The head of the U.N. Development Fund for Women, Noleen Heyzer, is urging the international community to meet the needs of Iraqi women during the war and during the future reconstruction of Iraq.
Ms. Heyzer says that she is deeply concerned about the plight of Iraqi women. She says that women account for the majority of civilians affected by armed conflict, including refugees and internally displaced people.
During an interview with VOA, Ms. Heyzer said that UNIFEM workers in Amman, Jordan, are preparing for a crisis by traveling to the Iraqi border. They are setting up psychological support programs for potential refugees, traumatized by displacement and the prospect of rebuilding their communities.
Ms. Heyzer urged the United Nations and the U.S.-led coalition forces to meet the particular needs of Iraqi women through the recently revamped humanitarian oil-for-food program.
"There are 24 items besides food, and this includes health care, water, sanitation, and it is important to ensure the gender dimension of it because at any one time of displacement, there are at least 25 percent [of the] women who are pregnant and, therefore, it is important to have emergency services included in that package as well," she said.
Ms. Heyzer says that before the first Gulf War, Iraqi women had achieved one of the highest levels of education and health in the region. But she says, in the 12 years following the first Gulf War and the imposition of sanctions, Iraqi women have suffered tremendously, losing whatever gains were made in the past.
UNIFEM's Noleen Heyzer says that despite ethnic, socio-economic, and religious differences among Iraqi women, they have a collective desire to see investment in women's education, health, and security in a post-war Iraq.
"The first thing we need to happen is to restore the level of human development within the country, and, therefore, the whole investment in women's education and health would be extremely important again, and the kind of leadership [role] that women need to play in terms of decision-making," said Ms. Heyzer.
In most countries, we know that women's situation is often the best indicator of national security issues and the more you have women participating in various levels of decision-making, it will be a foundation for a more democratic governance system.
In the meantime, as war rages in Iraq, UNIFEM's Noleen Heyzer is calling for all parties to protect innocent civilians, particularly women and children. She points out that during periods of war and displacement, women and girls are subject to a host of abuses that stem from violence and lawlessness.