Empowered Women, Empowered Children: Examining the relationship between women’s empowerment and child well-being in Iraq – Iraq



Achieving child wellbeing outcomes remains a global challenge due to the prevalence of child vulnerability, particularly in fragile contexts. Every child deserves to reach their full potential, but gender inequalities in their lives and in the lives of those who care for them hinder this reality. Gender inequality is recognized as one of the most powerful drivers of children’s vulnerability in all contexts. As part of its mandate to help the most vulnerable children enjoy life to the fullest, World Vision focuses on child wellbeing programs and capitalizes on child wellbeing outcomes. With the intention of placing greater emphasis on gender-responsive programs that meet the strategic needs of women, VM Iraq conducted the given research, to better understand the connection between the well-being of mother and child. child and effectively treat both.

Iraq suffers from both internal conflicts and ongoing conflicts in Syria, and has faced a complex humanitarian crisis since 2014. The conflict has taken a toll on Iraqi women and girls who today suffer from high levels violence and inequalities exacerbated by misconceptions about traditions and culture. and social norms. Iraqi children suffer from repeated displacement and exposure to violent conflict which has both immediate and long-term impacts on their physical, emotional, mental and psychosocial well-being. This research explores factors of women’s empowerment and child well-being in Iraq and examines how socio-demographic factors and components of women’s empowerment are associated with child well-being. To this end, a cross-sectional observation plan was developed with the application of convenience sampling. The research targeted 102 World Vision beneficiary children, aged 11 to 17 living in structured families and their respective mothers. The results of the survey are supplemented by 5 KII with mothers and 5 KII with children.

Women’s Empowerment Factors Empowerment at the relational level is located in the relationships and power relations within the woman’s surrounding network. This is the most difficult to achieve, because the immediate environment of women, such as the family and the community, is responsible for it. None of the women interviewed in Iraq is empowered by all relational factors. Women’s decision-making power within the household (HH) is limited due to prevailing patriarchal norms where the husband’s opinion often dominates, especially on financial decisions. Women’s control over household assets, especially land and houses, is limited since traditionally men as heads of households have access to and control of family resources, including money and other assets. .

The majority of women surveyed have no continuity over time and cannot delegate or redistribute care activities. This is because the harmful gender norms that underpin patriarchal family dynamics impose all reproductive work on them and allow men to refrain from actively engaging in fatherhood and caring responsibilities. GBV and in particular domestic violence are widespread in Iraq due to the legal framework that allows perpetrators to operate with impunity and leave women and girls without any legal protection and due to the assumption that men have the right to discipline women and girls if they do not conform to the social role assigned to them.
Personal empowerment takes place within the person. This refers to the perception of the woman in relation to herself, to her well-being, to the way she considers her role in society and that of other women. This speaks to the overall resilience of women and their ability to handle everyday stress. Only 10% of women surveyed are empowered through personal factors. Overall, the majority of women surveyed have moderate self-esteem and moderate positive self-image, and they are spiritually empowered through their religious well-being more than their existential well-being. However, life difficulties, family problems and financial situation have an impact on the mental health of almost a quarter of women surveyed who showed signs of possible and probable depression. Additionally, the challenges faced in society make it difficult for Iraqi women to break out of traditional gender roles and embrace a gender-neutral attitude. The acceptability of GBV and the harmful social norms and traditions that sustain GBV, including the protection of family honor versus the safety of women, and the authority of men to discipline women is still high in general and hinders the empowerment of women.

Empowerment through environmental factors looks at the larger context, which includes informal aspects, such as equitable social norms, attitudes and beliefs of the wider society, and formal aspects, such as the political framework and gender-sensitive legislation. Not surprisingly, none of the women interviewed were empowered by environmental factors, as relational and environmental factors are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. The majority of women live in communities where gender norms and gender stereotypes are highly restrictive, particularly in dimensions related to the distribution of household chores, access to education for girls, early marriage of girls and the control of girls’ behavior. Cultural barriers and legal limitations control women’s mobility and freedom of movement. Very few women have access to legal aid and justice when needed, due to social and financial barriers, and none of them have legal civic rights, including travel rights, custody rights after divorce, property rights and inheritance rights, due to the vagueness and contradictions of the legal framework. and also because of the existence of an informal tribal justice system, which is not administered by the state.

Child well-being outcomes

Children’s well-being was measured by looking at physical outcomes, such as education, nutrition and health, protection, as well as mental and psychosocial indicators. None of the children surveyed achieved well-being across all factors. When it comes to education, self-rated functional literacy is low among the children surveyed, especially in the dimension of digital literacy and computer skills. The majority of children are enrolled in formal education, but only half of them have a positive attitude towards learning and the desire to continue their studies. 14% are out of school with the main reason for dropping out being lack of financial resources. With regard to nutrition and health, the majority of children surveyed have a good or moderate, diversified and adequate diet. 10% have poor nutritional outcomes. Positive health-related behavior is only developed by 9% of children surveyed and could lead to major problems in adulthood.
Finally, 39% of Iraqi children surveyed are highly exposed to violence and abuse, especially from other family members living with them in the same household.

Self-esteem, mental and spiritual well-being, resilience and empathy feed into the mental and psychosocial dimension of child well-being. The majority of children surveyed have high self-esteem, a great capacity for resilience, especially through the relationship with their caregivers, great empathy and all are spiritually self-sufficient. Current events in Iraq, family issues, travel and financial difficulties have had an impact on the mental health of children and young people in the country, with signs of possible or probable depression in 14% of children surveyed.

How women’s socio-economic and demographic characteristics affect their empowerment and the well-being of their children

According to research findings, internal displacement increases women’s vulnerability and is associated with negative female empowerment factors. Displaced women are more likely to have a sexist attitude and to accept very restrictive gender norms in their communities.
The education of women leads to the well-being of children. Children of literate versus illiterate women are well nourished and receive adequate food.
Living in large households (HH), young age and young age of marriage limit women’s empowerment and the well-being of their children. Women who live in large families, especially in polygamous families, have less control over household assets and lower self-esteem, which affects their children who become more at risk of being victimized. violence. Young mothers also have lower self-esteem and sexist attitudes. Young married women accept and experience GBV and have less control over household assets.
How women’s empowerment affects the well-being of their children Mothers who can make decisions at the household level, who can redistribute and delegate care work, and who do not have sexist attitudes are more likely to have children eager to learn and pursue studies. GBV-free mothers and those who do not accept GBV motivate their children to adopt positive health behavior and protect their children from violence. Women who hold decision-making power also protect their children from violence. Finally, the study found that the mental well-being of women was strongly associated with the mental well-being of their children.

Main recommendations for programs

  • Fight against domestic violence and generalize GBV in all sectors. Prevention and response should be included in project design and implemented/measured accordingly

  • Addressing harmful social and community norms through awareness raising and advocacy, while liaising with local religious leaders and power holders

  • Adopt project designs/approaches that are gender sensitive and provide an explicit opportunity to address gender norms and relations, as part of project implementation

  • Adopt gender transformation indicators that measure changes in gender norms and relations

  • Invest in additional research and innovative pilot projects to find the most effective women’s empowerment models and practices

  • Invest in staff capacity building on gender equality and social inclusion, to improve the quality of interventions

Mara R. Wilmoth