Iraqi women in the grip of ‘silent emergency’ despite security gains

Published: 8th March 2009

A surge of state aid for women and their families, investment in basic services, urgently needed; 75% of widows interviewed not receiving pension

Iraqi women are suffering a ‘silent emergency’, trapped in a downward spiral of poverty, desperation and personal insecurity despite an overall decrease in violence in the country, according to a survey of 1,700 women in Iraq released today by international aid agency Oxfam.The survey report, “In Her Own Words: Iraqi women talk about their greatest concerns and challenges,” is being released on International Women’s Day to highlight the daily hardships women are facing as a result of years of conflict.The report also calls on the government of Iraq to begin a ‘surge’ of investment into reviving Iraq’s social welfare and essential services sectors now that the security situation, although still fragile, has improved in recent months. Critical in this effort is robust support from the international community. Such investment would benefit the population as a whole, and perhaps none more than Iraq’s at risk women, and in particular, women-headed-households.“Women are the forgotten victims of Iraq. Despite the billions of dollars poured into rebuilding Iraq and recent security gains, a quarter of the women interviewed still do not have daily access to water, a third cannot send their children to school and since the war started, over half have been the victim of violence. And to add further insult more than three quarters of widows, many of whom lost their husbands to the conflict, get no government pension which they are entitled to,” said Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs.A large majority of women surveyed were not receiving any state support and had become so poor as a result of the conflict that many could not afford to provide their families with clean water, electricity, food, an education and medical treatment.Oxfam and an Iraqi women’s organization, Al-Amal Association, which conducted the survey last year, found that despite security gains some 60 per cent of women said that their security and personal safety were was still their number one concern.The majority of women surveyed also said that access to most services, including drinking water and electricity, was worse or the same in mid-2008 as it was in 2006 when levels of insecurity in Iraq were higher. A quarter of  the women surveyed – 24 per cent – had no access to clean water. Nearly half of those who did have access to water – 48 per cent – said it wasn’t suitable for drinking. Eighty-two per cent said that access to electricity had worsened or had not improved since 2006.“A whole generation of Iraqis are at risk. Mothers are being forced to make tough choices, such as whether to pay for their children to go to school and receive healthcare, or to pay for private power and water services. These are choices no mother should have to make, and they are not only threatening individual families. They are also threatening the future of Iraq itself,” added Hobbs.The survey also found that:

  • Income was worse for 45% of women in 2008 compared with 2007 and 2006, while roughly 30% said it had not changed in that same time period
  • 33%  of  women had received no humanitarian assistance since 2003
  • 76% of widows were not receiving a pension from the government
  • Nearly 25% of women had no daily access to drinking water & half of those who did have daily access to water said it was not potable; 69% said access to water was worse or the same as it was in 2006 & 2007
  • One-third of respondents had electricity 3 hours or less per day; two-thirds had 6 hours or less; 80% said access to electricity was more difficult or the same compared to 2007; 82% as compared to 2006 and 84% as compared to 2003
  • Nearly half of women said access to quality healthcare was more difficult in 2008 compared with 2006 and 2007
  • 40% of women with children reported that their sons and daughters were not attending school.
These choices...are not only threatening individual families. They are also threatening the future of Iraq itself.
Jeremy Hobbs
Executive Director, Oxfam International

Notes to editors

The survey is not a comprehensive assessment of the whole population, but does provide a disturbing snapshot of the hardships women in Iraq face today. The 1,700 women who participated in the survey were selected to reflect diverse ethnic, religious, sectarian, geographic, economic and social backgrounds, and come from both urban and rural areas. Oxfam’s partner organization, Al-Amal Association, in conjunction with local volunteers in each province, identified a sample of women in the five Iraqi of provinces Nineveh, Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk and Najaf who would represent the different groups in order to paint the most accurate picture possible of Iraq as a whole.

The survey was completed in late May 2008. The raw data was analyzed over the following months and submitted to Oxfam in the autumn. The collection of individual stories, excerpts of which appear in the survey report, was completed in early 2009, as was follow-up analysis corroborating the validity of the initial findings of the survey.

Oxfam had staff working inside Iraq but withdrew them in 2004 due to chronic security problems. It now supports domestic and international aid agencies which are able to operate in Iraq.