The electoral lists in Iraq have witnessed numerous changes that favor women. Blocs and coalitions have changed their positions and attracted women of various orientations. They have turned to new faces and to real women's experiences.
These women’s orientation and nature differs depending on the political bloc and their ideological and religious tendencies. The most important issue, however, has been the emergence of women within those blocs who have different orientations and ideas than those of the party heading the electoral list.
Election campaign advertisements on streets and in public places feature posters of women who have not been under the spotlight in news bulletins and on local media talk shows. The Iraqi voters did not see these women amid the cacophony in the parliament, when female MPs raised their voices in objection to hot topics being discussed and the parliamentary session was closed to avoid embarrassment in front of viewers.
Even if the quota for women in the Iraqi parliament has not changed and has not been raised past the prescribed number, female candidates in the 2014 parliamentary elections may change the prevailing perceptions of some of the religious lists, which have attracted moderate women. These women may also change the perception that women are exploited as rigid elements on the electoral list.
Laws and figures
Article 13 of the Electoral Law stipulates that at least 25% of the parliament must be women, including the minorities’ quota. Paragraph 2 of the same article specifies that 25% of electoral lists submitted by the coalitions and parties to the [electoral] commission must be women and that the name of a female candidate must be mentioned after the mention of every three male candidates.
In previous years, parties abided by the obligation to include in their electoral lists the number of women required by the commission. They included the names of the candidates, but chose the name order that suited them. Some put the names of all the men first, followed by the names of women; others put names according to numbers regardless of the sex of the candidate; and some included a woman’s name after every three men.
In the current elections, parties and coalitions were bound by the order imposed by the commission and included the names of candidates on the lists according to the law. The Independent Higher Commission for Elections confirmed that there were 9,364 candidates for the parliamentary elections. These candidates are affiliated with 244 entities or 39 partisan coalitions, all competing for 328 seats in parliament. The commission’s statistics show that there are 6,772 male and 2,592 female candidates. According to the Iraqi Constitution, the coming elections will bring 82 women to the parliament, while currently there are 81 women out of a total of 325 MPs.
However, according to preliminary election indicators and the changes in the method of selecting female candidates on the lists, it seems that this proportion will change in the next parliament. The electoral law, despite focusing on the need to allocate at least one quarter of the seats in parliament to women, did not provide for an increase of this proportion. All paragraphs that referred to the quota included the term “at least” and did not set a maximum limit.
Citizens' Coalition female candidate Layla al-Khafaji told Al-Hayat that women have had broader participation in this election because the democratic experience has been consolidated over the past years. Society has started accepting women in politics since several women have proved their efficacy. “Women today are no longer a mere name added to complete the electoral list. There is a broad openness toward women who are activists in civil society. Even conservative parties have started to give women greater opportunities.” Khafaji asserted that women would benefit from the Sainte-Laguë method. The higher the number of lists are, the higher the number of women on these lists. She explained that this meant that women would benefit from the splitting of the lists and would then have a larger representation in parliament. “Some female candidates will obtain seats by convincing the voters, and not as a result of the quota,” she said.
Women candidates and Photoshop
Since the first moment of the launch of the election campaign, photos of women candidates for the Iraqi parliament have appeared in Baghdad streets along with photos of male candidates raising various slogans and emblems. The photos show women candidates as young and beautiful women, even among conservative parties that prefer to rely on women wearing the niqab or hijab.
Social media activists, in particular those on Facebook, have mainly focused on some candidates' photos that have stirred controversy, either because of beauty or for other reasons entirely unrelated to the slogans posted on the election posters.
On Twitter, tweets have mentioned some female candidates having undergone plastic surgery, while other tweets confirmed that the candidates’ photos were edited using Photoshop before being printed. Other Twitter users edited the photos themselves and reposted them.
Democratic and civil rights movements, such as the Civil Democratic Alliance, have highly focused on soliciting female civil activists in the fields of women's and family rights and have tried to focus on women having a significant popular base among civil circles.
Shorouq al-Abegi, a candidate for the mentioned alliance, told Al-Hayat that the image of women would change in the next parliament. A number of female civil society activists would serve under its dome in favor of women's issues and social rights. “In the next parliament, we will witness a qualitative change in the presence of women. The election of recognized female activists known for supporting women's issues will strengthen the laws on women.”