involvement in developing civil society, such as legal reform, social welfare, economic development and education.

-- Earlier this year, Under Secretary Dobriansky hosted a roundtable with Iraqi women to elicit their ideas for ensuring the full integration of women in the reconstruction process. As a result of these discussions, the Office of International Women's Issues provided a list of qualified women inside and outside Iraq who are available to work with the CPA on reconstruction issues.

-- The CPA is including women in the full range of its work on political and economic reconstruction efforts -- from establishing the Interim Authority to providing basic services.

-- Programs are being tailored to meet the different needs of women in various regions in Iraq.

-- The State Department helped send a delegation of Iraqi women to the June 2003 Global Summit of Women (GSW) conference in Morocco. Forty women ministers and over 700 delegates from approximately 80 countries met to discuss women's economic development and business. It was the first GSW meeting held in the Arab world, and provided Iraqi women with the opportunity to network with their counterparts in the region.

-- GSW also organized a pre-summit Colloquium on Economic Development for Women from Arab states.

Ongoing Actions:

The CPA is meeting groups of women from all walks of life in an on-going effort to enlist their participation and ask their assistance in identifying other women who want to participate or provide advice on the political process. We have solicited their views in key areas such as constitutional development, judicial reform, and the de-Ba'athification Council.

-- CPA is also working to assure the inclusion of women in the rebuilding of ministries and institutions -- such as the Ministry of Planning.

-- CPA is holding a series of town hall meetings at the local level, carried out by the Governance Support Teams (GST), which include women.

-- CPA plans to work with Iraqi women to ensure that in reforming the legal system, attention is paid to laws that have an impact on the status and rights of women.

The Department of State's Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau is organizing a series of International Visitor (IV) Programs on business opportunities for professional Iraqi women. It is also organizing interactive Digitized Video Conference programs between members of Iraqi women's NGOs and their counterparts in the United States.

Past crimes against humanity and war crimes against Iraqis will be accounted for in a post-conflict Iraqi-led process. Women will continue to play a role in this process as they did in the Governing Council's July 15 decision to move ahead on establishing a special court to try alleged perpetrators.