Date of Award

Spring 5-18-2014

Document Type

Honors Thesis


International Studies

First Advisor

Andrew T. Wolff




Women in Iraq had more freedom and rights under the Baath Regime than they do in the post-2003 Iraqi state. This research offers an analysis of women’s rights from the beginning of the Baath regime, through the American occupation, until the transfer of sovereignty back to the Iraqis. Using the three lenses of political representation, legal rights, and employment, a comparison can be made that offers evidence showing that women’s rights have been eroded as a result of the occupation.

The U.S. Administration often stated that empowering women in Iraq was an important part of the reconstruction process. However, it is often forgotten that under Saddam Hussein, women were given certain rights that were relatively progressive. The Baath Regime was governed using secular law and Saddam Hussein upheld a progressive and secular Personal Status Law from 1959 that granted women rights such as equal inheritance laws with men. Furthermore, the policies of the Baath Regime in the 1970’s encouraged the education and employment of women, paving the way for Iraqi women to become among the most educated in the region, with one of the lowest illiteracy rates. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Iraqi society adopted a more conservative ideology in regards to gender relations due to hardships caused by the Iran-Iraq War and the economic sanctions imposed by the UN. Despite this, women during this time were better off than in the post-invasion period.

Following the invasion, the violence and chaos pushed women out of the public sphere.

Politically motivated Islamic militant groups targeted women who did not wear the hijab (head covering) or wore Western-style fashions. In the political sphere, women were marginalized because when the U.S. created the new governing institutions, precedence was given to achieving a sectarian and ethnic balance, over a fair representation of women. The most organized and powerful political parties are the Islamic, Shiite parties, most notably the United Iraqi Alliance. The power vacuum created by the downfall of Saddam Hussein has allowed Shiite, Islamist politicians to gain power in the Iraqi Parliament and attempt to overturn the progressive, secular laws from the Baath Regime era and replace them with Sharia-based laws. This is most evident from the two attempts that have been made in 2003 and 2005 to abolish the Personal Status Law.

Women in Iraq remain at the periphery of the political sphere and workplace. Their legal rights have been diminished by the 2005 constitution, which declares that Islam is a “foundation source of legislation," thereby allowing for the possibility of a fundamentalist interpretation of the Personal Status Law. The U.S., in an effort to enforce a democratic governing model on Iraq, inadvertently made Iraq a less democratic place for women.