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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.


After more than a year of intensive effort, female activists in the Kurdish region of Iraq have achieved substantial progress in their campaign to secure for women the constitutionally-mandated freedom to travel.

On May 8, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) declared that women over the age of 18 are able to obtain passports without restriction. The General Directorate of Travel and Nationality supported his announcement by issuing amended passport application procedures for residents of the Kurdish region of Iraq. When travel originates from airports under the jurisdiction of the KRG, Iraqi women now exercise the right to travel outside the country without being subject to inconsistent implementation of discriminatory laws.

However, the KRG continues to seek control over passport application procedures, which are handled by the central government in Baghdad and require that a woman has the consent of her husband, or her male guardian if she is not married, to apply for an Iraqi passport. The policy is viewed widely as discriminatory and categorized by many as a direct violation of Article 42 of the Constitution of Iraq, which guarantees every citizen the right of free movement, travel and residence inside and outside Iraq.

The activists who successfully campaigned for action on the part of the KRG were members of the North Multi-Party Women’s Caucus, a group established through NDI’s Women’s Political Participation Program in Iraq. NDI has assisted with the development and strengthening of six Multi-Party Women’s Caucuses since 2005, helping them identify pressing issues and develop and carry out advocacy campaigns.

The Multi-Party Women’s Caucuses designated travel rights as one of five areas of utmost importance to Iraqi women in addition to child welfare, citizenship rights, educational opportunity and protection from domestic violence. Subsequently, the North Caucus developed its advocacy campaign on travel rights in consultation with NDI.

The North Caucus, assisted by two other caucuses, worked with political parties and local nongovernmental organizations to collect more than 65,000 signatures nationwide in support of women’s travel rights. The North Caucus then presented the petition to the Kurdistan Parliament of Iraq and to constituency offices of Iraq’s parliament, known as the Council of Representatives. Iraq parliament members Kamilia Ibrahim, Ahlam Saed and Ala Talabani, chair of the Civil Society Committee, were instrumental in the effort and will be key in the ongoing campaign to extend travel freedoms to women in other parts of Iraq.

Through face-to-face meetings and consultations to explain their position and goals, caucus members gained endorsements from the Kurdish region’s principal political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Those parties then lobbied KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, KRG President Massoud Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on behalf of the North Caucus. Caucus members in the Sulaymaniyah governorate also visited the local Passport Directorate to discuss efforts to abolish the discriminatory procedures.

NDI helped establish Multi-Party Women’s Caucuses in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Ninewa, northern Iraq (KRG governorates), southern Iraq (Basra governorate) and south-central Iraq (Najaf and other governorates) in order to facilitate increased political involvement among Iraqi women. More than 140 women, representing approximately 40 political parties, are members of the caucuses, which aim to elevate women’s concerns and advocate for legislative action at the local and national levels.

Pictured above: Members of the North Multi-Party Women’s Caucus held a press conference after presenting their petition to the Council of Representatives office in Dohuk.

Published on June 17, 2009. Updated July 29, 2011.