Letter Regarding the Ban on the Terms “Gender” and “Homosexuality” in Iraqi Government Institutions

The Academic Freedom Committee has written to Iraqi authorities to express our profound concern about the recent directives which ban or limit the use of the terms “gender” (al-naw‘ al-ijtima‘i and al-jindar) and “homosexuality” (al-mithliyya) from official documents, institutions, and media platforms.

BRISMES understands that the directive applies to government institutions, including universities. This is a clear infringement of the academic freedom and freedom of expression of academics and students in Iraqi universities, who must be free to explore ideas, and to use academic terminology, as they choose. 

This directive delegitimizes and devalues gender studies, which is an internationally recognised and vital field of academic study that contributes to improving the lives of women and girls and supporting their full participation in all spheres of life as well as allowing us to make sense of important societal dynamics and changes. The new directive will have a chilling effect on academic enquiry and effectively close down space for academics and students in Iraq to foster new knowledge about gender relations, gender equality, sexuality, and women’s rights in Iraq. Furthermore, in stating that the term “homosexuality ”must be replaced by “sexual deviance” (al-shudhoodh al-jinsi), the directive contributes to and legitimizes the discrimination that people with non-normative gender and sexual identities experience in Iraq, including university students and staff.

We urge Iraqi authorities to rescind the directive immediately and in full, and to confirm their commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression in Iraqi universities.