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Iraq: helping women in their struggle to feed their families

24-08-2011 News Release

Geneva/Baghdad (ICRC) – Women in Iraq who must shoulder the burden of caring for their families alone because their husbands have been killed, arrested or disabled by war injuries, or have gone missing, are among those worst affected by the consequences of years of armed conflict. While recognizing the efforts that have already been undertaken to improve their situation, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) calls for further action to be taken on the part of all concerned.

"Women heading households and their dependents have to struggle with extremely harsh living conditions," said Magne Barth, the head of the ICRC delegation in Baghdad, at a press conference today in the Iraqi capital. He presented the results of a survey carried out by the ICRC to acquire a better understanding of the state of Iraqi women supporting their families alone. The survey involved interviews with 119 women and depicted the hard choices they have to make in order to feed their families in the absence of a husband, father or brother. The ICRC also released a film today that highlights the difficulties the women have to face.

"Around 70 per cent of them spend more than they earn. They have to borrow money, sell what little they own and avoid expenses by going without health care or by taking their children out of school," said Mr Barth. "Moreover, 40 per cent of the families we surveyed have to send children, usually sons as young as 12 or 13 years old, out to work."

An estimated one million women struggle to feed their families and continue to depend, to some extent, on outside help. The ICRC strives to help them overcome the loss of a former breadwinner. In particular, it aids them in their efforts to register with Iraq's welfare allowance system. "Since 2009, the ICRC has reimbursed the travel expenses incurred by nearly a thousand women, mainly in Baghdad and Anbar, but also in Basra and Missan, when they had to gather the various documents required to apply for the allowance," said Mr Barth. "Around 6,000 more women will be given financial support this year and next to tide them over until they start to receive benefits from the social welfare system."

"We also offer micro grants to those willing to start an income-generating activity," he said. "However, the grants cannot meet all needs, and not all women are able to launch a small business."

The ICRC supports all efforts aiming to improve the situation of women heading households. It will continue to assist the women and others involved in helping them.

For further information, please contact:
Claire Kaplun (French, English, Spanish), ICRC Iraq, tel: +964 780 913 1626
Marie Claire Feghali (Arabic, English, French), ICRC Iraq, tel: +962 777 399 614
Hicham Hassan, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 41 or +41 79 536 92 57