Empowering Female Students in Iraq
"Though much still needs to be done, I am rather optimistic that women in Iraq are more empowered and looking forward to getting their rights".
Last year’s UN Political Declaration on UHC highlighted the need to ‘mainstream a gender perspective when designing, implementing and monitoring health policies, taking into account the specific needs of all women and girls, with a view to achieving equality and the empowerment of women in health systems delivery.’
This month FIGO has spoken with Dr Taghreed Alhaidari, Secretary General, Iraq Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Member of FIGO Committee on Human Rights, Refugees and Violence Against Women.
"My greatest joy was being a winner of the FIGO award, in recognition for the women obstetricians & gynaecologists who have a distinguished contribution in the field of women’s health services & researches in their countries.
Becoming an OBGYN
Young females in Iraq were always encouraged to be doctors if they were doing well at school and obtained good marks, and that was the story with me too. After I completed medical school, I found myself thinking about my next step, and I was encouraged to go into the field of OBGYN as it has always been the preferred profession for a female doctor in my home country.
I knew that it would be a challenging step in my life, and most of the time my work had taken me away from my family; meanwhile, I needed to make a reasonable balance between my work as a clinician and my academic career as a teacher with all the responsibilities towards my students.
I did accept the challenge, and day by day I started to like my profession.
What brought me a great sense of happiness was to set the concept of working based on evidence in my specialty in Iraq, and taking the research and evidence as a high-priority tool in dealing with developing health services to women. I urged people in the field to work on that to get the best outcome for women’s health.
I have also lead and ran a training course in emergency obstetrics, they are multidisciplinary courses which aim to build the capacity of medical staff in the labour wards, enabling them to work as a team and bring safe, evidence-based and standardised health services to the pregnant women.
One of the greatest pieces of advice was from my senior when she told me that I have to listen carefully to all women, as they will end up teaching me a lot, and to open my eyes into new perspectives in life; she was absolutely right.
Once I had more contact with the women in Iraq, I realised how much they need to be supported, how they needed to get an equal chance and equity in accessing health services and have the ability to seek health advice with dignity and best quality with less financial hardship.
When we think about challenges, we need to think about bullying from some of our male colleagues, religious misinterpretation and to some extent some conservative attitudes towards female doctors in general, especially those who are working in the field of OBGYN.
The other point is community attitude towards women in leadership, in the way of their beliefs regarding women rights and women taking full responsibilities.
Straggling in changing behaviour and attitudes towards relaying evidence and building a concrete health system that is dependent on facts can be a big issue. There are also difficulties regarding empowering women and protecting them against violence and harassment which is in many instances undermined by the community.
Women and girls are still unable to realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights, and they keep suffering from gender-based violence. The long days of displacement due to conflict placed an extra burden upon them, for that made them unable to access reproductive health services promptly and that was a leading cause to life-threatening risks during pregnancy and delivery.
One of the biggest challenges in Iraq is the insecurity of subsequent wars, where OBGYNs need to be away from their home and their families for long hours. At night there are curfews, making it a huge risk to return back home or leave to go to work; I am taking a huge risk in order to save the lives of women.
I am from a country that has been undergoing years of subsequent wars, economic sanctions, and armed conflicts which have affected the lives of women, and for that they are unable to contribute economically, socially, and politically. They have suffered from a lack of educational opportunities, where the gender-based discrimination in education is both a cause and an outcome of poverty.
For many Iraqi men, especially in rural areas, women are considered to be followers of men in both the household and society, and education of women is not a necessity.
In Iraq, there is still an imminent need for legislative change, coupled with active enforcement mechanisms to bring Iraq into full compliance with antidiscrimination instruments and ensure women’s equal rights in education, science and other aspects. Changing the cultural and social beliefs requires a sensitisation of men at each level: parliamentary, judicial, and legal, as well as within the police forces, civil society, community, and among religious leaders.
Vision for the future of women’s health
The health system in Iraq is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, mainly those related to health. Nevertheless, due to security and political instability the pace of the progress has been evidently slowed down, and to a degree that threatens the progress achieve so far.
Though much still needs to be done, I am rather optimistic that women in Iraq are more empowered and looking forward to getting their rights with the current engagement of civil societies, partners and stakeholders from national and international organisations. This alongside a big positive push towards establishing laws and legislations that would ensure support and provision of better health services, especially those related to women’s health. In addition to this, there needs to be changing of behaviour of the community in a positive way to support those needs and demands.
I am passionate about directing the medical education in my country to serve the community, in particular women and young girls, and trying to make the medical school curriculum a tool to serve women’s health.
My vision is to continue to encourage graduating students, who have the full technical capacity to serve their community and people, and enabling female students to be empowered as a member of the community, who are believers in providing equal health services to every member in the community".