Iraqi Parliamentary Delegation study visit to the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa

Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities

29 May 2012
Chairperson: Ms D Ramodibe (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The meeting between the Committee and the Iraqi delegation discussed what the delegation hoped to learn from the South African government. The Iraqi Ambassador spoke broadly in terms of government structure and getting a better understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation processes that South Africa underwent after Apartheid, and the Committee also received questions addressing their work on the promotion of women’s rights and how South Africa worked to mainstream the concerns of vulnerable groups. The Iraqi delegation also explained why future relations with South Africa would benefit both nations, as well as mentioning the challenges the Iraqi government had faced in trying to overcome the challenges of the past decades.

The Committee noted surprise at the lack of women in the Iraqi delegation, and hoped the next time the two parties met, more women would be in attendance. They wished Iraq the best in their work to promote the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities. The Ambassador extended an invitation to South African Parliamentary Committees to visit Baghdad in the future.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcoming everyone and asked all people in attendance to introduce themselves, hoping that everyone would feel more comfortable knowing to whom they were speaking.

The Chair explained that the Committee’s role was to exercise oversight over the Executive and other bodies on matters to do with women, children, and people with disabilities. The Committee worked to monitor, advocate, and coordinate government departments on issues pertaining to women, children, and people with disabilities, but did not directly deliver any services themselves.

The Committee’s second role was to facilitate legislation and make sure these target groups were prioritised and considered in all pieces of legislation and ensure the needs of these communities were mainstreamed, cutting across all departments. The Committee had also to ensure that legislation complies with international instruments, and created opportunities for public participation. Before handing the floor over to the Iraqi delegation, the Chair noted that their delegation was male dominated, saying she hoped in the future, the Committee would see more females.

Dr Hishman Al-Alwai, Ambassador at the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq in Pretoria, thanked the Chairperson for her introduction, and said the delegation was excited to be there, and looked forward to the meeting since the delegation thought Iraq and South Africa shared commonalities on the issues of women, children, and people with disabilities that the two groups could engage with. He had been in South Africa since last April, and continued to see more similarities between the two nations, as each country had a rich history and rich natural resources. Iraqi society had suffered a lot in the past few decades in terms of dictatorship, poor policies, economic sanctions and American occupation, and the government was continually working to correct previous issues.

Ambassador Al-Alwai knew certain areas had great potential for interaction in working with South Africa, being particularly interested in their parliamentary structure. Iraq admired the South African Constitution and Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. The model of provincial governments was also of interest to them, as there was a debate in Iraq as to which model of government would suit them. In the past year, everyone shared the view of enhancing relations with an agreement on economic and technical matters which would be signed soon.

There were many opportunities for South African businesses to engage with Iraq and some of the projects that South Africa had implemented were relevant to Iraq. The delegation believed that more high-level visits would move matters forward and enhance relations for the benefit of both nations. The Iraqi government also looked forward to seeing a South African Embassy in Baghdad soon. He sincerely believed that there was great potential for more cooperation on education and culture, and noted there was currently a draft agreement on this at the Higher Education Ministry. Having visited many universities, he said those higher education institutions were very willing to engage with Iraq, and vice versa.
There were other areas that the delegation believed the two nations could work on such as collaborating on energy. Iraqi oil production had increased, and production capacity would continue to increase, which would make Iraq the largest oil producing nation in the world. There were other key sectors that deserve exploration such as tourism, culture, security, and housing.

When it came to women, children, and people with special needs, it was important to note that because of recent history, Iraqi society had a large population of people needing special attention, and thought it would be interesting to explore the South African experience. In addition to legislation, the delegation was interested in understanding how the Committee engaged with other departments to ensure women, children, and people with disabilities were cared for.

Ambassador Al-Alawi noted women empowerment in Iraq was a big issue. This delegation was not a true reflection of Iraqi parliamentary composition. A quarter of Parliament was women and several government officials, including ministers, deputy ministers and deputy generals as well. Iraqi women were very active in the social and economic life in Iraq with many serving as professionals, teachers, doctors and engineers. One aspect that the Ambassador commended was women involvement in politics in South Africa. This was an area the delegation was very interested in, and he believed that the Iraqi people could benefit from learning about the South African experience. He thanked the Chairperson again for the opportunity to be there that day.

The Chair asked the Iraqi delegation to proceed with any questions they had.

Mr Qays Shadhar Khanees Al Juboor, Member of Iraqi Parliament, said the visit was important for the members of the Iraqi National Reconciliation Committee and the D
isarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) Committee as it was essential to be informed about the South African experience of achieving national reconciliation. Today was their first meeting with South African parliamentarians and the Iraqi government was interested to learn about the role of women in South Africa. In Iraq, women play a large role in activism. There is a committee dealing with women in the Iraqi Parliament which in encourages peaceful upbringing of children and taking care of people with disabilities. The work of the National Reconciliation Committee dealt with displaced persons and marginalised people (women, children and the poor) and reintegrated them into society. The National Reconciliation Committee had had coordination with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). He expressed their appreciation on seeing work related to development programmes.

Mr Wathab Shaker, Chairman of Iraq’s National Reconciliation Committee, thanked the Committee for having them and the IOM for arranging the meeting. He explained that their delegation was more men, as the men dealt with the “tough” issues such as disagreements amongst political parties. The delegation had to solve internal disputes, and the first to be affected by this were the women and children in Iraq. Internal disputes affected women, children, people with disabilities and the poor who needed large amounts of care. He repeated that the delegation was keen to see how South Africa dealt with these issues. The delegation was there to learn, listen, and experience it firsthand.

One member of the Iraqi delegation who was part of DDR, involved with the disarmament and reintegration of armed groups, said there were a great number of these groups which needed to be reintegrated into civilian life, and reconciliation was part of this process. The trip to South Africa was to observe reconciliation as it affected all aspects of society.

The Chair thanked everyone for sharing their experiences and noted that South Africa had been following what had been happening in Iraq and was sympathetic towards the targeted groups the Committee worked with. Women, children, and people with disabilities were always caught in the middle during times of trouble. The Committee was happy the delegation came to South Africa, as their situations were similar. Although South Africa did not go through a war situation, but both nations had similar issues.

In Parliament, they were lucky to have had as first President, Nelson Mandela. As most people knew, Mr Mandela said he was an accessible leader, and enabled the people allowing for everyone’s access to the executive. The South African Parliament was comprised of roughly 400 members with roughly 46% being women. There were more than 40% women in the Cabinet. Currently South Africa occupied seventh place in women parliamentary rankings according to the
Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). She gave a brief summary about the structure of the SA Parliament, its functions, and noted the many political parties that sit in Parliament. She said that different political parties always argue, but at the end of the day, Parliament reaches a consensus. There were government programmes for women, children, and people with disabilities. The Ambassador had acknowledged the impact of violence on these target groups. The SA government had focused on education and skills development, poverty alleviation and economic empowerment, especially for women, and all this took place from mainstreaming these into government programmes and policies. This Ministry/Department could not do it alone, so it was important to know the programmes for these specific groups happened at all government levels. Currently, the Month Of Children and Children Protection’s Week had lead to a seminar which would be held in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). The delegation would be invited to this debate dealing specifically with the protection of children.

Dr Al-Alawi asked if the Committee would speak about the projects they were involved in, and about their achievements in developing opportunities for these target groups.

The Chair said she would allow Ms Kashifa Abrahams, Committee Researcher, to answer the question.

Ms Abrahams said the mandate of the Committee was very broad, as it had several target groups. To assist the Committee, researchers opted to look at a themed approach for every year to better look at the issues that were integrated. In 2009, the Committee had held public hearings to look at legislation on domestic violence and to examine the impact of that legislation over the past 11 years to see if this law had made a difference. Civil society had had an opportunity to speak about their experiences. The Executive could listen to civil society identifying where there were gaps and challenges in what government was doing to address domestic violence.

A member of the Iraqi delegation asked when new legislation was needed, who was responsible for issuing that legislation, and how long did it took for it to be drafted.

Ambassador Al-Alawi added more specifically, what was the process for enacting legislation in addressing those gaps?

The Chair said legislation would move through the normal legislation process and the length of processing time depended on many factors, as it was not a simple process. She noted the back and forth process between the two houses of Parliament, noting the NCOP need to take the legislation to the people in the provinces.

Ambassador Al-Alawi asked if the Executive was always involved in the creation of the bill.

The Chairwomen confirmed that the Executive was involved.

Ms Fatimah Ali Mahdi, of the Disarmament Department, thanked the Committee for having them, and said that Iraqi women have gone through tough conditions in the past three decades, noting that women bore all the household and social responsibilities at that time. Throughout the previous decades, women had been playing a crucial role in society. She noted there were many widows and likewise many women who work towards helping others in society, without the assistance of the government.

The Chairperson commented that it had not been easy for women to be recognised anywhere in the world. It was not easy as the oppression of women started at home, continued at work, and oppression was always there for them as people. She called this a “triple oppression” and that the emancipation of women continued, even today. South Africa had fought very hard, and she hoped that Iraq would soon have fighters for women’s rights. That was the arena where the Committee was still working, even with the ANC coming in with nearly 50% women represented in every structure. Women in government could not do it alone, but non-government organisations must work together with civil society to achieve equality. She noted the Committee was working on a women empowerment and gender equality bill. This bill forces Parliament to recognise that gender legislation must be implemented, especially for women in rural areas, which was one of the government’s priorities.

Ms Mahdi wondered if the Committee could share programmes the Committee had been involved in to help women in South Africa.

The Chair responded that the number of women in Parliament and government alone was an achievement. The Committee fought for each woman to be there and to have women, children, and people with disabilities taken seriously. That Committee had to fight to have the Women, Children, and People with Disabilities Ministry established. Today, there were free basic services offered to women  such as access to health care and water.

Ms Luz Tantaruna, IOM Community Revitalisation Programme Manager, was introduced to the Committee and the Iraqi delegation.

Ms Tantaruna said she was more familiar with Mozambique and Angola, where she had done previous work and she had spent four years in Sudan working for vulnerable people. Women were doing a lot of work that was not recognised in many spheres. She believed societies would fully develop with the participation of men and women, noting women were able to look at problems differently than men, which was important in looking at the development of communities.

Mr Al Juboor said he wanted to point out that there was a Ministry for Women’s Affairs in Iraq.

The Chairperson asked that the delegation leave a contact for SA’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Ambassador Al-Alawi said that there was an emergence of democracy in the region and spoke about the positive changes that had occurred. Iraq had held two major general elections which were fair and free, with widespread participation. Out of these, Iraq had had two national unity governments, with some stalwarts for women empowerment being among some of the best in the region. He acknowledged that it took a long time to build democracy and its institutions, as see by the South African experience. In addition to the political environment, the Iraqi economy had been one of the top 10 fastest growing. The IMF had suggested that Iraq would see growth rates of 11.5% moving to a growth rate of 13.5% in 2013. The budget had increased from US$25 billion (2003-2004) to US$100 billion in 2012. There had been a major reduction in poverty in Iraq, and a drop in unemployment rate. The standard of living had also continued to improve in the last 5-10 years, and Iraq would look positively towards the future with the end of the American occupation. Parliament, government, and security forces were more confident in presenting what was in the best interests of Iraq. He said Iraq would look forward to the future given their rich history, culture, and the amount of success Iraq had achieved in the past few years. The next decade would be crucial, and would bring more positive developments. He sincerely hoped Iraq would engage more with South Africa and work for the enhancement of the two nations. He thanked the Committee again for the opportunity.

The Chair said the Committee had learned a lot from the delegation, and they hoped to see the Iraqi government move forward, and wished them well in the difficult process of reconciliation. The Committee appreciated the fact that Iraq had been able to emerge as a democratic country, which was not an easy process, noting again that South Africa was still a young democratic nation, and still saw many legacies from the past that had not been overcome, especially in the economy. Political freedom was achieved, but economically South Africa was still at a standstill. To finish, the Chair thanked everyone very much and said the Committee wished their sisters good luck, saying it was not an easy path, but hoped their sisters would continue fighting.

Ambassador Al-Alawi said that their sisters in Iraq would like to extend an invitation to them, and would love to see a South African parliamentary delegation visit Iraq.

The Chairperson said the Committee would like to return the visit.
She adjourned the meeting.


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