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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Focus on Iraq > Focus on Iraq: Remarks & Briefings

Iraqi Minister's Remarks on International Women's Day

H.E. Nesreen Berwari, Minister of Municipalities & Public Works - Iraq
The Treaty Room
Washington, DC
March 8, 2004

[more on Women's Issues]

H.E. Nesreen Berwari: Greetings. Thank You.

It has been a most astounding year for we Iraqis: a short, fast year packed full of initiatives of change: initiatives to reform, reinvigorate, reconfigure, and reconstruct our country.

Ours is a rich country, though at the moment temporarily poor. We are a country of extensive, valuable assets. Our No. 1 asset is, of course, our people.  We also have extensive lands, good water resources, year-round growing periods. We can grow most any food. Our mountains and marshes and ancient historical sites are among our strongest attractions. And, of course, we have that black fluid in the ground, and other commercial minerals, too. We build. We make. We deliver. We produce. We serve. WE includes we women. We are a country of public service organizations. Government provides ALL essential services. We are excessively centralized. My Ministry of Municipalities & Public Works is responsible for safe water and environmental sanitation throughout the country. And also urban planning and land management.

I am also responsible for municipal roads and traffic controls. My ministry manages some 100,000 pieces of property including parks, libraries, cemeteries, and abattoirs. My ministry cleans the streets and cuts the grass. As you can see in the images in the news, there is too much to do. Women are involved in managing and implementing almost all these activities. To improve effectiveness and efficiency, we seek to bring government closer to the people. Federalism, decentralization, and privatization are being examined and pursued.

The process of establishing representative government has well begun at the provincial - what we call “governorate” - level. Over 70% of Iraq’s 25 million people live in more than 300 municipalities. The process of establishing representative councils at this level has also begun.  Though women are estimated to be more than 50% of the population, they are under-represented in government at all levels, both national and subnational.

We are a country of educated, skilled, and hardworking people. We are a country of scientists, engineers, and technicians. Half are women. I have over 40,000 staff members in my ministry. Women hold half of the top management positions.

Tomorrow is exactly a month from the first anniversary of the beginning of real hope. On April 9th 2003, Iraqis were offered the opportunity to begin to dream their future. Before April 9th 2003 we were not allowed to dream. We could not imagine life with the kinds of positive challenges we face today. For Iraqi women, the first year is ending with two important achievements. I will talk more about them in a minute. Iraqi women are learning to organize themselves to better represent interests important to their future. Here, I would like to quickly insert that we invite and would value comments, suggestions, and assistance to improve information presentation and organization capabilities.

I would like to highlight one endeavor supportive of women. The Mansour Women's Center, the first of nine women's centers to open in Baghdad, was made possible through a grant from the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Women for Women International.

I firmly believe that Iraq cannot advance itself - that advancement would be severely restricted - unless Iraqi women contribute substantially to reconstruction. Iraqi women are ready, willing, and very able to do their part. At the moment, only 16% of women are economically active. With improvements in the working environment this could easily double.

More than 60% of dentists, pharmacists, and teachers are women. More than 30% of doctors, university teachers, and technical institute instructors are women. In government, by far the largest employer, at the director level and above, more than 30% are women. This may be relatively good, but in Iraq it could be much better.

Recently, this relatively favorable situation was threatened. The IGC, the Iraqi Governing Council, passed resolution-137 with virtually no debate or discussion. Resolution-137, if signed into law by the CPA Administrator, would have severely diminished the status and benefits Iraqi women enjoy to date. But this resolution was a blessing in disguise. Its passage motivated Iraqi women to organize and demonstrate, and successfully represent themselves. The IGC was moved to retract the resolution, the first and only resolution to be retracted. This retraction prompted another achievement. Opposition to resolution-137 was focused not only on the substance, but also on the process by which the resolution was passed. Its passage demonstrated how the democratic process could be applied in a disadvantageous manner by avoiding discussion and debate to dominate and dictate public policy.

To safeguard existing rights, and to help prevent the democratic process from being so easily usurped, Iraqi women urged that women hold no less than 40% of representative positions. The TAL, the Transitional Administrative Law, states a target figure of 25%. Please note that this figure is a target, not a quota. Getting to 25% is anticipated to be a real challenge. The TAL was signed just today, on International Women’s Day, by the IGC and CPA. The retraction of resolution-137 and the 25% target are achievements in themselves. But more importantly, the process by which they occurred is also an achievement. It’s about democracy being public, open, transparent, and accountable. The retraction and the target brought Iraqi women together for a common cause. Cooperation and organization crossed religious and ethnic lines - Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab, Kurd, Assyrian, Turcomen.

Iraqi women are very concerned about their future after June 30th. Resolution-137 and efforts to limit women’s contribution to the future of Iraq are clear indications of this active threat. The very recent difficulties in signing the TAL also attest to the danger.

Let me touch on the security situation. Horrific events, regrettably, dominate the news when there are dozens of positive events occurring everyday throughout the country. One of the best indicators of security is the student situation. There are hundreds of thousands of students with tens of thousands of teachers attending thousands of schools throughout the country. Parents would not send their children to school if they were not comfortable with the security situation. It would be very difficult to find a school that is not operating because of security concerns.

This first year is only the first year. It’s been very short and fast. For Iraqi women, we anticipate the years ahead to be longer. But the road ahead will be neither as long nor as difficult as the seemingly endless road we were on before April 9th 2003.

Thank you for helping us to arrive at this point.

Thank you.

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