sponsor educational programs on women’s legal rights.”8 One scholar hypothesizes that Saddam Hussein (1979-2003) came to support the GFIW, seeing it as a way to break old familial and tribal allegiances while redirecting them towards a Baathist and nationalist focus.9 Some estimates indicate that in 1997, 47% of all women in Iraq belonged to the GFIW.10 Other sources provide a more modest estimate, noting that in the late 1990s, the GFIW had a reported membership of 1.5 million women, in 222 branches across Iraq. Analysts maintain that the GFIW became “a strong force in implementing women’s legal claims to land, assuring them access to education”; it also promoted women’s rights to marry and divorce and in exchange many women “supported the [Baath] Party just as their leader wished.” 11
Despite these indications, the lack of women’s political involvement in the highest ranks of the Baathist regime is noted by a 1998 report published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The report also indicates that the proportion of women in Iraqi’s National Assembly had declined from a high in 1984 of 13.2% to 10.8% in 1990. Moreover, while there were legal provisions guaranteeing women’s right to run for Iraqi political parties for local “Popular Councils,” the report concludes that these guarantees “did not result in equitable representation in these political institutions.” 12
Deterioration of the Social and Economic Situation (1990-2003)
A number of analysts concurs that, for various reasons, the position of women in Iraqi society rapidly deteriorated following the 1991 Gulf War and the United Nations-imposed economic sanctions (1990-2003). Economic, social, and political restrictions placed extreme strain upon women. While there were no official statistics published on the rate of illiteracy among women, a trend of decreasing literacy was being reported by the Iraqi government during the 1990s. In 2000, the United Nations estimates that adult illiteracy among Iraqi women was approximately 45%, an increase in illiteracy from a reported 25% in 1987.13 The economic decline was coupled with a decline in the public education sector. In some cases, young girls were
8Winning the Peace Conference Report: Women’s Role in Post-Conflict Iraq, op. cit.
9Elizabeth Fernea, “The Challenges for Middle Eastern Women in the 21st Century,” The Middle East Journal 54(2000): 187.
10 “Background on Women’s Status in Iraq Prior to the Fall of the Saddam Hussein Government,” Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, November 2003, fn. 4, [http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/wrd/iraq-women.htm].
11Fernea, “The Challenges for Middle Eastern Women,” 187.
12 “Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Iraq,” United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF/IRAQ), April 30, 1998.
13 Compare with the year 2000 statistics for Egypt (33.4%), Morocco (38.2%), and Syria (11.7%). See “Indicators on Illiteracy,” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), [http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/social/illiteracy.htm]. The 1987 statistic was reported by UNESCO and cited by Human Rights Watch, “Background on Women’s Status in Iraq,” op. cit.