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Understanding the Role of International Actors in Enhancing Women's Rights after a Foreign Military Intervention: A Case Study of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq

In collaboration with the American University in Dubai (AUD)

December 2013 – June 2015

The promotion of gender equality to empower women in Iraq is one of the most significant lines of action taken by the international community. Women’s rights and dignity have been specifically addressed to provide ethical justification for the intervention in Iraq. The activities of international actors rely on the assumption that the problem of women’s subordination could be resolved by establishing the rule of law and democracy in compliance with a western liberal model. However, a minority of women’s rights groups and some scholars have pointed out that the rate of violence against women in Iraq is increasing. While the situation of women in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has been considered relatively better off than those in the rest of Iraq and significant progress has been achieved in this region in improving women’s status, women in this region have still suffered equally dramatic forms of subordination before and after the intervention.

Aims of the project

  • To develop an understanding of the international community’s efforts at institutional reconstruction in the KRI, with a particular focus on the UN’s activities to improve gender equality and stop gender-based violence.
  • To shed light on social and legal barriers for women in influencing political decision-making processes and receive fair treatment in the judicial system in the KRI.
  • To assess the success of the UN in mitigating the discrepancies between the priorities of political decision-makers and daily injustices suffered by women in the KRI.
  • To examine how the UN and related organisations deal with differences between Iraq’s national politics concerning women and the gender politics of the regional government in the north, and the implications of these differences for women’s organisations and activities in Erbil and Baghdad.


  • Identify key UN–related international actors and agencies involved in the reconstruction of the KRI after the military intervention in 2003 and analyse their specific projects/programmes targeting women.
  • Examine the new laws and institutional structures generated to ensure gender equality in the KRI after the intervention.
  • Develop local and international networks during the first months of the project to identify and establish connections with key informants for in-depth interviews in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, New York and Geneva.
  • Prepare detailed interview protocols for each category of the key informant interviews and conduct interviews during the course of the project.
  • Conduct detailed analysis of primary texts such as policy texts of foreign governments, reports of international organizations, newspapers and parliamentary documents in the KRI.

Outcomes and dissemination

  • Organise and host a workshop at the AUD on “The UN’s role in protecting women in conflicts in the Middle East”
  • Organise and host a one-day international conference at the LSE on “International intervention and gender in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq”
  • Produce regular blog articles for the LSE Middle East Centre Blog
  • Produce and disseminate a comprehensive policy report
  • Produce a series of academic journal articles
  • Produce an edited book based on the AUD workshop and the LSE conference
  • Participate at international conferences to disseminate the research findings


Project Directors


Dr Zeynep Kaya is LSE Fellow. She completed her PhD, entitled “Maps into Nations? Kurdistan, Kurdish Nationalism and International Society”, in the International Relations Department of the LSE. Her expertise is on the interactions of ethno-political groups with international society with a particular focus on Kurdish nationalists. Her book, The Idea of Kurdistan, is under review with the University of Pennsylvania Press.


Dr Deniz Gökalp is Assistant Professor of Social Sciences at the American University in Dubai. She obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Gökalp’s research interests include political and comparative historical sociology, more specifically issues of political violence, social movements, and women and war. She published her work in several academic journals including The Middle East Journal, Women’s Studies International Forum and Praksis.


Student Research Assistant


Jourie Kolthoum is from the United Arab Emirates. Upon graduating as Valedictorian with the Highest Distinction award, she received a scholarship from the American University in Dubai where she is majoring in International Studies. Her academic interests include history and international relations, and religious and cultural studies.


Dohuk, Iraqi Kurdistan, copyright James Gordon, 2005, source: Wikipedia.org