Halabja (Iraq) (AFP)
While equality may be a distant reality for many women in Iraq, in Halabja women have reached the highest levels of local government.
Mayor, dean of university, director of the veterinary department and spokesperson for health are some of the leadership positions held by women in the city of about 115,000 inhabitants.
It marks a sort of departure for Iraqi Kurdistan, where public affairs have long been dominated by a handful of men.
Tradition and conservative values have meant that women face routine discrimination and are largely confined to the private sphere.
“When you’re a woman, climbing the ladder comes with a lot of sacrifice,” Faraj, 55, told AFP.
A former deputy head of the municipality for 15 years, Faraj launched her political career many years earlier, when she distributed, as a student, leaflets against Saddam Hussein’s regime, which carried out an infamous chemical attack on the little town. before the end of Iran. – Iraq War in 1988.
She recalled one day when an armed man arrived and asked her to sign questionable papers. She refused.
“I thought he would pull out his gun and shoot,” she said.
“He stood up and said, ‘If you weren’t a woman, I know what I would have done.’ “
She said that in her city, the campaign for gender equality was largely led by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two historic parties of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Still, some residents complain that the advances are largely cosmetic and aimed at masking shortcomings in public services.
A junior partner of the Kurdistan regional government in Arbil, the PUK holds the post of president of the regional parliament, which it also assigned to a woman, Rewaz Faiq.
The party “believes in equality between men and women in all areas,” Faraj said.
“This has enabled us to achieve gender balance in administrative positions in Halabja,” said the head of the municipality, who has held the position since 2016.
Halabja prides himself on having had a female mayor, Adela Khanum, in the first decades of the 20th century. Now he has another, Nuxsha Nasih.
It also has the first female dean of Kurdistan University, Mahabad Kamil Abdullah. “The Islamist parties were among the first to congratulate me when I became president of Halabja University,” she said.
But it is in no way representative of the situation of women in Kurdistan as a whole. A 2018 UN report found that women in the workforce make up just 15 percent of working-age women. About three quarters of them work in the public sector.
In the October 10 legislative elections in Iraq, more than 90 women were elected according to preliminary results, exceeding the minimum quota of 83 seats established for women in the chamber of 329 seats.
Although the Kurdistan region has cultivated an image of relative stability and tolerance, women’s rights activists say key issues such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation have not been addressed.
“It is not enough to have women in high positions. There must be more women in the lower ranks, ”said Gulistan Ahmed, who heads the government commission for human rights in Halabja.
Many residents are more concerned with failing public services than with the pursuit of gender equality.
“There were no notable changes in the city under their tenure, either in terms of public services or with the launch of new projects,” lamented Wshyar Abdulkarim, a 45-year-old spice merchant.
Market trader Mujda Ahmed said having women in top positions has not yet led to improved services for women.
“I have been working in the market for six years and not a single person has built a public toilet for women,” she said.
“I have the impression that they are used by their parties, who just want to improve their image on the issue of equality, nothing more. “
© 2021 AFP