“The work of the Mukhtar gives us strength. We women can do that too,” said Khadija Ahmad, 54, who became the Mukhtar of two neighborhoods for the first time in the history of Kirkuk and Hawija district.
Mukhtar in Iraq, Turkey and some Arab countries, is the nominated person to represent a village or a neighborhood in contact with the local government and the security services.
Khadija, who is married and mother for three sons and two daughters, won the support of both Huriya and Mahata neighborhoods in Hawija, a district southwest of Kirkuk, this year and took over as Mukhtar after the retirement of the former Mukhtar.
The move was not easy, she says, but her self-confidence, the support of the neighborhood and the encouragement of a civil society organization made it easier for her to become the first female Mukhtar.
“Now the job is not difficult for me. The goal is that this job is not only for men. Just as we have women parliamentarians, police, teachers and directors, we can become mukhtars,” Khadija said.
Now it's not difficult for me. The goal is that Mukhtar not just for men
According to the Mukhtar Law, passed in 2011, anyone (male or female) who wants to run for Mukhtar must have Iraqi citizenship, married, 30-65 years-old, and have a good reputation in society. Beside all these, Khadija got the support of the neighborhood, and met all these conditions.
She also met other legal requirements, including grade six certificate, 10 years of residence in the area where running for Mukhtar, and a report by a special medical committee to prove that he is physically and mentally fit.
“Applicants must not be convicted of any crime of honor, must not coordinate with the security agencies of the previous regime, and must not belong to any political party," the law said.
According to the instructions of the Ministry of Interior, the mukhtar must conduct a detailed statistics of the population of the neighborhood or village after being assigned to his duty, keeping the information in a confidential record.
He has to report any suspicious movements and actions that threaten the security situation in his region, or any excess of public property and illegal and strange acts such as those that are far from good manners.
With Khadija's appointment, 12 other women in Kirkuk and its surroundings have applied to the Mukhtar's office to become Mukhtars.
"I have all the requirements. I am loved by the people of my neighborhood. I have helped women to make their voices heard. This is one of the reasons why I have gained the support of the neighborhood," said Miami Namis, 45, a women's rights activist who has previously raised awareness of the dangers of premature marriage.
"Women are strong and can become Mukhtars. Women may be more suitable for this job because they have played a good role in many situations of war, conflict and crisis," Miami confidently added.
Sirud Ahmad, head of the Kirkuk branch of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association for Human Rights, supports Miami, saying women may be more suitable for Mukhtar position.
“We believe that if the Mukhtar is a woman, she can easily solve any problems, violence and incidents and contain the problem. She understands the situation quickly, which makes it easier for the victims,” she believes.
We believe that any problems, violence and incidents can be solved easily if the Mukhtar is a woman
“We support women's emergence as Mukhtars because in the current situation in Kirkuk, women should participate in the peace and coexistence process. If the head of the neighborhood is a woman, her house becomes a nest for women victims of domestic violence and she takes it in until an appropriate solution is found... while men do not know how to deal with these cases.”
The Iraqi Al-Amal Association was one of the non-governmental organizations NGos that encouraged women to run for Mukhtar after opening several awareness courses for women and encouraging them.
Ahmad said the idea came about when they noticed that many women had problems when they approached the mukhtars.
Therefore, from 2021 onwards, they launched a campaign for women to become Mukhtars. The campaign included courses, conferences and meetings between women, the local administration and Mukhtars of Kirkuk.
The issue was first raised on July 28, 2021, when the director of the Citizens' Affairs Department in Kirkuk sent a letter of inquiry to the head of the advisory board of Kirkuk administration on the application of a female candidate for Hawija district.
“There is no legal text that does not allow women to run for Mukhtar if the conditions are met,” said Emad Daham, head of board of advisors in response to the letter.
"Overall, our campaign was well received by women, the Kirkuk administration and the mayor's office. Now a large number of women want to become Mukhtars," Ahmad said.
According to the guidelines, the Mukhtar must not be a civil servant and will be paid 250,000 Iraqi dinars IQD (USD170) monthly by the government.
"Now we have a woman Mukhtar in Hawija, we have received 12 other applications, we support women to become Mukhtars and the law supports them, only that they must meet the conditions," said Falah Yaychili, acting mayor of Kirkuk.
We support women to become Mukhtars and the law supports them
Amal Organization has decided to open a special course for women Mukhtars, for which they are waiting for the appointment of 12 women candidates in Kirkuk and other areas.
“We want them to become familiar with the laws, how to deal with people, the police and how to deal with problems,” Ahmed said.
The northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, 238 kilometers north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed province for 1.7 million Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and Turkmens. It has long been at the center of disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil.
Kirkuk is one of the main disputed areas in addition to Diyalah and Nineveh that a three-stage process outlined in Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution in 2005, stipulating normalization, a population census and a referendum on the status of the territories, was drawn to put an end to Erbil-based Kurdistan region government KRG and Iraqi Federal government dispute over these areas.
"I feel I have taken a good step. I am looking forward to the Mukhtar's office accepting my name and taking office," said Diman Ahmad, 40, another candidate for the Mukhtar of Guptapa village in Kirkuk province.
Khadija is happy that she is in a public position and has turned into an inspiration to others.
"I want to send a message to the women that the Mukhtar is a strength for us and gives support to women. The women and men of Hawija and the tribes support my move," said Khadija Ahmad, the only female Mukhtar of Kirkuk at the present.