With parliamentary elections approaching, Iraqi women are looking for ways to ensure that their voices and concerns are not excluded from the political debate. For the past several years, the ability of Iraqi women to contribute to policy debates has been constrained by security concerns, political instability and corruption. Though Iraqi women are slowly increasing their involvement in government, political parties and civil society organizations, they are still largely absent from decision-making positions within those bodies.
To correct for this absence, more than 200 women and men from a range of political parties, regions and occupations came together in Erbil, Iraq, Oct. 31 — Nov. 2, to develop a unified vision for a National Platform for Women. "There is no doubt that women in Iraq are participating at an unprecedented level today," said participant Maysoon Damaluji, member of the Council of Representatives and deputy chair of the Civil Society Affairs Committee.
Stakeholders hope that the National Platform for Women will influence the campaign for parliamentary elections scheduled for early 2010. Conference participants agreed upon four issues to be the major components of the platform: healthcare, education, employment and political participation. Smaller groups are now drafting policies in those areas.
The three-day conference, organized by NDI, provided an uncommon opportunity for civil society activists, political party members and government representatives to prioritize which issues they want debated in upcoming campaigns and addressed by national legislation. "It is important to see women from all regions and ethnicities of Iraq coming together to reach a consensus and network. It is a unique opportunity for us," said Sundus Alkhayat, chair of the Women's Office for the National Reform Trend political party.
The conference culminated with groups working to evaluate women's needs on the local and national levels, analyze opportunities for change in different provinces, and determine the most urgent priorities for debate among citizens, political parties and elected officials. Core groups will continue to refine the central issues for the platform and draft related policy recommendations, with help from policy experts and Aswat, an online discussion portal and resource center facilitated by NDI.
Before Iraqi political parties begin their campaigns, NDI will reconvene the working groups, ministry representatives and members of the Iraqi media for a public launch of the National Platform for Women, with the goal of widening the campaign dialogue to include the issues identified as priorities by a cross-section of Iraqi women. "To influence change, we need to put forward a common vision," said Susan Arif, chair of Iraq's Women's Empowerment Organization. "With 54 percent of the Iraqi population being female, it is time we had a means for influencing how decisions are made."
After the elections, the National Platform for Women is intended to be a tool for newly-elected parliamentarians as they seek to respond to constituents’ needs. It will serve as the point of reference for including women in policy debates. In addition, it will encourage voters to hold candidates and political parties that have endorsed the platform accountable to their public campaign promises.
Published December 1, 2009