Statement by the SRSG for Iraq, Ms. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert International Women’s Day at the Council of Representatives, Baghdad, 10 March 2019

Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here and to mark International Women’s Day. A day when women are recognized for their achievements, rallying point for the continuous efforts of many, to build support for women’s rights and for their participation in the political and economic arenas.

The Charter of the United Nations signed so many years ago, in 1945 to be precise, was the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. And ever since the UN has helped create a historic legacy of strategies and programmes to advance the status of women worldwide.

And yes, the empowerment of women continues to be a central feature of the UN’s efforts to address social, economic and political challenges across the globe, a central feature, as we still have a long way to go to fully tap into the potential of women.

Also, in Iraq!
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s not shy away from the facts:
• Iraqi women have played a very limited role in the decision-making process for government formation following last year’s national elections;
• Up to this point, not one single woman has been confirmed in a ministerial role in the Iraqi government;
• Iraqi women continue to be under-represented in parliamentary committees and institutions, and
• Iraqi women continue to be largely excluded from senior party roles, from critical meetings, from negotiations.

And I happily repeat what I said last Wednesday at the Sulaimani-forum: “Excluding women from the political process is to ignore half of Iraq’s potential, half of Iraq’s talent and half of Iraq’s energy. The country cannot afford to do that.”

Ladies and gentlemen, a brief digression. Yesterday I was presented with the book “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders”? A provocative title, triggering me to learn a bit more about it.

In a nutshell: most diversity and inclusion interventions miss the point because they focus on gender rather than talent and they often convey this impression that women need help to become leaders because they are naturally not as talented or do not have as much potential as men do so.

When in fact, most of the men, who are leaders, are not very good. And we are fooled by people who have already fooled themselves into thinking that they are better than they actually are.

Does this sound familiar to you? For me, it did. Honestly, it is not difficult for me to list a significant number of such men.

Now, the key traits of an incompetent man are hubris, excessive pride or excessive self-confidence. So, thinking that they are better than they are to the point of being arrogant, excitable, unpredictable and even narcissistic or almost bipolar.

Don’t ask me why, but in general higher standards are being used to evaluate female candidates for leadership jobs than for male candidates. It makes one wonder, no?

To cut a long story short: in order to boost the quality of our leaders and increase the number of female leaders at the same time we need to do two things.

The first is to focus on the right traits, things like humility, integrity and self-awareness. And secondly, we need to elevate our standards, not by making it easier for women to become leaders when they should not but by making it harder for men to become leaders when they should not.

Ladies and gentlemen, back to Iraq.

As far as I know the chairs of parliamentary committees have yet to be selected. And I sincerely hope that many of those taking up these positions will be Iraqi women. Not because they are women, but because they are qualified. Current discussions in Parliament and within the Independent High Electoral Commission on amendments to the Political Parties Law offer a good opportunity to enhance the political participation of women. For instance, such an amendment could state that a political party can only be registered if half of its national and provincial candidates are women.


But let me be clear: legislating for an increased number of women in Iraqi political and economic life should not be the sole focus. True quotas are a step on the path towards greater gender parity in terms of numbers – but the key objective must be gender equality.

By just increasing the numbers we will end up with little more than window dressing – tokenism, if you like. At the end, it is all about selecting the very best people for those posts. It is all about recognizing talent.

And with this in mind, it is important for political parties, as well as communities, to expand and to restructure, to attract competent Iraqi women and to enable them to rise through the party and community ranks, to make use of their skills. It should just not come down to party- or community-loyalty leading to a fool’s bargain and great disillusionment all over again.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, let me emphasize once again: there are so many qualified Iraqi women out there. Iraq has great female potential and this country cannot afford to lose it. So, please, just use it!


Thank you.

Additional Info

  • Agency: UNAMI
Last modified on Monday, 11 March 2019 10:16

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