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Female Civil Servants Cry Foul Over Taxes

Rates benefiting married government workers are discriminatory, say unmarried women.
By Duraid Salman
Unmarried female civil servants are complaining that the government is discriminating against them by giving tax breaks for married government workers.



Single women make up a large number of government workers and pay 17 per cent of their income in taxes. Married civil servants' incomes are taxed at 10 per cent. The differentiated rate was introduced after the fall of Saddam to support families.



While single female and male government employees pay the same tax, unmarried female civil servants, in particular, are crying foul, saying they shouldn’t be discriminated against on the grounds of their marital status.



"A married female civil servant has a husband who may also be employed," said Muntaha Jawad, 36, an unmarried primary school teacher. "She will have more than one salary and guaranteed future, whereas an unmarried female civil servant supports herself and anyone else who lives with her … This is discrimination.”



Violence and high unemployment in Iraq are pushing women into the workforce and, in many cases, forcing single women to support their parents and siblings.



But unlike unmarried men, women cannot supplement their incomes by taking on second jobs such as driving taxis in the evenings due to social constraints and violence. While civil servants' salaries are not high - the pay scale ranges between about 85 to 500 US dollars a month - government work offers favourable hours and a regular income.



Su’ad Ali, 32, who works in the ministry of higher education, said many women have not been able to get married because of the unstable situation in Iraq. They often suffer social discrimination and are referred to as "old maids".



Ali said they should be supported by the government - not penalised, “Unmarried women have many commitments, and their needs are just as important as the needs of married female civil servants.”



Some married female civil servants believe the tax rates are fair. Suha Abdul-Wahid, 36, says couples have to pay high rents for family-sized apartments, something unmarried women don't have to worry about since they live with their parents.



However, Samah Sa’id, a professor of sociology at the University of Baghdad, expressed sympathy for single women, saying the differentiated tax rate undermines productivity, “This affects (morale in) government offices that have large numbers of unmarried female employees."



Azhar al-Sheikhly, minister of women’s affairs, said she has received unofficial complaints about the tax rates from single women. She said married female government employees have more economic responsibilities that justify their lower tax rates but that the policy is ultimately discriminatory. Sheikhly said she believes the law should be reviewed.



“Unmarried female civil servants need care and support,” she said.



Sara Khalid, a 38-year-old unmarried teacher, said if she were taxed at the same rate as a married women she would not have to depend on her brother and father, “Money makes me [independent],” she said.



Duraid Salman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.