Christine McNab, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, and Head of the Development and Humanitarian Support component of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), visits Shanidar Cave. (UN Photo/ Bikem Ekberzade)
Pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 2367 (2017), the Security Council extends the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) until 31 July 2018. Resolution 2367 specifically highlights the need for all segments of the Iraqi population to participate in the political process, political dialogue and economic and social life of Iraq, including through the equal participation of women (PP 8); encourages the Government of Iraq to continue pursuing more substantive reforms, particularly economic and institutional reforms to improve the standard of living for all Iraqis, including by improving the situation of women and girls (PP 9); emphasises that all parties should take all feasible steps to ensure the protection of affected civilians (PP 13); stresses the importance of the United Nations, in particular UNAMI, in advising, supporting and assisting the Iraqi people, including civil society, to strengthen democratic institutions, advance inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation (PP 17).
Overall the report of the Secretary-General twenty six times in eighty five paragraphs, making it that 30% of the entire report referencing women. The different contexts in which women are mentioned are; in relation to the parliamentary elections, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), parliamentary reform and Iraq’s second national action plan.
In his report the Secretary-General outlines a project by UNDP to collect and analyse the experiences of female victims of sexual and gender based violence, and the tentative steps the Mission has taken to ensure perpetrators of SGBV are put on trial. Other than this, the responses to the issue outlined by the Secretary-General are just awareness raising, and support for the recent Nobel Prize winner Nadia Murad.
The continued refugee crisis in Iraq, sparked by the continued conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, is particularly potent for women. An estimated 4 million Syrian refugees are in Iraq,and the violence has also displaced some 1.45 million Iraqis. Women have been defined as the most ‘at risk’ group within the crisis, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) endeavors to ensure these women have access to sexual and reproductive health. UN-Women, among others, has brought attention to the issue that Syrian refugee women in the Kurdish region of Iraq face disproportionate and gender-specific risks.
In most recent news Iraq filed for exemption of US sanctions against Iran. Over the past few months, coverage has focused on the increasing security and stability in Iraq, exemplified by the de-fortification of a central neighborhood in Baghdad. Other coverage has focused on both the continued reported crimes against humanity on the part of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the decreasing territorial control of the terrorist group.
The report of the Secretary-General details the parliamentary elections in the Kurdistan Region on 30 September of this year, detailing that of 773 candidates, 241 were female, this being 31% of the entire candidate body (Para. 12). This participation being supported by Kurdistan parliamentary election law, which dictates that 30% of parliamentary seats be allocated to women (Para. 12). The report also outlines the work of the Special Representative for Iraq and the Secretary-General’s Deputy Representative for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance, on engaging women’s groups and other grassroots organisations (Para. 32). It does not, however, specify how many women were involved in these discussions nor any concrete gains made.
The Secretary-General details that as part of the Mission’s efforts to promote effective participation and representation of women in Iraq, his Special Representative for Political Affairs met with Iraqi women who ran for election, as well as 200 civil society representatives and women activists from the Iraqi Women Network and Alliance 1325. (Para. 34). The report outlines that these discussions focused on outlining the possible establishment of a women’s parliamentary caucus, and the increased representation of women and improved advocacy for women’s rights (Para. 34). The report does not outline any details as to what exact steps were taken toward the establishment of a women’s caucus or any exact policies related to women’s rights.
The Secretary-General also details the work of the Special Representative with the Euromed Feminist Initiative to develop a national action plan on implementing UNSC resolution 1325, and empower women to advance their rights (Para. 35).
The Secretary-General in his report notes that the vast majority of civilian casualties were as a result of improvised explosive devices, and that the second lead cause was small arms fire, and that between 9 August and 9 October 2018 six women were killed and nine were wounded (Para. 43).
The report also outlines women being detained as suspected ISIL fighters, some 10 women were arrested in the region within the reporting period (Para. 45). The Secretary-General also details that Iraqi courts condemned 24 women to death for terrorism related offenses, of this 23 were foreigners (Para. 48). It does not venture any reason for this proportion of foreigners. According to the report, UNAMI requested more information about these cases to no avail (Para. 48). The report does not outline how many requests were made, nor if any other action were taken on this issue.
In relation to the situation with the Yazidi people, the report states that of the 3,548 women abducted by ISIL since August of 2014 fewer than half have been freed or escaped (Para. 49). It states that in recent reports by the Department of Yazidi Affairs that no Yazidi men remained in ISIL captivity, but that some 1,250 women and 1,845 children did (Para. 49). The report does not outline any steps taken to liberate these women and children, nor does it venture any reasons why it is they have been detained so disproportionately to men.
The report fails to deal with the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation within camps, a problem that was raised earlier this year by Amnesty International, which stated that women in camps face high risk of sexualviolence of various kinds and that this risk is higher for women who have alleged connections with ISIL. The report also detailed the issue of sexual exploitation, stating that this issue is rampant where aid workers have complete control over resource allocations. These issues are completely left out of the report of the Secretary-General.
Another conspicuous lack is the absence of a reference to the continued targeted violence waged against women’s rights advocates. This violence, ever more brazen it would appear, has received international attention and condemnation. It is disappointing that this issue is left unreferenced by the Secretary-General.
The report of the Secretary-General outlines the work of the Reporting Arrangements Technical Working Group on conflict-related sexual violence to increase their efforts and improve coordination and accountability (Para. 56). It also outlines that the Working Group undertook a mission on an internally displaced persons camp to examine indicators of conflict-related sexual violence within the camp and propose recommendations (Para. 56). The report does not outline what indicators were examined, nor the recommendations proposed, nor how many persons in the camp were part of the project- this makes it impossible to determine the width and breadth of the project.
RELIEF AND RECOVERY
Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV)
The report of the Secretary-General outlines the work done by UNDP to collect stories from women survivors of sexual and gender based violence in liberated areas. This initiative will develop a new therapeutic approach to support victims and provide information to the Government of Iraq as it refines its social protection and transitional justice policies (Para. 63). The report and sources online do not outline the amount of women involved in this project, so it is difficult to ascertain the widespread effect it has had. However, the efforts to avoid re-traumatisation of victims and involvement of UNDP’s Gender Specialist, Ms. Sundus Abbas, are signs that the project could be helpful in the empowerment of women and the implementation of gender-sensitive policies. The report generated by this study is as of yet not published.
The report also outlines the work of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Government of Iraq and the Gender-Based Violence Sub-Cluster towards creating a unified response to SGBV and facilitate immediate access to services for survivors (Para.64). The report also details that UNFPA has worked with local women’s shelters to increase capacity (Para. 64).
In his report the Secretary-General states his support for Nadia Murad, the Nobel Peace Prize winning ISIL trafficking survivor, and his hope that her recognition will help other Yazidi people and those who have suffered because of ISIL (Para. 78). He states further that the recognition of Ms. Murad aids efforts to hold ISIL members accountable for their crimes (Para. 78). He does not outline any specific accountability initiatives or processes he supports.
Resource and Service Access
The Secretary-General outlines work by UNDP to reach 1,200 projects across all major sectors, detailing the building of hospitals for women and children, and the implementation of maternity wards (Para. 59). The report does not outline the numbers of people affected by these projects.
The quota for women’s inclusion in elections is good, but more measures must be implemented to ensure these women are protected and included. The smear campaigns mounted against female candidates in elections of May 2018 must be universally and unequivocally condemned and steps should be taken to deter such campaigns in the future. Continued backlash against women’s participation, featuring the defacing of women candidate’s posters and salacious videos alleged of candidates, are a calculated deterrent that must .
The support of women’s inclusion in elections is a positive step, one which must be increased. The described 31% legal requirement for women in the candidate body should be expanded to closer to 50%. Additionally, steps must be taken to ensure that these women candidates are not simply symbolic and that that they have a equal influence to their male counterparts.
The report would be improved by a more comprehensive support of grassroots women’s organisations and of specific initiatives to help overcome the barriers outlined. For example, in many conflict or post conflict areas, women face disproportionate and gender-specific risks when travelling to polling stations. Providing protection for both these journeys, as well as through women-only polling stations, are a excellent way to improve women’s participation in the democratic process.
Sexual Abuse and Exploitation
The victim-centric, gender sensitive approach outlined in the report on the part of UNDP is a welcome development. However, work such as the aforementioned projects should be not only supported but also expanded. In future reports, the Secretary-General should outline the amount of people affected by these projects and give more information as to their successes and limitations. The UNHCR Emergency Handbook outlines the importance of viable accessibility to judicial remedy, medical and psychological care, and safe spaces; in the future, the Secretary-General should support these points in his report and advocate that they be holistically implemented in the field.
The lack of reference to sexual abuse exploitation on the part of aid workers and persons other than ISIL militants is a problem; one which the Secretary-General should endeavour to amend in his next report. In future the Secretary-General should outline mechanisms to ensure accountability on the part of aid workers, and that persons in camps have mechanisms for filing complaint safely.
Women’s Rights Advocates
In future the Secretary-General should highlight the issue of violence against women’s rights advocates as being a major concern. To do this the Secretary-General should first outline his adherence for violence against women’s rights advocates, and bring international attention to the issue. Furthermore, he should lead Member States and UN Bodies to unequivocally condemn this violence. It is in part the lack of accountability that drives this issue. These crimes are intended to intimidate, and unless the perpetrators are held accountable this will be the effect they will have; these women deserve more from the Secretary-General.
Additionally, the Secretary-General should endeavour to support and promote local women’s voices and grassroots organisations. These women and these voices should be at the forefront of policy.
Sexual and Gender Based Violence
The Secretary-General should advocate for a preventative approach to SGBV based on education and awareness raising. According to the UNHCR Emergency Handbook specific areas important to protect displaced people in are school and work, in public places, on public transport, and at aid distribution points. The Handbook also outlines the need for specific protections of persons at high risk of SGBV (including older persons, persons with disabilities, adolescent girls, children, LGBTI persons, and female heads of household) and take them into account in all programming. The Handbook also outlines the importance of community based protection networks. In future the Secretary-General should note this in his reports and ensure these points are being implemented in the field.
RELIEF AND RECOVERY
In relation to the aforementioned UNDP programme the Secretary-General should endeavour to ensure the application of the gender-sensitive policy created by this research, he should also provide more detail as to the amounts of people involved.
In future the Secretary-General should endeavour to support the meaningful participation of grassroots women’s organisations in legal frameworks to hold those guilty of SGBV accountable for their actions. As of yet no ISIL member has been convicted of SGBV; the Secretary-General should acknowledge this and be more proactive in supporting legal accountability.
The Secretary-General should also advocate that grassroots women’s organisations lead in relief and recovery mechanisms for women, and he should support initiatives created by local women and ensure that their voices are being heard.