Lighting the Way: Empowering Women and Youth in KRG Politics – Sparking Change Through Inclusive Decision-Making

Conference Report Tuesday, June 4, 2024


Accepting Others Organization (AOO) hosted a significant conference entitled, “Lighting the Way: Empowering Women and Youth in KRG Politics – Sparking Change Through Inclusive Decision-Making.” The conference was held on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at the Rotana Hotel in Erbil, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

This conference, part of a series of strategically timed conferences ahead of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) elections sought to explore the challenges and opportunities faced by women and youth in the political and electoral spheres within the KRI.

The KRI elections were initially scheduled for June 10, 2024. However, Judge Omar Ahmad, Chairman of the Iraqi Independent High Election Commission (IHEC), proposed rescheduling the elections for the sixth session of the KRG’s Parliament to September 9, 2024. Despite the IHEC’s official announcement opening nominations for coalitions, parties, and individual candidates for the 2024 parliamentary elections beginning on June 8, 2024, confirmation from the Kurdish presidency was still pending at the time this report was published.

The nomination period is set to conclude at the end of official working hours on Thursday, June 13, 2024, as confirmed by the IHEC on Saturday, June 8, 2024.

Postponements and Predicaments: The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Election Woes

Recent events have thrown a wrench into the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) electoral timeline, prompting the need for a formal decree to establish a new date, according to Jumana al-Ghalai, spokesperson for the IHEC.

The delay stems from the Kurdistan Region’s ethnic and religious minorities opting out of participating in the June election, following the Iraq Federal Supreme Court’s controversial annulment of 11 quota seats reserved for their representation. The IHEC had initially struggled to conduct the KRG’s long overdue parliamentary polls on time due to a recent decision by Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, which reduced minority party seats from 11 to five. Consequently, political parties in the KRI unanimously agreed to postpone the election, emphasizing the necessity of a fair and transparent process. A subsequent revision has now allowed for the requested quota as requested by the KRG.

The Kurdistan Region is partitioned into four electoral districts: Erbil, Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah, and Halabja. The Board of Commissioners delineated the distribution of the 100 Kurdistan Parliament seats accordingly:

  • Erbil: 34 seats, including one for the Christian component and one for the Turkmen component
  • Sulaymaniyah: 38 seats, including one for the Christian component and one for the Turkmen component
  • Dohuk: 25 seats, including one for the Christian component
  • Halabja: 3 seats, with none allocated for components.

Originally slated for October 2022, the KRG’s general elections have faced numerous postponements due to ongoing disagreements among political parties over the specifics of the election law. These disagreements have centered on issues such as the allocation of seats and the representation of ethnic and religious minorities. Compounding these challenges was the dissolution of the KRG legislature by the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court, which further delayed the electoral process. The absence of a functioning legislative body has created significant hurdles in reaching a consensus on the election framework, thereby exacerbating political tensions and contributing to the repeated delays in holding the elections.

Conference Opening Session

The conference convened with opening speeches by Mr. Aree Dilshad Saber, Executive Director of AOO and Dr. Khanzad Ahmed, Secretary General of KRG’s High Council for Women and Development (HCWD).

Mr. Saber opened the conference with an inspiring speech emphasizing the crucial roles of women and youth in shaping the future of the KRI. Highlighting the story of Elena, a young Political Science graduate who broke stereotypes by winning a city council seat, the speech underscored the transformative impact of inclusive governance. Mr. Saber celebrated the success of extensive capacity-building sessions and strategic initiatives aimed at enhancing political participation and leadership among women and youth. He also reaffirmed AOO’s commitment to empowering these groups through ongoing training, capacity-building sessions, and awareness-raising efforts, fostering a more inclusive and empowered future for the KRI.

Dr. Khanzad Ahmed also opened the conference emphasizing the critical importance of gender equality and youth participation in building a democratic society. Dr. Ahmed outlined several key reasons for focusing on capacity building for women and youth, stating that it drives economic development, brings diverse perspectives to decision-making, and fosters social development. She also highlighted the unique challenges faced by women and youth, particularly in rural areas, and stressed the need for training programs to empower these women and youth with essential skills in leadership and decision-making. Dr. Ahmed called for greater inclusiveness in the workplace, the implementation of a code of conduct, and the importance of hearing the voices of women and youth in political discourse. Dr. Ahmed concluded her speech by stating that she hopes that the next Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) cabinet would prioritize strategic plans to address these issues, ensuring that the voices of women, youth, and local and international organizations are heard and reflected in future programs.

Panel Discussion One: “Breaking Barriers: Women’s Leadership in Shaping KRG Governance”

The first panel discussion, moderated by Mr. Khadir Domly, included various admirable women in leadership roles within the KRI. This panel included:

  • Talar Latif, Member of the Political Bureau of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)
  • Nshtiman Kamal, Member of the Political Bureau of the Kurdistan Toilers’ Party (KTP)
  • Liza Falakadin, Member of the Central Committee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
  • Hanar Marouf, Political Officer, UK Consulate in Erbil

The panel discussion began with Mr. Domly asking panelists about the challenges women face in politics and decision-making roles, what, if any, support they are receiving from society, and inquired how international and local organizations can enhance women’s participation in society.

  1. Talar Latif, a member of the Political Bureau of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), emphasized the significant progress women have made within political parties and leadership positions in the KRI. She highlighted that women’s roles in politics have led to substantial improvements and achievements over the years. Ms. Latif underscored the importance of competency and belief in women, noting that women parliamentarians have been active in proposing and advocating for laws that enhance women’s rights, even amid resistance. She stressed that achieving gender equality requires the collaborative efforts of civil society organizations (CSOs), government bodies, political parties, and parliament members.

Despite the positive impact of parties and the government’s role in supporting women, and the changes resulting from the interest of government, parliament, and civil society activities, Ms. Latif noted that more work remains to be done. She pointed out the slow progress facing women due to political instability and the lack of interest from some political parties in increasing the number of women in leadership positions.

Ms. Latif also called for unified action from both male and female politicians to improve the roles of women and youth, emphasizing that comprehensive support for laws promoting women’s positions is crucial for progress within the KRI.

  1. The second panelist, Ms. Nshtiman Kamal, a member of the Political Bureau of the Kurdistan Toilers’ Party (KTP), discussed the evolving status of women in political parties, highlighting three significant stages of progress from 2003 to 2024. She noted that while there have been improvements in women’s positions, such as addressing early marriages, the journey has been fraught with challenges. From 2003 to 2014, women’s rights organizations (WROs) played a crucial role in initiating changes, although political parties initially struggled with these issues. Since 2014, substantial progress has been observed, but significant obstacles remain.

Ms. Kamal also emphasized the influence of the KRI’s social environment, customs, and traditions on women’s progress. She acknowledged that political parties, including her own, have greatly helped in activating the role of women leaders. However, many challenges persist due to men’s lack of understanding and support for women in leadership. Gender equality remains a sensitive topic, with some women hesitant to push forward due to past upheavals like the 1991 uprising and the 1994 civil war in the KRI, which impacted women’s participation. Despite these challenges, Ms. Kamal acknowledged ongoing achievements and developments, stressing that more needs to be done to fully realize gender equality in politics.

  1. Liza Falakadin, a member of the Central Committee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), provided a unique perspective as a minority woman (Kakai) on the progress of women in politics. She highlighted the KDP’s 2014 program that emphasizes equality and collaboration between men and women, outlining a five-stage implementation of women’s roles with a leadership quota of no less than 15 percent. Ms. Falakadin stressed the importance of committee support in enhancing women’s roles in political parties and urged for increased leadership opportunities for women. She acknowledged that the KRG has made better strides in women’s participation compared to other regions.

Reflecting on the progress since the first KRG cabinet in 1991, she affirmed the increasing percentage of women, particularly through quota systems, and stressed the need to continue advancing toward future goals, especially in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). Ms. Falakadin pointed out that young women leaders have been able to contribute significantly to establishing the policies of the Democratic Party and now hold leadership positions. She echoed the sentiments of other women leaders, noting that important leadership roles are available to women who know how to navigate the political landscape and gain support.

*[UNSCR 1325 is a resolution that addresses the impact of war on women and the importance of women’s contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. It calls for the increased participation of women in peace negotiations, protection of women and girls from gender-based violence (GBV) in conflict zones, and the incorporation of gender perspectives in peacekeeping missions and post-conflict reconstruction.]

  1. Hanar Marouf, Political Officer at the UK Consulate in Erbil, the fourth and final panelist, responded to the moderator’s question on the status of women in politics by emphasizing the importance of women’s participation in society as a whole. She acknowledged that while progress has been made, there is still a long way to go, and compared to other societies, the situation in the KRI needs improvement. Dr. Marouf highlighted that, like the UK, many countries have faced and overcome challenges related to women’s roles in politics and diplomacy.

Dr. Marouf also noted that since 2021, the UK has been actively supporting local NGOs in Iraq to address women’s empowerment and the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda. With a substantial investment of 2.7 million British pounds, the program, which ran until May 31, 2024, directly benefited 40,000 women. She emphasized the importance of education programs and the role of international organizations in providing support. Dr. Marouf noted the positive impact of these programs on enhancing the status and capabilities of women, highlighting noticeable progress and improvement in the climate of effective participation of women in the KRI.

Dr. Marouf expressed hope that the WPS agenda remains a priority for the UK government, stressing the need for continued and increased funding to support these initiatives across both the KRI and federal Iraq.

During the concluding segment of the Panel One discussions, Mr. Domly posed additional questions to the panelists. These included inquiries such as the views about women across all sectors, elaboration on women voters and the electoral process, and the status of women and views about them in decision-making roles. Additionally, he requested recommendations for improving the status of women within society and political participation.

  1. In response to the moderator’s inquiry regarding the political perspectives of women across various sectors, Ms. Latif, representing the PUK, provided insights into the party’s initiatives aimed at promoting female participation. She emphasized the PUK’s commitment to ensuring a minimum of 5% female representation, highlighting two fundamental pillars crucial for advancing women’s roles: economic independence and legal empowerment. Ms. Latif stressed the importance of women’s active engagement in critical sectors within political parties to effectively contribute as decision-makers. She underscored the significant influence that political parties wield in determining the success of initiatives, emphasizing the necessity of integrating women into decision-making processes within these entities.

Despite legislative amendments introduced since 2008, Ms. Latif expressed dissatisfaction with the limited impact these changes have had on improving the status of women. She revealed that the PUK has drafted a constitution addressing these pertinent issues yet emphasized the importance for broader and more active participation from all political parties to enact meaningful change.

By advocating for greater female involvement and empowerment, Ms. Latif emphasized the potential for transformative progress towards gender equality and inclusive governance.

  1. Kamal, representing the KTP, delved into the enduring repercussions of past civil conflicts, shedding light on the societal reluctance to address domestic and family matters. Amidst impending elections within three months, she underscored the formidable sway of tribal leaders, whose priorities may not align with advocating for women’s issues. Emphasizing the pivotal role of women in the electorate, Ms. Kamal stressed the importance of women voting, as they make up 50% of the electorate.

Drawing from her own experiences as a prominent member of a political party, she recounted being entrusted with supervising the financial department, indicative of strides towards gender-inclusive leadership roles. However, she candidly addressed the persistent challenge of gender biases prevalent within political circles. Despite her authoritative position, she noted instances where her male colleagues opted to engage directly with male leaders, bypassing her authority. This revelation underscores the entrenched gender disparities that continue to hinder women’s full participation and influence within political structures.

  1. When the moderator asked Ms. Liza Falakadin, a member of the Central Committee of the KDP, whether she believes the government is helping women, she provided a nuanced response, acknowledging the existing challenges while highlighting areas of progress. Ms. Falakadin pointed out that despite the active participation of women on social media, they frequently face violence and verbal attacks from men, reflecting a broader societal issue that needs urgent attention. She emphasized the importance of ensuring financial independence for both male and female family members as a crucial step towards mitigating these problems. Financial independence, she argued, would empower individuals, reduce their vulnerability to abuse, and enhance their ability to participate in societal and political life.

Ms. Falakadin also stressed the need for systemic encouragement of women to empower themselves. She underscored the importance of women holding high positions within government institutions, as their presence in leadership roles not only sets a precedent but also inspires other women to aspire to similar heights. By having women in influential positions, the government can better address gender-specific issues and create policies that foster equality and protection for all.

Ms. Falakadin called for a collaborative approach to empower women, involving both governmental and non-governmental entities, such as implementing educational programs, providing mentorship, and ensuring that women have access to resources and opportunities that enable them to thrive. She reiterated the critical role of the government in creating an environment where women can feel safe, respected, and valued, thus paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable society.

  1. When asked about her views on the position of women in Iraq and Kurdistan, Dr. Marouf, Political Officer at the UK Consulate in Erbil, acknowledged that while women face significant challenges, there is a need for optimism and continuous encouragement of young females to participate in all sectors. She emphasized the importance of confidence and self-belief for youth and women, highlighting the active participation of young people, both men and women, who often come from conservative areas but have strong opinions and aspirations. Dr. Marouf pointed out the significance of societal attitudes, customs, and traditions in shaping the opportunities available to women. She stressed that cultural barriers often impede women’s progress, making it crucial to address these societal norms to create a more inclusive environment.

Additionally, Dr. Marouf highlighted the role of political parties and the government in activating the potential of women leaders, noting that the many challenges women face is due to the lack of understanding and support from their male counterparts. Despite the hard work and efforts of many women, Dr. Marouf noted that challenges still impede their success. She stressed the importance of unity in overcoming these obstacles, calling for a collaborative effort from all sectors of society to support women’s advancement, including promoting education, offering mentorship programs, and ensuring policies are in place to facilitate women’s participation. Dr. Marouf concluded by emphasizing that with continuous effort and support, women in both the KRI and federal Iraq can achieve greater equality and representation in leadership positions.

Panel Discussion Two: “Emerging Voices: Empowering Youth in KRG Politics”

The second-panel discussion, moderated by Mr. Ari Rafiq, included a variety of panelists in youth and organizational leadership roles within the KRI. This panel included:

  • Ms. Lilan M. Salih, Executive Director of KARDO Organization
  • Mr. Karzan Noori, Administrative Board Member, Barzani Charity Foundation (BCF)
  • Ms. Kazhan Mohammed, Administrative Board Member at Kurdistan Democratic Youth Union
  • Hoshyar Malo, Executive Director, Kurdistan Organization for Human Rights Watch (KOHRW)

The second panel discussion moderated by Mr. Ari Rafiq began by asking panelists about the importance of enhancing the engagement of youth in the political landscape and what were some of the biggest challenges faced today by youth in becoming politically active in within the KRI.

The moderator initiated the discussion with the first panelist, Ms. Lilan M. Salih, Executive Director of the KARDO Organization, by referencing the ongoing issue of youth leaving the Kurdistan Region in search of better opportunities abroad. He highlighted the lack of job opportunities and limited political participation for youth as significant contributing factors to this migration.

  1. Salih stated the importance of addressing key issues regarding the current situation of youth in the KRI. She highlighted the urgent need to tackle migration of youth, noting that many are leaving the country, which adversely impacts both the government and civil society. Ms. Salih emphasized the cultural challenge where Kurdish society values experienced and empowered youth but fails to provide adequate support for their education and skills development, leaving many graduates unable to find suitable employment. She stressed the importance of collaboration between CSOs and the governmental offices to create effective plans for youth development and argued that isolated efforts would be insufficient, adding that aligning CSO plans with government oversight is crucial for the success of youth participation in governance.
  1. The second panelist, Mr. Karzan Noori, Administrative Board Member of the Barzani Charity Foundation (BCF), addressed the moderator’s question regarding the NGO’s effectiveness, attributing its decline to issues such as nepotism within the government. He emphasized the importance of youth sharpening their skills through training and capacity-building. Mr. Noori identified three categories of youth: decision-makers, those who express concerns about the lack of opportunities, and those eager to work but unable to see a path forward. He highlighted that while some youth strive to improve themselves, others fall into negativity. Mr. Noori stressed the need to support and educate youth through NGOs and civil society, noting that political participation does not necessarily require joining political parties, as youth can be active decision-makers and raise awareness about social issues through various avenues.
  2. Kazhan Mohammed, the third panelist and Administrative Board Member for the Kurdistan Democratic Youth Union of the KDP, responded comprehensively to the moderator’s inquiry about the challenges facing youth. She shed light on the aspirations of young people, who desire not only security but also a high standard of living. Ms. Mohammed articulated the significant societal transformations in Iraq, particularly within the KRI, since 2003. She highlighted how these changes have facilitated youth participation across various sectors, including economic development, security, governance, academia, and civil society. Ms. Mohammed also emphasized the proactive role of the youth committee in addressing pressing issues such as unemployment. She stressed the importance of educational reform to ensure that graduates are equipped with the necessary skills to thrive in the job market, thereby contributing to the region’s overall prosperity.
  1. The moderator asked Mr. Hoshyar Malo, the fourth and final panelist, and Executive Director of the Kurdistan Organization for Human Rights Watch (KOHRW), about the immigration of youth to Western nations. Mr. Malo explained that educated youth seek opportunities and stability that they don’t find in their home country, leading to emigration. He mentioned a previous study he conducted. The study identified key reasons for youth migration, which mainly included security issues, conflict, political instability, and lack of individual freedom. He emphasized that youth lose hope due to a lack of opportunities, prompting them to leave. He also mentioned that even when educated youth reach Western countries, they often don’t achieve high positions, working in labor instead. Mr. Malo stressed that youth see no prospects of attaining influential roles, like becoming the Prime Minister or a ministry head, within the KRI.

When questioned the role of government officials’ children in attaining high positions, Mr. Malo responded that only people under 30 are considered youth, and in the KRI, young people rarely obtain high positions, particularly in the government. He also highlighted the difficulties youth face in starting businesses due to complex legal procedures and restrictions on low-paid governmental employees working in other jobs. Mr. Malo expressed pride in his decision to leave the government to work in civil society, noting that he has created jobs for more than 1,000 youth since the inception of the KOHRW over 30 years ago. Mr. Malo concluded by advocating for the government to allow youth the freedom to pursue their endeavors, emphasizing that reducing bureaucratic hurdles is crucial for their success.

Summary of Conference Panels

The conference panels provided a comprehensive examination of the challenges and opportunities faced by both women and youth in the Kurdistan Region, with a focus on their roles in governance and civil society.

The discussions in the first panel emphasized the progress and ongoing challenges in women’s political participation, the need for economic independence, and the importance of legislative support to empower women in political parties. The panelists also discussed the impacts of historical conflicts, the role of social media, and the necessity for women to have financial independence and representation in decision-making positions.

Panel Two included topics such as the emigration of youth, the lack of job opportunities matching educational backgrounds, and the coordination needed between CSOs and the government to develop skills and opportunities for youth in the KRI. The discussions also covered the role of youth in political processes, the impact of nepotism, and the importance of creating a supportive environment for young entrepreneurs.

Both panels underscored the pressing need for further support and engagement of women and youth in both governance and civil society. Panelists advocated for collaborative efforts between CSOs and the government to ensure that young people are adequately educated, skilled, and provided with ample opportunities for meaningful participation in the political and economic spheres.

The Q&A sessions following each panel allowed for dynamic exchanges between the panelists and the audience, providing deeper insights and practical suggestions on how to address the highlighted issues.

The conference highlighted the urgent need for sustained efforts to empower women and youth in the Kurdistan Region, particularly in politics and governance. All panelists agreed that it is essential to create an environment that nurtures their potential and ensures their active participation in shaping a prosperous and inclusive future. The discussions and interactions during the conference have set a foundation for ongoing dialogue and action, aiming to bridge the gap between aspirations and reality for women and youth in the KRI.

Pathways to Progress: Recommendations for Women and Youth in Kurdish Politics

  1. Develop an Effective Government Plan: It is imperative to formulate a comprehensive government plan aimed at addressing the multifaceted factors that hinder the strengthening of the status of women and youth in political participation. This plan should encompass strategies to overcome systemic barriers, promote gender equality, and foster an inclusive political environment.
  1. Empower Women and Youth Leaders: Efforts should be made to instill confidence in women and youth leaders and provide robust support systems within communities. Empowering women and youth leaders not only amplify their voices but also serves as a catalyst for societal change, inspiring other women and youth to pursue leadership roles.
  1. Enact Supportive Legislation: Legislative frameworks play a crucial role in facilitating political participation for women and youth. Therefore, there is a need to develop and enact laws that explicitly support women and youth, and their involvement in politics at various levels. These laws should address issues such as gender quotas, equal representation, and protection against age and other types of discrimination.
  1. Establish Leadership Development Institutes: To nurture the leadership potential of women and youth in politics, institutes or centers dedicated to leadership development should be established. These institutes can provide training, mentorship, and resources tailored to women and youth aspiring to excel in the political arena.
  1. Form Women Leaders’ and Youth Leaders’ Alliances: Creating an alliance of experienced women and youth leaders can serve as a valuable platform for fostering dialogue between society and political parties. These leaders can leverage their expertise to advocate for the importance of the roles of women and youth in governance through organized discussion sessions and outreach initiatives.
  1. Increase Representation in Administrative Circles: Efforts should be made to increase the representation of women and youth in various administrative circles, both within government institutions and across media platforms and society at large. This can be achieved through proactive measures such as affirmative action policies and targeted recruitment strategies.
  1. Organize Advocacy Campaigns: Advocacy campaigns dedicated to supporting women and youth in political participation can raise awareness, challenge stereotypes, and mobilize public support for gender-and youth-inclusive governance. These campaigns should employ diverse communication channels to reach a wide audience and promote lasting and sustainable societal change.
  1. Uphold Party Bylaws: Political parties play a pivotal role in shaping the political landscape. It is essential to appeal to political parties to uphold and implement the provisions outlined in their bylaws regarding the participation of women and youth. This entails fostering a culture of inclusivity, gender sensitivity, and accountability within party structures.

Considering these recommendations to improve political participation for women and youth in the Kurdistan Region is crucial for several reasons.

Firstly, it addresses the pressing need for gender equality and youth representation in political processes, ensuring that diverse perspectives are heard and integrated into decision-making. Secondly, empowering women and youth politically can lead to more inclusive policies and governance structures that better reflect the needs and aspirations of the entire population. Thirdly, by fostering leadership development and providing support for marginalized groups, these recommendations aim to create a more equitable and just society where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in shaping their future.

Empowering women and youth politically foster a sense of ownership and accountability among citizens within the KRI, thereby strengthening the democratic fabric of society. When individuals from all demographic groups participate meaningfully in governance, they are more likely to engage with and support democratic institutions, leading to greater stability and legitimacy for the government, thus creating a political system that truly serves the needs and aspirations of all its people.


In conclusion, the conference served as a pivotal platform, uniting 124 participants and garnering attention from 9 news outlets, a testament to the profound interest and urgency surrounding the empowerment of women and youth in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Throughout the event, enlightening panel discussions and interactive Q&A sessions illuminated the myriads of challenges and promising prospects encountered by women and young individuals across governance and civil society spheres.

Moreover, the recommendations collected from both panelists and the audience alike are invaluable in shaping a more comprehensive approach to political participation for women and youth in the KRI. These recommendations provide actionable insights into addressing barriers and fostering an environment conducive to the active engagement of both women and youth in the political landscape.

Accepting Others Organization would like to extend our sincere gratitude to D66 International, a Dutch NGO, whose unwavering support and financial backing were instrumental in bringing this conference to fruition. Their steadfast commitment to advancing female and youth involvement and empowerment is invaluable, serving as a cornerstone for the ongoing progress and engagement of women and youth in forging a prosperous and inclusive future for the Kurdistan Region.

Published On: June 23rd, 2024 / Categories: Advocacy, Updates /