Photo: UNDP Iraq

Today, Al Hawizeh marshes remains one the most vulnerable areas in Iraq. In fact, marshland communities are facing political, socio-economic and security challenges that could adversely impact the eff­orts to advance sustainable development. These communities are also challenged by severe environmental degradation and a near total absence of the infrastructure which are essential to support everyday life in Al Hawizeh marshes, including unreliable power supply, sewage treatment facilities, schools, clinics, access to clean water, and livelihood opportunities. These challenges, which are the result of the protracted armed conflict in Iraq, coupled with the adverse impact of climate change, have hindered the return of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) from other governorates.

To address these challenges, UNDP initiated a pilot project in Maysan Governorate which seeks to enhance climate security among returning IDPs to Al Hawizeh marshes with specific attention to women’s empowerment and gender equality. The pilot initiative is a part of the regional SDG-Climate Facility project, which brings UNDP together with the League of Arab States (LAS), the Arab Water Council (AWC), the World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), to deliver climate-oriented solutions that address climate challenges, and focuses on the impacts of climate change on human security in the Arab region especially in the contexts of crisis-affected and fragile situations. The pilot in Iraq, aims to deploy innovative systems to secure clean drinking water and sewage treatment that support stability, livelihood diversification, and ecotourism activities to increase household income and in parallel protect ecosystem services. Through this, the project focuses on supporting the communities of the marshes to cope with the increasing risks posed by climate change and climate disaster.

In 2019, Iraq’s population was estimated to be 39 million, out of which 49.9% were females. In the marshes, it was estimated that women head about 11% of households with the majority being widowed, and highly underrepresented in the formal labour force. Consequently, these households are more food insecure than those headed by men. Studies which have been led by UNDP in Iraq in the past, have also indicated that women and men have different levels of participation in public life, decision making, information, education, justice, and constraints in their efforts to improve their environment and living conditions.

Findings from the gender analysis in the Marshlands of Iraq:

Acknowledging the relationship between women’s empowerment and climate action, UNDP conducted a gender analysis which took place between April and July 2021. The gender analysis aimed at identifying the economic and social conditions of women and men in the marshlands, including their roles, the challenges which specifically women face in marshland societies, and the challenges of participating in the project’s activities. The gender analysis included 11 informants and 55 participants (25 women and 30 men) from four villages[1] near the marshes. Results from the gender analysis were obtained from a desk review of available quantitative and qualitative data, and semi-structured interviews with the participants to crosscheck the information distilled from literature and address remaining data gaps.

In examining Gender-Based Violence (GBV) trends in the marshes, the study found that while GBV is limited, nevertheless domestic violence trends are mostly related to verbal incidents rather than physical and/or psychological ones.

The analysis also brought forward that both women and men in the marshes are equally challenged by the lack of formal employment opportunities. It further highlighted that in addition to women’s domestic household responsibilities, women in the marshes are involved in several climate-sensitive sectors such as the food industry, production of handicrafts, and in agricultural activities such as raising livestock, providing fodder, and harvesting, as well as the education sector. Combining women’s high dependence on climate sensitive work with their underrepresentation in the formal labor force, creates higher risks for women to become more vulnerable to the onset of climate events, including droughts. The analysis also indicted that 50% of men are active in the agriculture sector mainly focusing on activities such as fishing, hunting, and planting crops. Men are also more active in manufacturing, construction, and employment in shops. Nonetheless, none of these activities provide sufficient income for the families and barely meet the needs.

In the area of education and training opportunities, the study showed that access to education remains a challenge in the marshlands for girls and boys, due to long distances and insufficient infrastructure to reach secondary schools.

Additionally, despite the presence of national policies that support women’s participation in the public sphere, the study showed that this remains somewhat limited both at the national and local levels. The analysis also highlighted that most of the family assets and income belong to men or heads of families nationwide. When asked about decision making regarding assets, 12% of women indicated that they cannot access these assets, and men indicated that they are the main decision makers in immediate and extended familial matters.  

Finally, the study concluded that both men and women in the marshlands are severely affected by environmental degradation and climate change. The rising temperatures, water scarcity and deterioration in its quality, has impacted livelihoods and the ability to work in farming, hunting and animal husbandry, thus worsening the economic situation for the community at large and multiplying the threats posed on other aspects of their daily lives. These climate related challenges are also leading to forced migration to urban areas from the marshlands.

The study led to project level recommendations which included the implementation of initiatives that would lead to the creation of employment opportunities for women in the ecotourism sector. The recommendations also included suggestions to strengthen and facilitate women’s participation in project activities such as the provision of transportation to give women the opportunity to join capacity development workshops which would positively impact their knowledge and skills.

It is important to highlight that while this gender analysis in the marshlands specifically focused on the pilot project being implemented in Iraq, the SDG-Climate Facility project is implementing other types of gender analysis and considerations in multiple pilot projects that are led in countries such as Jordan, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt, which will result in a wider identification of gaps at the regional level.


[1] Abu Khassaf (22 responders), Um Saa’a (4 responders), Abu Al Khanazeer (10 responders) and Al Dibin (19 responders)


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