For the first time in Iraq’s Hawija District, women were elected to leadership positions in a new union they helped organize and form.

In May, 185 male and female agricultural workers in Iraq’s Hawija, located in Kirkuk Province, voted to form the Farmers’ Union for the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). Four women won leadership positions, including president, secretary to the president, vice president and financial secretary.  

Formation of the union followed participation by members of the FWCUI in a Solidarity Center organizing training in October 2023. Training participants began educating workers and organizing workers’ committees. 

Women played an essential role in organizing and raising awareness. Marginalized in their work, subjected to wage exploitation and excluded from social security and occupational health and safety education, many women saw belonging to a union as their best chance for representation and protection from workplace abuses.  

Women workers faced many injustices compared to their male coworkers, including termination for taking maternity leave, long working hours and exposure to harmful chemicals and fertilizers without health and safety training or protections. The FWCUI and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) held seminars with women to address their concerns and educate them about union organizing to advocate for their rights as workers. These discussions on gender-based violence and harassment, cultural and social barriers, and social security and occupational health and safety raised interest among women in organizing a union to give them a voice to advocate for fair treatment and safer working conditions.

The impact of climate change and the environmental stress of extreme heat also led workers to organize their union. Iraq is experiencing a heatwave, with temperatures rising above 50 C (120 F), exacerbating already strenuous working conditions for agricultural workers. High temperatures and water scarcity have also led to land desertification, reducing job opportunities for agricultural workers.

Before occupation by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Hawija district was a prosperous agricultural center. It produced wheat, barley, corn, vegetables and fruit that fed people in all corners of the country. Most of its approximately 450,000 residents were small farmers and owners of small agriculture-related businesses.

The ISIS occupation led to widespread human suffering and destroyed Hawija’s infrastructure and the livelihoods of its residents. Farmers lost most of their tools and essential crops at the height of the conflict.

In September 2017, the district was finally reclaimed from militant control. Facing the destruction wrought by the conflict and lacking other job opportunities, most of the population returned to agriculture to make a living and provide for their families.

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the News from The Solidarity Center