The Status of Women in Iraq, An Assessment of Iraq's De Jure and De Facto Compliance with International Legal Standards

Friday, July 1, 2005
Kelly Fleck, Sawsan Gharaibeh, Aline Matta and Yasmine Rassam
Western Asia

This Assessment measures Iraq's compliance with internationally accepted standards of gender equality as outlined in core international human rights law instruments to which Iraq is a party. The international human rights framework is an interconnected network of laws and principles that serve as guidelines for ensuring human dignity and a universally equal society. Human rights were defined gradually over several decades through the drafting, signing and ratification of international
legal instruments to which governments made commitments and undertook obligations.

International human rights law is largely based upon the principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the latter two of which Iraq ratified in 1971. These two Covenants codified the principles articulated in the UDHR.

Other key human rights instruments have been formulated, signed and ratified by Member States based on the foundation of the UDHR, ICCPR and the ICESCR. These include the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which Iraq ratified in 1970, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) acceded to in 1994. The Assessment also looks at other conventions and declarations as they apply to individual subject areas, such as The Convention against Discrimination in Education, signed by Iraq in 1977, and the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, passed by the General Assembly in 1994.

The most prominent human rights instrument on women's equality is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Iraq acceded to in 1986. CEDAW was opened for signature in 1979, and since then has been adopted by 180 countries. CEDAW espouses values and legal obligations for women's human rights that, because of the treaty's widespread adoption around the world, have become universal. They are not characteristic of the customs,
traditions or values of any one particular set of countries, but instead are basic tenets of equality that have been adopted by the world community.

International human rights treaty law broadly covers and ensures women's participation in a variety of arenas including political representation, education, health care, economic rights, rural concerns, employment, and marriage/family relations. Many of the subjects addressed by the treaties are areas of concern for both men and women in Iraq. It should be noted that focusing attention on compliance with international law in relation to women's human rights does not mean that men do not also suffer from the failure of the Iraqi health care system, for example, or that they are not also entitled to safe workplaces. Most of the areas of concern which are elaborated on in this assessment would, if addressed, improve the quality of life of all people in Iraq.

By acceding to numerous international conventions, Iraq voluntarily obligated itself to comply with the requirements and initiatives that are imposed on States Parties. These include not only measures to eliminate and prevent discrimination, but also proactive measures designed to promote equality between men and women and to change the culture of gender in signatory states.

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