December 31, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3481

Senior Saudi Columnist: Why Are There No Women in the Iraqi Parliament and Government?

December 31, 2010
Iraq, Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 3481

In a December 23, 2010 article, Subhi Zu'aytar, editor of the political section at the Saudi daily Al-Watan, lamented the absence of women from the Iraqi parliament, and criticized the Iraqi politicians, and in particular Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, for failing to appoint any women to the Iraqi government, saying this is evidence of the poor state of Iraqi democracy.[1]

The absence of female ministers was condemned by the Iraqi prime minister himself, who said, in his December 21, 2010 speech upon the approval of the new government, that he had asked the parties to appoint women to ministerial positions, but this had not been done. [2] Zu'aytar pointed out that Al-Maliki's criticism was somewhat ironic, since his party had been among the offenders.

It should be noted that Subhi Zu'aytar's own country, Saudi Arabia, has one of the poorest records in the Arab world in terms of women's rights and equality.[3]

Following are excerpts from Zu'aytar's article:[4]

"When the election for the Iraqi government was held without a single female [candidate in the running], it was a tragedy. Even the [Ministry] of Women's Affairs was given to a man. It was even more tragic when Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's criticized the parliamentary blocs for not running a single female candidate for any government position, forgetting that his own coalition and bloc were, in fact, among the same groups [that did not present any female candidates].

"If women in Iraq were included in the parliament, they would constitute the third most [important] political force, with 82 representatives [in my estimation], and would be able to take over important ministries that provide [actual] services instead of waiting for the crumbs of [less important] ministries.

"The absence of women from the Iraqi government exposes the problem of democracy in this country. Women are not the only ones who suffer [from it]. Apparently, it has also harmed the Iraqi List, which won the majority of seats in the last elections; its leader Ayad Allawi, who was supposed to form the government, failed to do so. He was beaten to it by a coalition formed from an assortment of diverse political entities, whose main concern was to exclude women from government positions in Iraq.

"Even the Iraqi List, pressured by the events surrounding the negotiations [for assembling the government], forgot about the support it had received from the women of Iraq, and did not include them among its ministerial candidates. Everyone [else] has acted similarly, barring half of society from the country's leadership, despite the proven abilities of the Iraqi woman in [handling] domestic, regional, and international [affairs].

"Al-Maliki and the members of parliament still have an opportunity to set things straight, by appointing [women] to the ministerial positions still left vacant, even though this redress cannot [undo the] harm that the politicians have already caused."


[1] For more information on the absence of women from the Iraqi government, see MEMRI blog report: "Iraqi Women Parliamentarians Complain About Exclusion From Government,""

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 21, 2010.

[3] For example, women in Saudi Arabia are banned altogether from voting and running for the Shura Council and for the municipal authorities (in the Shura Council they are permitted to serve only in an advisory capacity); they are not allowed to drive, they may not work as cashiers or salespersons in shops, due to a religious ban on men and women mixing; and they may not travel – inside or outside the country – unless accompanied by a male guardian (their husband, father, brother, or even son), whose approval is required for nearly every decision in a woman's life.

[4] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 23, 2010.

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