The Role of Women in Iraq During and After the Iraq-Iran War
The Role of Women in Iraq During and After the Iraq-Iran War
Ever since 1980, Iraq has been involved in a war against Iran - The Role of Women in Iraq During and After the Iraq-Iran War introduction. The prolonged duration of the said war has caused Iraq to be a country of turmoil and unrest. A war requires numerous men to fight it. Extending the war meant requiring more and more Iraqi men to be drafted into the army and this indicated fewer men available to complete the more traditional workforce roles in Iraqi society. The long-drawn-out war escalated the costs of the military and the fact that there were fewer men available to complete the other jobs in the country caused an economic crisis. (Efrati, 28)
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The war and the drastic changes it brought about in Iraq required equally drastic restructuring of the country’s social ladder. This restructuring was focused more in the reconstruction of the gender roles of both Iraq women and men. The roles of women, most especially, were redefined as the men continued to be required for the war.
Numerous factories and companies, for example, were suddenly faced with the problem of a reduced workforce. As men were continually drafted into the army, factory workers and company employees increasingly decreased. It should be noted that women’s roles in Iraq during that time were that of giving birth, taking care of their children, and maintaining a home for their family. (Efrati, 38) This meant that the reduction of the male workforce and the economic crisis had a very great impact on Iraqi women – women who had no previous experience of providing for themselves and their children.
The war created such a great economic crisis in the country that many women were forced to leave the country. Families that lost their bread-winning males to the war crossed over to Jordan, hoping for a better life. The destitute Iraq could no longer provide for the needs of these women and their children. Other women stayed in the country and were faced with the task of supporting the country by taking on roles previously denied them. (Alkhalidi; Kuhail) The Iraqi government found it necessary to encourage women to take on new roles and to play a part in strengthening the country’s economy. Saddam Hussein, himself, visited the General Federation of Iraqi Women (GFWI), the Baath party’s female arm, to ask them for their active help and participation in the country’s production process. (Efrati, 28) Women found that they needed to come out of their previous household roles and replace the men in factory and company jobs. (Efrati, 28)
Women were thus taken from their original reproductive roles in society to increasingly challenging economic roles of production. Females during the war transformed from being home-based individuals to becoming the focal point of the struggling economy of Iraq. Full roles in the production process, equivalent to those only men used to hold, were offered to them and much attention was paid, even by male politicians like Saddam Hussein, towards the need for women in the workplace. Because of this, free reign was granted to all females who were willing to take on new economic roles in Iraqi society. (Efrati, 29)
Despite the increased opportunity of women in Iraq society, some researchers claimed that support for Iraqi women during the war was, in fact, absent. The government, it was shown, failed to stress the importance of Iraqi women in alleviating the worsening economic condition of the country. Public support was palpably lacking and campaigns to redefine the valuation of women in the society were not undertaken. There were numerous women who, although willing, were not able to participate in the production process. (Efrati, 31) This is why there was great efflux of women from the country towards neighboring countries like Jordan. There was still minimal support for most of the women in Iraq and they could not provide for their families with so little support.
During the war, women were raised to new strata of society. However, once war was concluded, they were once again brought down to their previous roles. (Al-ali, 756-757) In truth, this was a common post-war situation. At the conclusion of a war, women are often at the receiving end of a social backlash. With the return of the men from the war, there is a clear reestablishment of social roles. The Iraqi women who were taken from their household roles and placed in the factories and companies are made to return to their original places in Iraq society. There is thus a clear struggle between the sexes during the reestablishment of their roles. (Al-ali, 742)
The things that change after the war, for the Iraqi women, lie not only in the drastic transformation of their roles but also in the way they are treated by their male counterparts. It is typical in post-war settings for women to have to bear violence, abuse, and aggression. The Iraqi women had to face lawlessness, lack of security, abduction, sexual abuse, and harassment. (Al-ali,742; Ziad, 16) The level of violence and abuse that the women had to face were significantly greater than the abuse they faced prior to the occurrence of war.
The males who come back from the war are able to commit such violent and aggressive acts towards the women because of a combination of two main factors. First, there is a feeling of intimidation and insecurity because the women were able to so easily take on and replace them in their jobs. Second, the very fact that the men have just come from war indicates that they were subject to violent and aggressive situations which may have caused an overflowing of the same into Iraqi homes. (Al-ali, 742)
As these conditions of violence continue, women were pushed further and further back into the background of Iraqi society. During the war, their economic and social roles were allowed to increase to new heights but after the war, these roles began to significantly decrease. They not only have to give up the new economic roles they held during the war but also have to settle for a quality of life in the household that is less than that they had during the war. Although Iraqi women continually fought for political and economic equality in their society, they continue to be severely marginalized. They are taken for granted in the very country they so desperately tried to keep alive during the war. (Al-ali, 756)
Political research has shown, however, that greater progress can be achieved by the war-torn Iraq if women are allowed to take a more active economic and political role. The inclusion of female perspective in the development of solutions and plans for reconstruction has been shown to markedly increase progress. Countries like Northenr Ireland, Bosniz Herzegovina, Cyprus, and Israel attest to the veracity of this claim. Women have been shown to be a critical aspect of both the political and economic arena of a country. (Al-ali, 756-757)
Today, women’s roles in Iraq remain the same as they were prior to the war with Iran. Despite the success of integrating the women in the economic workforce during the war, Iraq today remains a male-led society. (Efrati, 38) Women continue to fight for greater representation both in the workforce and the political field but it seems that the reality of gender equality in Iraq remains something to be achieved in the very far-off future.
The war in Iraq caused a shift in women’s roles. They were taken from traditional household tasks to take on more socially powerful roles previously only held by men. However, the conclusion of the war brought about a reversal of the said role change. Today, Iraq continues to rebuild itself and progress remains at a slow pace. The reintegration of women in the economic and political sectors of the country may prove to be the essential step towards speedier and more efficient reconstruction and progress.
Al-ali, Nadje. “Reconstructing gender: Iraqi women between dictatorship, war, sanctions and occupation” Third World Quarterly 26(2005), 739-758
Alkhalidi, Sumaya. “Eking out a living Iraqi women in downtown Amman”. Jordan Star 25 Jully 2002
Efrati, Nefrati. “Productive or reproductive? The roles of Iraqi women during the Iraq-Iran war.” Middle Eastern Studies 35(1999), 27-44
Kuhail, Reem. “Making ends meet Iraqi women in Irbid eke out a living”. Jordan Star 24 August 2000
Ziad, Homayra. “Hunger, fear and chaos abound in post-war Iraq, says returning visitor.” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 22(2003), 16-17