women. The regime, according to one source, “made it a policy to end women’s isolation from the public sphere through education, work, unionization, and women’s associations.” 2
Whether for economic or social reasons, the prominence of Iraqi women in the workforce during the Baathist years was, at least intermittently, an important policy objective. This was especially the case during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s when female labor was needed in order to fill the economic vacuum created by the large- scale mobilization of male breadwinners. The special demands on the Iraqi economy during the Iran-Iraq war, according to a United Nations report, led to increases in women’s industrial employment, from 13% in 1987 to 21% in 1993.3 By the same year, female employees constituted 79% of the services sector, 43.9% of the professional and technical sectors, and 12.7% in administrative and organizational posts.4 At the same time, women suffered the consequences of serious political repression, a characteristic of Iraqi society as a whole during this period.5 Moreover, despite gains in employment, thousands of widowed women were forced to become the sole household caretakers and to deal with the brunt of a decade-long war that imposed an emotional and physical burden on a large sector of the population.
Women and the Government
In 1972, in line with the party’s attempt to consolidate civil institutions under state control, the Baathists formed the General Federation of Iraqi Women (GFIW), also known as the “Iraqi Women’s Federation.”6 The GFIW became the only legally sanctioned women’s organization in Iraq. Despite the existence of the GFIW as part of the Baathist state, the participation of Iraqis, in general, and of women, in particular, within the national political discourse was fairly limited. Some sources argue that in reality, “men ran the state apparatus and filled most of the senior management positions as Iraq remained a largely patriarchal society.” 7
According to a 2003 conference report on women’s role in post-conflict Iraq, the GFIW organization was originallyconceived to “ensure that regulations regarding women were complemented by capacity-building and literacy programs, and to
2Shereen T. Ismael, “Dismantling the Iraqi Social Fabric: From Dictatorship Through Sanctions to Occupation,” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 35 (2004): 335.
“Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Iraq,” op. cit. Ibid.
5 Findings and conclusions presented in the Winning the Peace Conference Report: Women’s Role in Post-Conflict Iraq, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Proceedings of a Forum held on April 21-22, 2003, p. 4.
6 For general historical information on the GFIW, see Suad Joseph, “Elite Strategies for State-Building: Women, Family, Religion and State in Iraq and Lebanon,” in Women, Islam and the State (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992), pp. 176-200.
7Fariba Nawa, “Iraqi Women Debate Future Government,” WeNews, July 1, 2003.