Iraq Pulse

Merger of parliamentary committees further sidelines Iraqi women

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Article Summary
Feminists in Iraq are speaking out against the merger of the parliamentary committees on human rights with that on women, family and childhood, saying the latter was already overextended and insufficient to effect female advancement.

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Council of Representatives voted Dec. 6 to merge the committee on human rights with the committee on women, family and childhood. Multiple political and parliamentary figures described the formation of one committee on human rights, women, family and childhood as a dangerous scheme that will marginalize women and deny them access to the cabinet. Women currently make up 25% of the Iraqi Parliament.

Only three out of the new committee's seven members are female, as many female lawmakers refused to join it in anger over the merger. The dispute has also so far prevented the election of its president and vice president.

The now-defunct committee consisted of seven female members. Although its work was limited in the previous parliamentary terms, it fought gendered abuse including underage and forced marriages. It also documented the suffering of displaced, divorced and impoverished women.

In 2015, former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi annulled a few ministries, including the Ministry of State for Women's Affairs, in an attempt to reduce the state expenditures against the backdrop of declining oil prices and a financial crisis. The UN warned against the move because dedicated ministries are needed to address violence against women and protect them in a countries afflicted by war and conflict. There was no reply from the council of ministers.

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Manal Muslimawi, a member of the parliament's Committee on Health and Environment, told Al-Monitor, “The House of Representatives not only merged the committee on human rights and the committee on women, family and childhood, but it also abstained from voting for the two female candidates in Adel Abdul Mahdi’s ministerial cabinet. These candidates are Saba al-Tai, who was nominated for the Education Ministry, and Asmaa Sadeq, who was nominated for the post of justice minister. Political differences prevented their names from being put forth in parliament.”

Muslimawi expressed resentment at the absence of women in the cabinet, stressing, “Merging the committee on women, family and childhood with another parliamentary committee will overextend it and render its decision-making ineffective. There should be an independent parliamentary committee on women’s affairs that drafts legislation to the advantage of women, families and children. This is very important because Iraqi women have remained excluded and absent from decision-making circles.”

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the head of the State of Law Coalition, demanded Nov. 11 that Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi create a ministry on women and children's affairs.

Qatea al-Rukabi, a member of parliament for the State of Law Coalition, told Al-Monitor, “It is wrong to merge the committee on women, family and childhood with another parliamentary committee … particularly after the abolition of the Ministry of State for Women's Affairs.” He added that the political blocs are focusing on getting members into committees they consider more important, such as security and defense.

He added, “We will make the best efforts to pressure the parliament leadership to reverse the merger of the two committees.”

Faten al-Rabiei, who oversees the feminism dossier in the National Wisdom Movement, pointed out that the previous leadership of the ministry was weak and ineffective. She told Al-Monitor, “The Ministry of State for Women's Affairs has not made any achievements that would eliminate injustice on women.”

She added, “The committee on women, family and childhood did not present effective legislation in the past parliamentary sessions. The merger was due to women’s weak position and subordination in the political blocs they are part of.”

Rabiei said that “the lack of consensus on two out of 22 candidates” was “a reflection of the bitter reality in which women who are subject to marginalization, exclusion, abuse, injustice and deprivation.”

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Mounthadar Nasser, the editor-in-chief of al-Alam al-Jadid, noted, “Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was not independent when selecting the cabinet. A consensus among the blocs was behind him putting forth the names that were voted on.”

He went on, “The quota system gained women access [to positions of authority] in the past few years. Yet they were later on marginalized and men continued to hold the reins. Thus, the principle of equal opportunities for men and women has been absent, which is a flagrant violation of the constitution.”

He said, “The pro forma representation of women in the government that is the result of quotas and foreign pressure does not solve the problems facing women in Iraq, such as displacement, high unemployment rates among female university graduates and domestic violence. Neither does it result in the passing of laws that protect women.”

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Sara al-Qaher is an Iraqi journalist and writer who is currently a student in the Faculty of Media at Baghdad University. She has worked for a number of local and international media organizations. 

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