Violence in Iraq is a growing threat to the empowerment of Iraqi women and girls, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a recent statement. The agency called for immediate action to improve the status of Iraqi women in its statement, which accompanied a report on the global status of women and children released earlier this week.
The continued violence aggravates problems such as poverty, limiting women”s freedoms, UNICEF said. Employment opportunities and health services are reaching staggering lows. Only 14 percent of Iraqi women between 16 and 60 years old are currently employed, in contrast with 68 percent of men, UN figures show. Maternal mortality rates are also on the rise: between 193 and 290 per 100,000 according to surveys” compared with 41 per 100,000 in neighboring Jordan. Girls make up 74 percent of the 600,000 school-aged children unable to attend school because of violent and repressive climates. Instead, girls are marrying younger and younger: A 2004 national survey found that 60 percent of married Iraqi women aged 15 to 24 were married before 18 years of age.
UNICEF stressed that promoting women’s rights is fundamental to Iraq’s recovery. “Gender equality will not only empower women.. but also their children, families, communities, and countries,” the report said. Recommended steps toward women’s equality include enabling girls to return to school, supporting the increasing number of female-headed households in Iraq, setting quotas to ensure women”s participation in government, and educating men and boys on the benefits of gender equality.