|Aid groups are urging the Iraqi government address the needs of vulnerable women[EPA]
Oxfam, an international humanitarian agency, says Iraqi women are in the grip of a “silent emergency”, and have become victims of poverty, desperation and personal insecurity.
In 2008, the charity organisation conducted a survey of 1700 women who have been affected by the war since the US-led invasion in 2003.
In the report “In Her Own Words: Iraqi women talk about their greatest concerns and challenges” Oxfam says essential services have collapsed, families have been broken and women in particular have fallen victim to the consequences of the conflict.
It says the condition of women in Iraq today has gone largely ignored, both within Iraqi society and by the international community, and has called on increased action to alleviate the plight of those affected in the post-war period.
Jennifer Abrahamson, the media manager for Oxfam in the Middle East, told Al Jazeera that “resources have to be systematically put in rebuilding the country for further stability”.
“A surge in investment has to be not only financial, but in terms of time and energy on an effective plan.”
She also said that Iraqi government had to allocate monies to address the crumbling basic support system such as water, electricity, and food.
She called on the international community to push for transparency and work on monitoring relief efforts in Iraq.
“[The international community] has to work with the civil society groups in trying to help women. Many women’s group are in contact with the women, they know what they need.”
The Oxfam reports says that though security has improved in much of Iraq, small-scale attacks, assassination and kidnappings still take place.
Oxfam and Al-Amal association, an Iraqi women’s organisation which conducted the survey, found that 60 per cent of women said security and personal safety were their main concerns.
Nour, a widow from Sadr City, a district of Baghdad, works to support her three sons.
“The situation here is now worse than it used to be before as a consequence of the spread of the epidemics with unhealthy water and trash and corpses in the streets,” she said.
Widowed by conflict
The Iraqi women polled also said accessing basic daily services had become very difficult in recent years.
“Women are the forgotten victims of Iraq,” Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam international executive director said.
“Despite the billions of dollars poured into rebuilding Iraq and recent security gains, a quarter of the women interviewed still do not have daily access to water, a third cannot send their children to school and since the war started, over half have been the victim of violence.”
The largest group of women interviewed consists of those widowed by conflict, who are now the head of her household, and who have been driven deep into poverty.
The report found that more than 75 per cent of these women were not receiving pension and that a large majority of them were not getting any state support and could not provide their families with clean water, electricity, food, an education and medical treatment.
Shafeeka, who lost her husband during the Gulf war, told Oxfam that she was not receiving a widow’s pension.
“The nearest health centre is 40km away,” she said.
“People have died in this area because they were unable to get the treatment they needed. We have complained to the governorate offices, but nobody wants to hear us.”
Generation at risk
“A whole generation of Iraqis are at risk,” Hobbs said.
“Mothers are being forced to make tough choices, such as whether to pay for their children to go to school and receive health care, or to pay for private power and water services.
“These are choices no mother should have to make, and they are not only threatening individual families. They are also threatening the future of Iraq itself,” he added.
The survey also found that income was worse for 45 per cent of women in 2008 compared with 2007 and 2006.