From social prejudice and slander to death threats: Why Iraqi women have felt discouraged from competing in this year's political arena
With the Iraqi legislative election approaching this Sunday, women running for parliament are facing growing restrains, violence and social prejudice.
Many prominent Iraqi women activists have refused to run or participate in the entire political process due to fears of being killed, kidnapped, or facing threats targeting them and their family members.
"The 2018 elections witnessed a large number of female candidates go through defamation, slander, threats and various forms of abuse that discouraged them to run again"
Although the Iraqi electoral law – by Constitution – request that at least 25 percent of the seats in parliament must be allocated to women, the reality shows social prejudice and bureaucratic obstacles are the norms for female candidates who want to compete in the political arena.
While progress has been achieved, in Iraq women remain at the edge of political life and the decision-making process.
According to the Iraqi Electoral Commission, 951 female candidates out of 3,249 will run in Iraq’s forthcoming parliamentary elections. Less than half the figures than the previous election when more than 2,000 female candidates competed for parliament.
“The election in 2018 witnessed a large number of female candidates go through defamation, slander, threats and various forms of abuse that discouraged them to run again for the upcoming election,” Laura Silvia Battaglia, a freelance award-winning journalist specialising in Iraq and Yemen told The New Arab.
“Liberal female candidates are subjected to the same treatment, with their posters torn or damaged because they chose to show their face instead of the name. A hostile environment that, paradoxically, occurs during a campaign in which specific measures have been introduced to protect them, where they can now report threats directly to judges or request protection by the police,” Battaglia adds.
“The more conservative parties expect their female candidates not to support the hypothesis of a law against domestic violence, which has been at the core of the women participation in politics. The law would cancel honour killing, still widely practised in the country, and punish those responsible for related murders. Thus, many female candidates to not undermine the intent and don't follow the directives of the conservative parties prefers to withdraw,” pointed out Battaglia.
"The more conservative parties expect their female candidates not to support the hypothesis of a law against domestic violence, which has been at the core of the women participation in politics"
Within political parties, women in Iraq continue to be excluded from top positions or critical meetings on vital topics for the country.
The number of women in executive positions remains limited and, even so, they are not necessarily able to push for priorities or issues for women.
"Undoubtedly, political parties bear the primary responsibility for protecting women candidates and preventing incitement against them. At the same time, the political parties are the ones who target opponent women candidates more than anyone else,” said Iraqi MP Rizan Sheikh Mustafa in an interview with Sky News Arabia.
According to a report by the European Country of Origin Information Network, different factors drive this trend. Financial challenges in funding their political campaigns; patriarchal traditions; lack of opportunities to obtain prominent positions in State institutions. That comes along with intimidation, bullying, campaigns against women aimed to damage their social and political reputations.
In Iraq, few women hold political leadership positions capable to set an example to civil society. Furthermore, the self-perpetuation of power by the elité of the country continue to deny any implementation of gender equality in Iraq.
According to a paper by Oxfam, in addition to fear, violence, and social restrain women in Iraq also need the information and skills to participate in political life.
Communication skills, negotiation and public speaking courses open for women are still non-existent, and although networking within civil society has grown dramatically in the last decade, it continues to be inconsistent among women in politics.
“Greater participation of women in the elections would be desirable to push candidates to an equal proportion among the representatives of the government," Battaglia underlined.
"The current executive has within its rank only three women. Have a larger number of women in positions of responsibility in public institutions would allow women to gain more political and social power in the long run. In this way, they will be better known and have a greater number of potential voters to support them."
Nino Orto is a freelance journalist who specialises in the analysis of Iraq, Syria and wars in the Middle East. He is the editor-in-chief of Osservatorio Mashrek which provides insight and analysis on the Middle East