The dedicated staff from the National Democratic Institute gathered together Iraqi women from five western provinces to build change. Women’s Advisory Boards from Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salahaddin shared ideas and knowledge this month to foster hope and actions in their communities.
These women are leading the way with their courage, intelligence, and hard work, and are indeed making a difference. Conference organizers also invited Ellen Woodsworth from Women Transforming Cities, who attended and shared insights into wise practices and the gender equity work of other cities.
Who Makes up the Iraqi Women Advisory Board (WAB)?
Decision-makers and those in power often overlook the perspectives of women. This is notably harmful when it comes to considering the perspectives of Iraqi women. This group has disproportionately suffered from the recent conflict, and as caretakers, they also have a deep understanding of their communities’ needs. Women leaders in five provinces liberated from ISIS are uniting to address this issue. In groups known as Women Advisory Boards (WAB), they will advise their provincial councils on implementing policies to improve the lives of all citizens. The group will pay special attention to and focus on those who are most marginalized.
The women representatives in these advisory boards are a diverse group. Their backgrounds range from teachers, lawyers, and health professionals, to NGO workers, businesswomen, and housewives. They are already actively making a difference in their communities. For example, they have helped internally displaced persons, campaigned against gender-based violence, and advocated for people with disabilities. The ultimate goal of the WABs is to create inclusive provinces where women and girls, youth and elderly, people with special needs, and religious or ethnic minorities can sustain their livelihoods, access education and healthcare, and move freely and safely, above all without fear of violence or discrimination. Increasing women’s participation in governance can help shape policies more responsive to the needs of all members of society.
“This new experience of Women Advisory Boards in Iraq will help elevate women’s voices in the provinces,” said a woman from Anbar, recognizing the importance of her efforts.
The Conference at the National Democratic Institute
The conference was organized by NDI as part of a three-year program supported by the Government of Canada. Firstly, the goal of the conference was to create discussion surrounding gender-inclusive governance. Participants began by examining practices from organizations in Canada and around the world that contributed to building women-friendly environments. WAB members also practiced analyzing and developing policies through a gender lens.
“The conference helped us to develop a roadmap to see how we can tackle the challenges we face,” said a WAB member from Diyala.
The members also showed their knowledge of local issues by fostering discussions about the most vulnerable populations. “Women with disabilities are very marginalized and not seen as human beings. In this program, we need to be inclusive and integrate all the components,” said a participant from Kirkuk.
A desired outcome of the conference was winning buy-in from key leaders in their provinces. Because of this, the WAB members strategized about how to engage local governments. They also discussed their need to gain credibility as advisors on gender-related matters.
Following the conference, each province’s WAB organized and formalized themselves as independent institutions with defined missions and processes. In the coming weeks, they will consult with local citizens and members of their provincial councils to develop small-scale projects aimed to address specific needs in their communities. These projects are the WABs’ first public push to rally support for their vision of more inclusive and responsive governance.