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Displacement and women's economic empowerment: voices of displaced women in the Kurdistan region of Iraq

Kaya, Zeynep N. and Luchtenberg, Kyra N. (2018) Displacement and women's economic empowerment: voices of displaced women in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. . Women for Women International, London, UK.

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Abstract

Conflict-related displacement has increased the number of women among displaced communities who engage in livelihood activities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Women’s increased role as income providers has led to some change in men’s and women’s perceptions of women’s economic roles. However, this change appears to be temporary and instrumental, meaning that when people return home or life goes back to normal, perceptions of women’s economic position will return to what it was before. Nonetheless, the positive changes described by the participants of this study of women’s roles in income generation and their impact on attitudes can be built upon to generate transformative change both for women’s economic empowerment and their empowerment in general. There are significant structural and cultural obstacles hindering women’s ability to engage in livelihood activities and to increase their economic empowerment. The wider institutional and legal system that discriminates against women and perpetuates patriarchal gender norms, the economic crisis, and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) and the Government of Iraq’s (GoI) political priorities that overlook women’s rights and their economic empowerment create structural obstacles hindering displaced women’s short-term opportunities to engage in livelihood activities and their long-term economic empowerment. The main barriers to women’s engagement in livelihood activities are: restrictions to their mobility due to long travel time and costs of commute; perceived risks to their safety and security; societal and family pressures that confine women and girls to the domestic private sphere; a lack of educational and skills background to take up work; a lack of or limited job opportunities; heavy responsibilities and childcare at home that put pressure on women’s time; and health problems. On the other hand, due to the inability of male members of their families to earn (enough) income, women are forced to work. In this respect, the harsh conditions of conflict and displacement have forced families and communities to make space for women’s engagement in livelihoods and this is an opportunity that can be built upon with careful national and international planning. There is huge variation in women’s experiences of displacement, their livelihood needs and their access to economic opportunities in the KRI. The variation depends on the place of settlement and origin, whether they are a refugee or an IDP, whether they have a rural or urban background, their level of education, literacy, occupational skills, age, and specific family circumstances and needs. Therefore, one particular model of a livelihood programme might cater for only one section of displaced women but may exclude other displaced women. As such, the variation in needs and circumstances needs to be reflected in the design of livelihood programmes, as well as in their implementation. National and international actors should avoid gendered stereotyping and strictly categorising women based on cultural and communal identities when seeking to understand barriers and opportunities to livelihoods for displaced women. Most of the displaced women engaged in current livelihood opportunities and training programmes offered by local and international organisations find them beneficial and appreciate the safe spaces these provide. However, these activities are not seen as having the potential to turn into sustainable income generation activities for three reasons. First, the current economic crisis and the wider conflict context lead to a lack of jobs and market opportunities, rendering it difficult to maintain a business or find a job. Second, the economic empowerment of women is not a government priority in Iraq or the KRI. Third, most livelihood programmes follow a one size-fits-all model that is shortterm and does not always address the specific livelihood needs of different women living in a context of displacement. Local and international organisations working on displaced women’s livelihood security do so with limited resources and do not receive sufficient national and international support for their work. Therefore, it is hard for them to develop long-lasting and effective programmes that cater to different needs and circumstances. Although existing livelihood programmes are unlikely to be transformative in the long term, they have led to small-scale transformations in displaced women’s lives and changed perceptions of their role in the household.

Item Type: Monograph (Report)
Additional Information: © 2018 The Authors
Divisions: Middle East Centre
IGA: Centre for Women Peace and Security
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Sets: Research centres and groups > Middle East Centre
Research centres and groups > Centre for Women, Peace and Security
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2018 15:40
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 16:25
Funders: Millby Foundation
URI: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/87686

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