Iraq: Minister of women’s affairs tenders resignation

Nawal al-Samaraie, minister for women’s affairs, says she lacked the resources to implement her plans to help improve women’s lives.
“I have only an office, not a full ministry, with insufficient resources and limited authority… My mission is very hard, if not impossible, to achieve,” Al-Samaraie told IRIN.
“My office is inside the Green Zone with no affiliated offices in other provinces and not enough funds to hold conferences, invite experts for studies and implement development plans,” Al-Samaraie said. “How can I work and serve women under such circumstances?”

Al-Samaraie said there was “an army” of uneducated women, widows, victims of domestic violence and female internally displaced persons in dire need of assistance. “My resignation is a warning to the government and a protest against its inability to evaluate the needs of women,” she said.

Al-Samaraie’s frustration is echoed by a group of women’s rights activists led by prominent female member of parliament and women’s activist Safia al-Suhail. “When we talk about the women of Iraq, we are talking about nearly 65 percent of the population. They need a national and comprehensive strategy to help them enjoy their legal, health and social rights,” Al-Suhail said.

Call for independent commission

Part of this strategy, Al-Suhail said, is to establish a higher women’s commission with financial support from the government. Such a commission must be able to take independent decisions, figure out the problems women face and find solutions, she said at an 8 February press conference in Baghdad’s Green Zone. “There are real hurdles and impediments inside the government that are preventing progress in the field of women’s rights.”

Al-Suhail called on Al-Samaraie to withdraw her resignation, and the Cabinet to reject it, as “Iraqi women need her.”

The State Ministry for Women’s Affairs was formed after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 but has achieved no progress on any women-related issues, Al-Samaraie said.

The government’s social welfare programme provides a monthly allowance of US$50-70 to widows, divorced women, disabled people and the unemployed, but many aid experts say it is insufficient.

Iraq, which depends on oil revenues for nearly 95 percent of its budget, has been severely hit by falling global oil prices, forcing the government to slash its 2009 draft budget from $80 billion to $64 billion - and further reductions are not ruled out.

09 February 2009

Source: IRIN