The Political Parties Law
The inclusion of women in Iraqi politics
An Iraqi civil society organisation raising awareness about the need for social, economic, and political inclusion of women in Iraqi society. The organisation envisions a peaceful society in which women have an equal role in decision- making processes, politics and peace negotiations. Awan also works to fight domestic violence and protect women during armed conflicts.
Amending the Political Parties Law:
With the support of Women on the Frontline, Awan created a movement amongst Iraqi women’s organisations, legal experts, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, political parties, activists and the public that successfully pushed for the amendment and adoption of the Political Parties Law. The amendments as suggested by Awan aim to ensure the position of women within the decision- making ranks of political parties. Awan aims to gain public and political support for the amendments, in order to make sure they are included in the Law.
In the overwhelmingly male arena that is Iraqi politics, women from different sectors joined their efforts to include a quota for women in the Political Parties Law; a law that waited eleven years to be discussed in the Iraqi Parliament. In August 2015, this law was finally ratified. What steps did these women take in order for a quota to be included? And how are these steps reflected in the recently ratified law? Despite the 25% quota in the Iraqi Parliament, women remain underrepresented in political parties. Many parties do not invest in their female members to become successful politicians, nor do they nominate women for high party positions or ministerial posts. That is why Awan demanded the inclusion of a quota for women within the organisational structure of the parties themselves, believing that political parties are the starting point for effective participation of women in politics.
Feryal Al-Kaabi, director of Awan, does not just support the quota, but finds it at least as important for women to have decision-making power once they are elected. Her disagreement with the hierarchy governing political parties in Iraq is one of her main reasons for founding Awan:
The problem lies with the parties. They only look for women in times of elections because they are forced to by the quota. The women do not have any political decision-making power. Basically, they are used by the parties to pass certain resolutions or laws that serve the interest of the parties. I work to prove to society that women can be important and effective players in political life, not an instrument in the hands of the dominant blocs in political parties.
The lack of support for and trust in female politicians’ capabilities is not limited to the political arena, but is widely prevalent in Iraqi society. Feryal emphasizes the importance of support from Iraqi citizens and political activists:
Without the conservative, tribal Iraqi society accepting the position of women in politics, this law will never have any effect; not even if a women quota is included.
One woman who gained ground in Iraqi society by convincing politicians and Iraqi citizens of the important role women can and should play in politics is Shaymaa Al-Ameedi.
Shaymaa was not discouraged by the obstacles that Iraqi women face to enter the political arena. In Iraq, and in the city of Diwaniyya in particular, she is a well-known activist and an active supporter of Awan. Above all, she is a strong advocate for improving the position of women in politics. During the Iraqi parliamentary elections of 2010, she observed that most women were not qualified for the political positions they held:
One of the women who got elected in Parliament because of the quota, received only 200 votes. Her previous profession was to loudly wail during funerals to encourage others to join. Other female candidates forged their degrees in order to be selected.
Shocked by the fact that so many unqualified women were nominated for the elections, Shaymaa participated herself. But because of uncooperative political parties that were unwilling to support qualified women, she was not elected. These are the main reasons for her activism today.
Society’s struggle with widespread corruption
Shaymaa was a prominent participant in the countrywide protests in the Summer of 2015 against the widespread corruption and poor government services in Iraq. During these protests, she also advocated for the adoption of the Political Parties Law.
In a TV interview she said:
As a result of the absence of a Political Parties Law for over eleven years now, political parties and blocs were able to nominate weak women who cannot take decisions without the permission of their political bloc. Women at electoral lists have become numbers. Nothing more and nothig less. Therefore, we should seek for a quota for women, and make sure that they actually get an influential position inside the parties.
The disadvantages of increased visibility
The biggest obstacle Shaymaa faces today are daily threats, mainly from government officials, accusing her of inciting and provoking others to protest. On Facebook, others have claimed she has connections to IS. She is admired for her perseverance and strong personality, as she continues her work nonetheless: Feryal points out Shaymaa’s deep commitment to her work:
Any other woman facing the amount of pressure Shaymaa is subjected to would resign from political life completely and stay home forever.
Journalist Manar Al Zubeidi:
I have known Shaymaa to be a brave and daring woman who speaks out in the media and has shown more courage than many men. She challenges politicians and their threats, and is never afraid to say the truth.
In Diwaniyya, Shaymaa talks with tribal leaders about the inclusion of qualified individuals based on equal elections, instead of tribalism and clans.
Sheikh Hassan Al Nayli, who is engaged in national reconciliation efforts, praised Shaymaa’s efforts:
The tribalism in our society did not prevent her from continuing her work as a political activist. She is a strong person to reckon with, and is heard by her audience. Political awareness about the role of women has gained ground among Iraqis. Today in Iraq, women are becoming more politically confident than men because of their credibility with their audience.
First compromise: ‘taken into consideration’
In August 2015, after a six-month process in which Awan lobbied with committees of the Iraqi Parliament to amend articles of the Political Parties Law, the Iraqi government finally ratified the law and thereby made its first attempt to enhance the position of women in political parties. Unfortunately, conservative forces in Parliament prevented the mention of a specific quota for women. The text of the law relating to the representation of women in political parties states: Article 4: ..Citizens, both men and women, have the right to establish and become members of political parties.. Article 11: ..When making the political parties lists women's representation needs to be taken into consideration Although a quota is not included yet, Feryal’s reaction is positive:
I think we achieved part of what we tried to achieve. Of course it does not meet our aspirations, or what we wanted. The text is by far not specific enough. We will take next steps to make sure a specific percentage is included.
Feryal, together with the Iraqi Women’s Network, have already started taking these steps. Immediately after the law was ratified, they wrote a petition to reconsider the Political Parties Law and ensure a quota. In this protest letter, directed to the President and Prime Minister, they refer to the Iraqi constitution that states that citizens, both men and women, have the right to participate in public affairs and enjoy political rights. Furthermore, they point out that this law violates international obligations (like CEDAW and UNSCR 1325) signed by the Iraqi government, which require an increase of active participation of women in decision-making and peace-building processes. For Feryal, Shaymaa and many others, the chapter ‘Political Parties Law’ is not closed yet, and will absolutely be continued.