According to this United Nations report, women’s participation rates in the global labour market between the ages of 25 and 54 increased in the 1990s to between 60 and 85 percent. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for Iraqi women, whereby women’s entry into the labour market is a huge challenge in Iraq.
Increasing women’s participation in the labour force would improve the productive capacity of the country and support economic growth. In turn, this could help give women the ability to express their opinion in society and play a leading role in the family.
To date, there is little research that explores the reason for the decline in women’s participation in the labour force in Iraq. Despite the importance of the subject, research that has been conducted is on a limited scale.
The latest report in 2021 was conducted by the International Labor Organization, in cooperation with the Ministry of Planning, and the Central Statistical Organization. The report shockingly revealed that “there are 13 million women within the working age, of whom only one million are engaged in work.”
Iraqi Women’s Participation in the Labour Force in Numbers
Those aged 15 and older, who are of working age, account for 6.63% of the total population of Iraq. Men constitute 50.3% and women are 49.7% – almost half of the country’s population. Unfortunately, this percentage is not reflected in women’s participation in the labour force, nor in equal access to resources and opportunities.
According to the 2021 Labor Force Survey in Iraq, the percentage of the labour force in Iraq reached 39.5% of the total population of working age. Men accounted for 86.6% while women were only 13.4%.
The labour force participation rate for women was 10.6%, compared to 68% for males. These rates are among the lowest rates of female labour participation in the world.
This significant decrease in women’s labour force participation is due to several reasons, including Iraq’s instability, a lack of culturally sensitive spaces, financial constraints, and a competitive job market with few jobs available.
In addition to the unemployment rate, which reached 16.5% in Iraq, the above graphic shows that there is one unemployed person for every 5 people. On the other hand, the female unemployment rate reached 28%, which is double the male unemployment rate of 14%.
According to the results of the Ministry of Planning / Central Statistical Organization, women tend to be more concentrated in the fields of services (73%) and agriculture (14%), compared to 62% and 7%, respectively, for men.
The results also showed that the following sectors are male dominated:
- Construction and related professions
- Protection services
- Drivers of cars, trucks and motorcyclists
- Sales representatives
While the professions dominated by women are:
- Primary education and kindergarten
- High school
- Garment industry and related professions
As for the preferences of work sectors, 71% of women prefer to work in the government sector, while 29% of them prefer to work in the private sector.
While for men, 34% of them prefer to work in the government sector and 65% of them prefer to work in the private sector.
Steps to Expand the Scope of Women’s Work
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report indicated that Iraq ranked 154 out of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index for the year 2021. These numbers show the seriousness and importance of the issue. Unless real and decisive steps are taken to support women, Iraqi women will continue to fall behind. Institutions must work together to reduce the gap by developing female talent for the industries of the future. Additionally, the government must develop legislation for early marriage and childbearing, as is the case in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has placed women as a priority in the labour market, in both its private and public sectors, and in all aspects of life.
Removing these disparities would reduce the unemployment rate, raise the level of women’s participation, enhance competition among jobseekers, revitalise the efforts of many vital sectors and ultimately grow the country’s GDP.
In The End
Women have an important and active role in society, and they represent half of it! Despite the limited opportunities and obstacles faced, many Iraqi women have proven that they can be successful and contributing members of society.
But the question is, where does the problem lie in these statistics? The percentage of women’s participation in the labour market in developing countries, including Iraq, is less than the global average, noting that the percentage of women’s participation in developed countries is more than 67%.
What Iraqi women need today is not limited to increasing available job opportunities, but we must also realise the many complexities and challenges that women face in the labour market.
And as the data has highlighted, we need to facilitate women’s participation in the workforce by addressing social norms, establishing sound policies, and real commitment to implement these frameworks across the country.
Today, we live in a rapidly evolving digital world where the digital economy can provide more opportunities for women to be involved in the workforce, and create new job opportunities that women can easily adapt to.
This work has been done by the support of MiCT organisation and Germany cooperation GIZ Iraq.