Health Rights for Women in Iraq

Suaad Allami is a leading Iraqi women’s human rights lawyer, US State Department International Women of Courage Award Recipient 2009, and Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards winner 2014. Based in Baghdad, Suaad founded the Iraqi NGO, Women for Progress, in 2007. 

Health is a social, economic and political issue. Above all though, it is a fundamental human right. In Iraq, both national and international frameworks exist, created to get rid of discrimination against women in all its forms. 

Alongside our country’s constitutional provisions that aim to promote the health of all Iraqi citizens through provision of public health services, Iraqi Public Health Law No. 89 of 1981 provides broad measures aimed to support the maternal health, family planning, and children’s health. 

However, the law does not make provision for women’s health care facilities; neither does it refer to the prevention and treatment of illnesses specific to women, although pre-and post-natal health care is referenced. 

Broadly, Iraqi law does refer to the right to health care. It specifies that children and women should be afforded health security. However, the legal framework is inadequate in terms of ensuring that quality health care is accessible and affordable to women. 

This particularly applies to those women who are widowed or heading up households for other reasons. It also fails to address the full range of women’s reproductive health issues and concerns (especially adolescent girls and including GBV). 

Instead, it focuses primarily on prenatal and maternal health. When considering health rights for women in Iraq, social realities such as poverty and economic dependency must also be discussed alongside legal provision. Traditionally males within households enjoy preferential treatment. 

This means access to food, for example, can be inhibited by gender. Other traditional practices, such as women needing to obtain permission from a male relative before seeking medical care, are also significant barriers to good health for women and girls. 

The prevalence of gender-based violence and deprivation, along with lack of influence in the decision-making process, means that although men and women may have similar physical symptoms, women experience these health conditions very differently.

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