General Federation of Iraqi Women

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The strongest women's organization in Iraq during the Baʿthist regime, and an effective arm of the Baʿthist Party.

The General Federation of Iraqi Women was established in the early 1970s, after Saddam Hussein and the Baʿthist Party assumed political power. Its stated goals were to improve the situation of Iraqi women and to marshal their skills in the task of building an Arab socialist state. Campaigns were launched to promote literacy, better childcare, maternity leave, improve wages, and promote women within the economic sector and in politics. An arts committee was established later. By all accounts, the federation was responsible, at least in part, for the many gains made by Iraq's women in the last quarter of the twentieth century and for Iraq's record on women's rights, which, before the U.S. invasion in 2003, were often cited as the best in the Arab world. As of 2004, literacy rates for women are close to 50 percent but were much higher before the 1991 Gulf War. According to federation officials, before the Gulf War all women received one full year of maternity leave: six months with full pay and six months with half pay, plus six weeks at the time of the baby's birth. (This was independently confirmed by the author in 1996 interviews in Iraq.)

As of 1996, the federation had 1,500,000 members in twenty-two branches throughout the country. Each branch had a clubhouse, where women gathered freely. Women who were interviewed by the author in both city and countryside in Iraq stated that the federation's greatest contributions were its record in family law and its campaign for equal pay for women. Officials stated that secular law had replaced Islamic family law (shariʿa) The secular code guaranteed women their rights to inheritance and prohibited polygamy unless the first wife was ill and could not bear children; even then, the first wife had to agree. (These claims were confirmed in author interviews.) The federation was involved in the creation of a Women's Museum in Baghdad, financed by the Baʿthist Party, the only such museum in the Arab world.

Since the 2003 U.S. invasion, and the fall of Saddam Hussein, little or no mention has been made of the federation. As it was an official arm of the Baʿthist party, its future remains in doubt.

See also Baʿth, al-; Iraq; Shariʿa.


Fernea, Elizabet Warnock. "Iraq." In In Search of Islamic Feminism. New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1998.

The General Federation of Iraqi Women in 20 Years. Baghdad: Al Hurriya Press, 1989.

Suad, Joseph. "The Mobilization of Iraqi Women into the Wage Labor Force." Studies in Third World Societies, no. 16, 1982, pp. 6990.

Elizabeth Fernea

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General Federation of Iraqi Women

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General Federation of Iraqi Women