The Iraqi parliament has the biggest number of women MPs since 2003 and yet this has not helped women’s rights at all.
In early August, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission issued a directive banning the use of the term “gender” in all public communications. It also recommended the replacement of the word “homosexuality” with “sexual deviance”.
The decision came on the back of an organised disinformation campaign in Iraqi media outlets largely owned or controlled by the dominant post-2003 political parties. The campaign linked the use of the term “gender” in Iraq with the “proliferation” of homosexuality, the “promotion” of transgender identities, “moral decay” and the violation of religious and national values.
The ban has already had negative consequences on the work of academics in universities and staff at humanitarian organisations. Some professors teaching gender studies have had to suspend their courses, while NGO workers engaged in “gender programming” within the development sector have been warned to avoid using the term in their work.
Moreover, it has led to a proposal within parliament to amend the anti-prostitution law to include a section criminalising homosexuality with penalties including death.
The backlash against the use of the term “gender” and the deliberate distortion of its meaning is not unique to Iraq. Conservative actors from across the world have attacked the word as part of a pushback against gender equality gains.
But in Iraq, the “anti-gender” campaign also reflects growing efforts by mainstream parties to shrink Iraq’s civic space in an attempt to reverse their own declining popularity. In recent years, they have instrumentalised broad and vague laws to target anyone – from activists to apolitical social media influencers – deemed to have violated “public morals”.
Source : Al Jazeera