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Remarks by Alice Walpole to mark International Women’s Day

Baghdad, 7 March

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished Guests,
UN Colleagues,

It is a pleasure to be here today on the eve of International Women’s Day, recognizing, celebrating, promoting the contribution and achievements of Iraqi women. This year’s national theme, Social Protection and Economic Empowerment of Women, provides an excellent platform for a frank discussion on the progress made in narrowing economic and social inequalities for women. I am particularly interested in the economic aspects of gender equality: Iraqi women still have limited access, compared with their male counterparts, to the labour force, to credit and other financing, and to property ownership rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The United Nations recognises and values the vital importance of the full, meaningful engagement of women – half of the population, half of its talent - in Iraq’s political, economic, security and social decision-making. We can, and we must, do more to promote women’s full participation in the life of Iraq. This country simply cannot afford to ignore or under-use all their experience, knowledge and expertise.

We have accordingly prioritized the promotion of women’s political participation in our engagement with senior Iraqi interlocutors. Getting women into senior political roles will help open the door to a richer engagement by women in other areas of Iraqi public life. Current discussions in Parliament and within the Independent High Electoral Commission on amendments to the Political Parties Law offer a good opportunity to establish legally binding provisions – for example, quotas - that enhance the political participation of women.

Meanwhile, male political leaders must defend and promote the political, economic and legal space for women. Legislators must remove legal obstacles hindering women’s participation in all spheres of life. I have met several male champions of gender equality among Iraq’s political ranks. I call on them to advocate for the consideration of Iraq’s many qualified women for senior public roles. Although, disappointingly, we have yet to see any women appointed to ministerial roles, let us concentrate fresh effort on supporting women into other senior appointments - deputy ministerial posts; chair-ships of parliamentary committees; leadership roles within political party structures; senior judicial positions; ambassadorial appointments.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The advancement of women is, of course, not just about ensuring female representation at the highest levels of society. It’s about ensuring that the ordinary woman in the street is able to maximise her individual potential, to make the very best of her life, to make the greatest possible contribution to her community.

In this context, I want to mention the issue of violence against women and girls, which not only denies their rights, it prevents them from fully participating in society. I very much welcome ongoing parliamentary discussion to update and finalise the Anti-Domestic Violence Law. This will be a vital step for the government in ensuring that Iraq is implementing its commitments under international treaties and resolutions to combat violence against women and girls. We need to acknowledge that domestic violence diminishes and shames all of society; it is a threat not just to women but to society in general.

Let me turn to economic issues. The unemployment rate for young women is double that of men. Iraq’s private sector is not yet able to generate the investment and enterprise growth needed to create employment and reduce Iraq’s high level of dependence on oil revenues and public sector employment. We need to see a rapid expansion of the private sector to generate significant employment opportunities for women. I warmly encourage the government to offer small business grants to female entrepreneurs to help them into the business arena, in particular to women returnees in the liberated areas and those heading households. Advancing women’s economic empowerment in this way will contribute to the government’s efforts to achieve national stability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

International Women’s Day cannot pass in Iraq without some reflection on those many women in this country who remain displaced from their homes, some of whom are living in intolerable circumstances. You will be aware of the challenges faced by displaced communities, notably, women-headed households, widows, female victims of Da’esh, women returnees, women who have, rightly or wrongly, been perceived as affiliated with extremists. They continue to suffer the brutal consequences of the recent conflict. For example, widows face challenges in securing death or missing persons certificates for their husbands; women perceived to have ties with Da’esh must undergo multiple rigorous security screening and clearance processes; others exist in a limbo without personal documentation, some the victims of sexual violence and abuse. Discriminatory practices and cruelty towards such women, and a heavy stigma, inhibit them from accessing courts, civil registries and other public services, including social welfare benefits.

I therefore, on this International Women’s Day, urge the Ministry of Defence, National Operations Command and Ministry of Interior to ensure that secure clearance mechanisms are coordinated among security actors to minimize re-screening of individuals already screened; and to consider removing security clearance requirements for civilians who have not been charged with a criminal or terrorism-related offence, so they do not face obstacles in accessing public services, including civil registries and courts. Female-headed households should be prioritised in accessing public services.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fight for gender equality should not be restricted to International Women’s Day. We must sustain our efforts throughout the year to fight for Iraqi women’s rights. To break down the barriers hindering their political economic and social participation in the life of this country. For our part, the United Nations will continue to provide technical support for the development of the second Iraqi National Action Plan on women, peace and security; and continue urging the government to establish a formal commission, fully authorised and properly funded, to coordinate implementation of the Plan and national frameworks and policies.

We look forward to collaborating with you. In the words of Gloria Steinem, world-renowned women’s rights activist: “the story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single activist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” Let us show that collective effort.

Thank you.