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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.

Highlights of the Project

LSE Conference: International Statebuilding and Gender in the Middle East

On 30 March 2015, the LSE Middle East Centre is organising an international conference looking at international statebuilding and gender in the wider region. Proposals are  now being accepted for papers looking at the impact of the relationship between international, national and local actors on the level of incorporation of gender in the process of statebuilding.

Read the call for papers

Notes from the Field

After returning from their field visits to Erbil and Sulaimanyah, the project directors each wrote for the MEC blog, reflecting on their time in the KRI and presenting their throughs on their research trips.

Read Dr Zeynep Kaya's post | Read Dr Deniz Gokalp's post

UKH Workshop: Statebuilding and Gender in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since 2003

On 27 May 2014, the first workshop took place in Erbil, hosted by the University of Erbil-Hewler. This workshop focused on the relationship between international actors in institutional reconstruction and gender relations in the KRI post-2003. The workshop brought together a number of academics, activists and experts from the KRI.

See the full programme

AUD Workshop: Statebuilding and Women: UN's Involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan

The American University of Dubai hosted the second workshop part of the project on Saturday 13 September 2014. The workshop took a comparative perspective on the relationship between international intervention and gender, looking at Iraq and Afghanistan as case studies.


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.