Iraq's Ministry of State for Women's Affairs on Monday (January 7th) invited Iraqi scholars to apply for seven new research grants offered by the Arab Women Organisation (AWO).
Iraq is a member of the AWO, a Cairo-based organisation which offers an annual programme to encourage its 16 member states to conduct research and studies on women's affairs and issues, ministry spokesman Mohammed Hamza told Mawtani.
"This time, it sought research projects that address the situation and conditions of women in the Arab region in the midst of wars, disturbances and armed conflicts, because it believes there is a shortage in the conduct of such scientific research and studies," he said.
All Iraqi postgraduate students, both male and female, who are writing their dissertations or master's theses on subjects related to women in the field of social sciences can apply for the grants at www.smwa.gov.iq or www.arabwomenorg.org.
The deadline for submissions is April 30th. "A joint referee committee comprised of representatives of organisation members will study the electronic applications and choose the candidates based on the research plans they submit that could enrich this field of study with scientific knowledge and methodology," Hamza said.
The ministry will track Iraqi participation in the competition from the beginning of the selection phase until the candidates are announced in October, he said.
"We hope our researchers and academics will show an exceptional presence in this research programme, and contribute towards strengthening Arab scientific and academic institutions with contributions that reflect the creative capacities and abilities of Iraqi researchers," he said.
The ministry is keen to support and develop scientific research projects that deal with women issues, Hamza said. It is now working with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to set up a special centre so men and women can conduct research on Iraqi women to help draft policies and strategies aimed at improving the situation of women.
"We obtained preliminary approvals to establish this research centre, and two months ago we laid out its administrative structure during a workshop, in hopes the centre can be inaugurated later this year," he said.
"The ministry has other activities as well, such as working with the Central Bureau of Statistics in preparing scientific surveys, opinion polls and questionnaires to identify the conditions and numbers of Iraqi divorcees, widows, workers, breadwinners and those who are disadvantaged, as well as the cases of forced marriages and women mortality, so we can benefit from this data when drafting plans and projects to improve the condition of Iraqi women," he said.
Women's rights activist Hana Adwar described the research grants as "an important move". "We in the Arab region still need such methodical field research to give decision-makers a clear picture of the problems and challenges that undermine the chances for improving the situation of women in their countries," she told Mawtani.
"In my opinion, it is very hard to formulate real and successful development programmes and projects that meet all the needs and requirements of women without scientific, mature research projects and studies, which allow us to channel available resources and capacities in the right way to improve the condition of women and develop their potential and their essential role in society,"
Adwar said. It is particularly important to focus on issues Iraqi women face in the fields of education, health and social services, and work opportunities and advancement, she said, adding that officials should review and enact legislation that supports women's rights and fights discrimination and the abuse of women.
Haifa Naseem, secretary of the parliamentary committee on women, said she was pleased with the AWO's decision to give Iraqi students the chance to take part in its research projects.
"I support this policy and consider it a good start on the road of exchanging knowledge and enriching scientific studies that help address the obstacles and problems women face in Iraq and other Arab societies," she told Mawtani.
Naseem said she hopes the research projects will pay particular attention to supporting and strengthening women's participation in the political decision-making process, enabling women to assume leadership positions.
By Khalid al-Taie