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Status of Iraqi women compared to other Gulf States

In Iraq there is no law that women cover their heads or faces, in contrast to other Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, and in contrast to Afghanistan under the Taliban. Here women with and without headscarves attend a pro-Saddam Hussein election rally, October 16, 2002. Photo: Associated Press

Iraqi women won the right to vote and were first elected to congress in 1980.
Women are not allowed to vote or be elected in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brunei,
Qatar or Oman. (UN Development Program, 1999, p. 238.) Many of these U.S.
allies hold no elections at all. Bahrain held its last election in 1973.
(UN, 1995, p. 217-219.)


In 1987, 13% of the seats in congress in Iraq were filled by women, in 1994 11%
were. To compare, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait had no women in any
ministerial or representative capacity. Iran had 4% and Turkey had 2% women
in parliament, Jordan had 6%, Israel had 9%, Pakistan had 2% and the U.S. had
5%.(UN, 1995, p. 174.)


Like most countries around the world, nearly all Gulf states have provisions for
paid maternity leave. Iraq provides 62 days of maternity leave, with the woman's
wages paid 100% by the Social Security system. (By contrast, the U.S. law
provides 12 weeks unpaid sick leave, but only if your employer has over 50
employees and only if you have been working for the same employer for over a
year. There are only a handful of countries in the world that still provide no paid
parental leave
, the U.S. among them.)

However, Iraq has more women in the paid workforce than many other Gulf states.
In 1994, Iraq recorded that 22% of paid workforce participation was by women. For comparison, paid workforce participation by women was 7% in Saudi Arabia, 11% in
Jordan, 18% in Syria, 7% in Qatar, 9% in UAE, and 23% in Kuwait. It was 33% in
Israel and 42% in the U.S. for that year. (UN, 1995, p. 144.)


Iraq also has significant female participation in managerial and administrative
positions. For example, in 1990 women in Iraq filled 22% of the teaching positions
at universities, and filled 13% of administrative and managerial jobs. In other
Gulf states the picture is dimmer. For managerial and professional jobs, less than
1% of these were held by women in Saudi Arabia, 1% held such positions in Qatar,
2% in such positions in UAE, 5% in Kuwait, and 8% in Bahrain. The figure is 3% in
Iran and Pakistan. (UN, 1995, p. 174. Administrative and managerial data from


Iraq signed onto and acceded to CEDAW, the Convention on Elimination of All Forms
of Discrimination Against Women, in 1986. A few other Gulf states have recently
signed on, including Saudi Arabia (2000), Bahrain (2002) and Syria (2003). Jordan
signed in 1992 and Kuwait signed on in 1994. Others have neither signed onto or
acceded to the convention, including: United Arab Emirates, Oman, Iran, Qatar,
Brunei. The U.S. has signed but not ratified or acceded to CEDAW. (UN, 1991,
pp. 115-116 and UN, 1995, p. 174. Also the UN's website at: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/states.htm)


United Nations, The World's Women: Trends and Statistics, 1970-1990.
United Nations, New York: 1991.

United Nations, The World's Women 1995: Trends and Statistics.
United Nations, New York: 1995.

United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 1999.
Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford: 1999.