In the past 50 years, Iraq has been noted in the Arab world for its promotion of female equality and advancement in society. In 1950, Iraq was the first Arab government to have a female minister in place. Two decades later, in 1970, women gained full equality and protection from gender discrimination through the constitution. While progress has not always been steady, indeed at times it has been regressive, the advancement of Iraqi women has halted considerably since the US invasion of 2003. Rather than focusing on the re-shaping of women’s role in government and society, many Iraqi women must single-handedly head households due to the death or detainment of a husband or a son. One to two-million Iraqi households are headed by females. Economic insecurity usually comes hand-in-hand with a matriarchal household. Organizations like the International Red Cross have established programs specifically designated to help female household heads to attain self-sufficiency.
Iraqis voted in their second official parliamentary election in March of last year, but meaningful female participation in Iraq’s parliament appears to be waning. Only one female serves as a cabinet member in the Iraqi government. In the previous two governments, women held four to six cabinet positions. Women successfully lobbied the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 to have one quarter of the parliament’s seats be designated for women. 25% of the 444 seats in the parliament must be filled by women. In the parliamentary election of 2010, only 5 of the 85 female parliamentarians won their seats by vote; the rest were appointed by family members to fill the quota of 25%. Women accounted for 55%-62% of voters. Women themselves are divided as to how much political clout they should wield. Female participation in government was increasingly discouraged under Saddam Hussein’s rule. Many women now feel that they are ill equipped to contribute to political strategy. Others feel the advancement of women will not improve unless women are fully present in every aspect of government, not merely through positions designated specifically for women’s rights.
In 2007, women achieved a direct role in security operations through the organization of “Daughters of Iraq.” The Daughters are responsible for pat downs of Iraqi females at security checkpoints to check for on-body explosives. Iraqi women were being recruited at a higher rate by Al Qaeda to execute suicide bombings because men were less likely to pat down a female. In 2008, there were 36 suicide bombings executed by females. In 2010, three years after the establishment of the Daughters of Iraq, only one female suicide bombing was recorded. The Iraqi government as of late has failed to pay the Daughters of Iraq their $250 per month pay check, citing technical difficulties and lack of funding. Women in the organization say that they have no other source of income to depend on. They maintain hope that the government will pay them what is owed, but in the mean time they are forced to lean on credit and assistance from family and friends.