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Gender Equality in Iraq

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Iraqi women and girls face extraordinarily high levels of cultural and institutional violence and discrimination. Women who are perceived to have dishonored their families – for allegedly or actually committing adultery, refusing an arranged marriage, or asking for a divorce, among other reasons – may be threatened with honor killing. Iraq’s legal system institutionalizes gender-based violence and discrimination through criminal laws that condone male violence while punishing women who transgress cultural norms, and through laws that are either discriminatory or are harmful to women in their implementation. Throughout Iraq, there are no programs to deliver legal services with a gender-focused approach, and women in the family court system do not have access to lawyers who will advocate for them by presenting facts and legal theories that account for their experiences as victims of gender-based violence. Female detainees suffer abuse in Iraqi detention centers, including rape, violence and verbal abuse, as well as unmet basic needs such as medical care, clothing and sometimes food.

Criminal arrest and detention places victims at risk of further abuse or being killed by their families upon release for dishonoring the family, and detention centers sometimes end up serving as protective shelters to prevent families from killing women and girls at risk of honor killing. While in detention, conditions are not monitored, just as there is no regular trial observation and monitoring of implementation of discriminatory laws and legal procedures toward women in either the criminal justice or family court system. On a broader level, ethnic and sectarian conflict marginalizes women and further limits their capacity to function in public roles, as economic actors, decision makers and professionals. Although women often function as mediators in social networks, their participation in formal peace-building efforts is usually minimized or non-existent. Summary

Heartland Alliance is working with Iraqi NGOs in six governorates in the south, center and north of Iraq to provide direct legal, social mediation and medical services to victims of gender-based violence in the criminal justice system and the family court system. In addition to providing direct services from a gender-sensitive approach, Heartland Alliance’s partner organizations are monitoring the detention conditions for female detainees, as well as how the laws and court procedures impact victims. Heartland Alliance is working with its partner organizations to document and report on findings and experiences providing legal representation to push for legislative and policy changes to improve protections for victims of gender-based violence. Additionally, Heartland Alliance is implementing a media campaign designed to reduce gender-based violence. Activities

Heartland Alliance aims to reduce legally sanctioned and institutional violence against Iraqi women and girls by: * Training NGOs throughout Iraq to provide gender-focused legal, social and medical services to victims of gender-based violence in Iraq’s criminal justice system, family court systems, or those who face imminent risk of honor killing or violence; * Improving government response to victims of gender-based violence by monitoring, documentation and reporting on gender-related and other abuses in the criminal justice and family court systems, including detention centers; * Raising awareness among stakeholders in the government, civil society and community about the intersection between gender-based violence in Iraq and the Iraqi legal system through media and community education, including television programming and outreach initiatives in partnership with NGOs and rural health care workers; * Expanding the use of traditional mediation techniques in preventing violence and mitigating conflict, including both gender-based violence and ethno-sectarian violence. http://www.heartlandalliance.org/international/wherewework/project-pages/iraq-gender-based-violence.html

Women’s civil liberties in Iraq have been severely restrained in the past 20 years. According to Rassam, women’s freedom of movement was curtailed in the early 1990s by legal restrictions that forbid women from travelling outside the country unless accompanied by a male relative. More recently, women’s freedom of movement has been limited (unofficially) by the ongoing conflict; many women are not able – or do not dare – to leave their homes without male escort. In general, the extent to which a woman can move freely outside the household depends on her husband.

The tradition of purdah – the seclusion of women from public observation, either through physical barriers (such as screens, curtains or high walls) or the wearing of clothes that conceal women from head to toe – is practised to varying degrees and limits women’s right to move independently. It should be noted that Kurdish women generally enjoy a greater degree of freedom. Religious practice, social pressure and the risk of being harassed play major roles in limiting Iraqi women’s freedom of dress. Although not legally required to do so, the majority of women choose to wear a veil in public, in accordance with Islamic law. http://genderindex.org/country/iraq

Iraq Honor Killing:

At first glance Shawbo Ali Rauf appears to be slumbering on the grass, her pale brown curls framing her face, her summer skirt spread about her. But the awkward position of her limbs and the splattered blood reveal the true horror of the scene. The 19-year-old Iraqi was, according to her father, murdered by her own in-laws, who took her to a picnic area in Dokan and shot her seven times. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone. Her “honour killing” is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where activists speak of a “genocide” against women in the name of religion. In the latest such case, it was reported yesterday that a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death last month by her father for becoming infatuated with a British soldier serving in southern Iraq. In Basra alone, police acknowledge that 15 women a month are murdered for breaching Islamic dress codes. Campaigners insist it is a conservative figure. Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias.

Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase. Du’a Khalil Aswad, 17, from Nineveh, was executed by stoning in front of mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a boy outside her Yazidi tribe. Mobile phone images of her broken body transmitted on the internet led to sectarian violence, international outrage and calls for reform. Her father, Khalil Aswad, speaking one year after her death in April last year, has revealed that none of those responsible had been prosecuted and his family remained “outcasts” in their own tribe. “My daughter did nothing wrong,” he said. “She fell in love with a Muslim and there is nothing wrong with that. I couldn’t protect her because I got threats from my brother, the whole tribe. They insisted they were gong to kill us all, not only Du’a, if she was not killed. She was mutilated, her body dumped like rubbish. “I want those who committed this act to be punished but so far they have not, they are free.

Honour killing is murder. This is a barbaric act.” Despite the outrage, recent calls by the Kurdish MP Narmin Osman to outlaw honour killings have been blocked by fundamentalists. “Honour killings are not actually a crime in the eyes of the government,” said Houzan Mahmoud, who has had a fatwa on her head since raising a petition against the introduction of sharia law in Kurdistan. “If before there was one dictator persecuting people, now almost everyone is persecuting women. “In the past five years it is has got [much] worse. It is difficult to described how terrible it is, how badly we have been pushed back to the dark ages. Women are being beheaded for taking their veil off. Self immolation is rising – women are left with no choice. There is no government body or institution to provide any sort of support. Sharia law is being used to underpin government rule, denying women their most basic human rights.” In August last year, the body of 11-year-old Sara Jaffar Nimat was found in Khanaqin, Kurdistan, after she had been stoned and burnt to death.

Earlier this month, two brothers and a sister were kidnapped from their home near Kirkuk by gunmen in police uniforms. The brothers were beaten to death and the woman left in a critical condition after being informed that she must obey the rules of an “Islamic state”. One week ago, a journalist, Begard Huseein, was murdered in her home in Arbil, northern Iraq. Her husband, Mohammed Mustafa, stabbed her because she was in love with another man, according to local reports. The stoning death of Ms Aswad led to the establishment of an Internal Ministry unit in Kurdistan to combat violence against women. It reported that last year in Sulaymaniyah, a city of 1 million people, there were 407 reported offences, beheadings, beatings, deaths through “family problems”, and threats of honour killings. Rape is not included as most women are too fearful to report it for fear of retribution.

Nevertheless, police in Karbala recently revealed 25 reports of rape. The new Iraqi constitution, according to Mrs Mahmoud, is a mass of confusing contradictions. While it states that men and women are equal under law it also decrees that sharia law – which considers one male witness worth two females – must be observed. The days when women could hold down key jobs or enjoy any freedom of movement are long gone. The fundamentalists have sent out too many chilling messages. In Mosul two years ago, eight women were beheaded in a terror campaign. “It was really, really horrifying,” said Mrs Mahmoud. “Honour killings and murder are widespread. Thousands [of people] … have become victims of murder, violence and rape – all backed by laws, tribal customs and religious rules. We urge the international community, the government to condemn this barbaric practice, and help the women of Iraq.”


Authorities in northern Iraq have arrested four people in connection with the “honor killing” last month of a Kurdish teen — a startling, morbid pummeling caught on a mobile phone video camera and broadcast around the world. The case highlights the tragedy and brutality of honor killings — where family members kill relatives, almost always female, because they feel the relatives’ actions have shamed the family. In this case, Dua Khalil, a 17-year-old Kurdish girl whose religion is Yazidi, was dragged into a crowd in a headlock with police looking on and kicked, beaten and stoned to death last month. Authorities believe she was killed for being seen with a Sunni Muslim man. She had not married him or converted, but her attackers believed she had, a top official in Nineveh province said. The Yazidis, who observe an ancient Middle Eastern religion, look down on mixing with people of another faith. Each year, dozens of honor killings are reported in Iraq and thousands are reported worldwide, said the United Nations.

The practice has been condemned around the world by governments and human rights groups. A yearly vigil protesting honor killings is held in London, England. Two of the four arrested are members of the victim’s family, police in Nineveh province said Thursday. Four others, including a cousin thought to have instigated the killing, are being sought. The killing is said to have spurred the killings of about two dozen Yazidi men by Sunni Muslims in the Mosul area two weeks later. Attackers affiliated with al Qaeda pulled 24 Yazidi men out of a bus and slaughtered them, a provincial official said. The violence ratcheted up tensions between Yazids and Muslims in Bashiqa, the victim’s hometown, a largely Yazidi city in Nineveh province. Provincial officials don’t think much could have been done to stop the honor killing, but at least three officers are being investigated and could be fired. “The climate, the religious and social climate is such that people can do that in daylight and that authorities do not intervene,” said the spokeswoman for the Organization of Womens’ Freedom in Iraq, Houzan Mahmoud. Also, the top police official in Bashiqa is being replaced.

24 Feb 2010 – The story is a tragically familiar one for women living in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq. Vana (not her real name), a young Kurdish woman, fell in love with a local boy whom she hoped to marry one day. But conservative social customs in the region where they lived prohibited any contact between a single man and woman. Despite the prohibition, Vana agreed to a secret rendezvous with her boyfriend in a remote village. When Vana arrived, her boyfriend first drugged and then raped her, all while a friend recorded the attack on a cell phone.

Now, Vana risks being victimized again—this time by her family. In Kurdistan, family honor is linked to the preservation of a woman’s virginity until marriage. Women who “dishonor” the family by engaging in sex outside of marriage are harshly punished by being cast out of their families or even killed. Hundreds of Kurdish women die annually as a result of “honor killings” carried out by family members.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working to break this cycle of violence and revenge. In 2009, the IRC launched a program in two regions of Kurdistan that seeks to reduce such killings and violence against women by encouraging local communities to discuss and re-evaluate their traditional attitudes and by improving the response of local law-enforcement and service providers to women survivors of violence. Through the program, which is supported by local volunteers, tens of thousands of people been exposed to an anti-violence message.

The problem of violence against women is presented as a women’s health issue to make it easier for the conservative community to discuss. This has allowed the IRC’s local partners to reach out to religious leaders and hold discussions on topics such as honor killing as well as to gather together groups of men and women to discuss sexual attitudes and the issue of violence. An IRC-sponsored “16 days of activism against gender based violence” campaign reached over 30,000 Kurds through local radio broadcasts and other information programs.

The IRC has offered training on violence prevention and case management to women’s shelters, local non-governmental organizations and government agencies, and has also trained service providers from Baghdad.

Admittedly, this is a difficult initiative in Kurdistan’s tradition-bound society. But thanks to the IRC, steps have been taken toward reducing violence against women and the stigma attached to its victims. Women like Vana deserve no less.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/02/0212_020212_honorkilling.html Nat Geo (Honor Killing)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family “honor.” It’s difficult to get precise numbers on the phenomenon of honor killing; the murders frequently go unreported, the perpetrators unpunished, and the concept of family honor justifies the act in the eyes of some societies. Most honor killings occur in countries where the concept of women as a vessel of the family reputation predominates, said Marsha Freemen, director of International Women’s Rights Action Watch at the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Reports submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights show that honor killings have occurred in Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda.

In countries not submitting reports to the UN, the practice was condoned under the rule of the fundamentalist Taliban government in Afghanistan, and has been reported in Iraq and Iran. But while honor killings have elicited considerable attention and outrage, human rights activists argue that they should be regarded as part of a much larger problem of violence against women. In India, for example, more than 5,000 brides die annually because their dowries are considered insufficient, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Crimes of passion, which are treated extremely leniently in Latin America, are the same thing with a different name, some rights advocates say.

“In countries where Islam is practiced, they’re called honor killings, but dowry deaths and so-called crimes of passion have a similar dynamic in that the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable,” said Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. The practice, she said, “goes across cultures and across religions.” Complicity by other women in the family and the community strengthens the concept of women as property and the perception that violence against family members is a family and not a judicial issue. “Females in the family—mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, and cousins—frequently support the attacks. It’s a community mentality,” said Zaynab Nawaz, a program assistant for women’s human rights at Amnesty International.

There is nothing in the Koran, the book of basic Islamic teachings, that permits or sanctions honor killings. However, the view of women as property with no rights of their own is deeply rooted in Islamic culture, Tahira Shahid Khan, a professor specializing in women’s issues at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, wrote in Chained to Custom, a review of honor killings published in 1999. “Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic, or religious group. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. The concept of ownership has turned women into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold.” Honor killings are perpetrated for a wide range of offenses. Marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, flirting, or even failing to serve a meal on time can all be perceived as impugning the family honor. Amnesty International has reported on one case in which a husband murdered his wife based on a dream that she had betrayed him.

In Turkey, a young woman’s throat was slit in the town square because a love ballad had been dedicated to her over the radio. In a society where most marriages are arranged by fathers and money is often exchanged, a woman’s desire to choose her own husband—or to seek a divorce—can be viewed as a major act of defiance that damages the honor of the man who negotiated the deal. Even victims of rape are vulnerable. In a widely reported case in March of 1999, a 16-year-old mentally retarded girl who was raped in the Northwest Frontier province of Pakistan was turned over to her tribe’s judicial council. Even though the crime was reported to the police and the perpetrator was arrested, the Pathan tribesmen decided that she had brought shame to her tribe and she was killed in front of a tribal gathering. The teenage brothers of victims are frequently directed to commit the murder because, as minors, they would be subject to considerably lighter sentencing if there is legal action. Typically, they would serve only three months to a year. In the Name of Family Honor

Officials often claim that nothing can be done to halt the practice because the concept of women’s rights is not culturally relevant to deeply patriarchal societies. “Politicians frequently argue that these things are occurring among uneducated, illiterate people whose attitudes can’t be changed,” said Brown. “We see it more as a matter of political will.” The story of Samia Imran is one of the most widely cited cases used to illustrate the vulnerability of women in a culture that turns a blind eye to such practices. The case’s high profile no doubt arises from the fact that the murder took place in broad daylight, was abetted by the victim’s mother, who was a doctor, and occurred in the office of Asma Jahangir, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and the UN reporter on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. In April 1999 Imran, a 28-year-old married woman seeking a divorce from her violent husband after 10 years of marriage, reluctantly agreed to meet her mother in a lawyers’ office in Lahore, Pakistan.

Imran’s family opposed the divorce and considered her seeking a divorce to be shaming to the family’s honor. Her mother arrived at the lawyer’s office with a male companion, who immediately shot and killed Imran. Imran’s father, who was president of the Chamber of Commerce in Peshawar, filed a complaint with the police accusing the lawyers of the abduction and murder of Imran. The local clergy issued fatwas (religious rulings) against both women and money was promised to anyone who killed them. The Peshawar High Court eventually threw out the father’s suit. No one was ever arrested for Imran’s death. Imran’s case received a great deal of publicity, but frequently honor killings are virtually ignored by community members.

“In many cases, the women are buried in unmarked graves and all records of their existence are wiped out,” said Brown. Women accused by family members of bringing dishonor to their families are rarely given the opportunity to prove their innocence. In many countries where the practice is condoned or at least ignored, there are few shelters and very little legal protection. “In Jordan, if a woman is afraid that her family wants to kill her, she can check herself into the local prison, but she can’t check herself out, and the only person who can get her out is a male relative, who is frequently the person who poses the threat,” said Brown. “That this is their idea of how to protect women,” Brown said, “is mind boggling.” Ending Violence Against Women

Violence against women is being tackled at the international level as a human rights issue. In 1994 the UN’s Commission on Human Rights appointed a special rapporteur on violence against women, and both UNICEF and the UN Development Fund for Women have programs in place to address the issue. But the politics of women’s rights can be complex. Last year the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions was criticized by a coalition of member countries for including honor killings in her report, and a resolution condemning honor killings failed to pass. Amnesty International is preparing to launch a worldwide campaign to halt violence against women in 2003. But a lot of the work needs to be done at the local level.

“Police officers and prosecutors need to be convinced to treat these crimes seriously, and countries need to review their criminal codes for discrimination against women—where murder of a wife is treated more leniently than murder of a husband, for instance,” said Brown. Countries that don’t recognize domestic violence as a crime at all need to bring their penal codes up to international standards, she said, adding that increased public awareness and greater education about human rights would also help. Some progress has been made.

In a National Geographic documentary (which airs beginning Wednesday, February 13), Michael Davie investigated honor killings in Pakistan, where it is estimated that every day at least three women—including victims of rape—are victims of the practice. The case of one of the victims Davie examined is heartbreaking but also hopeful. Zahida Perveen, a 29-year-old mother of three, was brutally disfigured and underwent extensive facial reconstruction in the United States. She is one of the only survivors in Pakistan to successfully prosecute the attacker—her husband. “The reason honor killings have emerged as a human rights issue is that it’s the only way ultimately that it can be addressed,” said Freeman. “Naming the problem and bringing international attention to it highlights the refusal of some of these governments to shine any kind of light on their failure to protect their own citizens.

“Change can’t happen if it’s just people working inside the system; they’re overwhelmed. International campaigns and media attention give them some ballast and the ability to say ‘Look, the world is watching what is going on here,’ and provides support for making change in their own countries.” Article 14 of Iraq’s new constitution, approved in a nationwide referendum held on October 15, states that Iraqis are equal before the law “without discrimination because of sex.” Yet the constitution also states that no law can be passed that contradicts the “established rulings” of Islam. For this reason, the new document has been condemned by critics both inside and outside Iraq as a fundamental setback for a majority of Iraq’s population — namely, its women. According to Isam al-Khafaji, an Iraqi scholar, the document “could easily deprive women of their rights.”

Yanar Muhammad, a leading secular activist and the head of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, worries that the Islamic provision will turn the country “into an Afghanistan under the Taliban, where oppression and discrimination of women is institutionalized.” These criticisms are not without merit, and the ambiguity of the new constitution is a cause for concern. The centrality of Islamic law in the document, however, does not necessarily mean trouble for Iraqi women. In fact, sharia is open to a wide range of understanding, and across the Islamic world today, progressive Muslims are seeking to reinterpret its rules to accommodate a modern role for women. Iraq’s constitution does not specify who will decide which version of Islam will prevail in the country’s new legal system. But the battle has already begun.

Victory by the progressives would have positive implications for all aspects of the future of Iraq, since women’s rights are critical to democratic consolidation in transitional and war-torn societies. Allowing a full social, political, and economic role for women in Iraq would help ensure its transition to a stable democracy. Success for women in Iraq would also reverberate throughout the broader Muslim world. In every country where sharia is enforced, women’s rights have become a divisive issue, and the balance struck between tradition and equality in Iraq will influence these other debates.

Washington, 5 August 2005 (RFE/RL) — The crux of the women’s rights activists’ demands is that Shari’a be only one source of inspiration for Iraq’s constitution, not a strict blueprint.

Basma Fakri, president of the Women’s Alliance for a Democratic Iraq, gave several examples of how a strict adherence to Shari’a could hurt women because of the way Koranic law can be interpreted.

“Marriage, multiple marriages: This can be used — and has been used, and abused — under the name of Islam,” she said. “Minimum age: Certain Islamic sectors allow for the marriage of girls as young as the age of nine. Forceful marriage: Some Sharia interpretations will allow for a guardian to force marriage on a girl against her will.”

Fakri said the people now writing Iraq’s new constitution should make sure that it is not open to such interpretations.

Another advocate, Tanya Gilly of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said she is often challenged by those who say that the idea of women’s equality is too novel for a country like Iraq, so why not leave it unsettled for now and address it after 15 August? “We want to make sure that the U.S. administration and the Congress maintain the pressure on the Iraqi government and on the constitutional writing committees in order to make sure that we are protected, not just as women but also as individuals.” – Gilly

If Iraq waits, Gilly said, then Iraqi women will lose their rights. So she called on Washington to put pressure on the Baghdad panel drafting the document so that equal rights are included in it by the August deadline.

“We want to make sure that the U.S. administration and the Congress maintain the pressure on the Iraqi government and on the constitutional writing committees in order to make sure that we are protected, not just as women but also as individuals,” Gilly said. “And we hope that Congress would increase funding for women’s programs so it can raise awareness within the country.”

Gilly said such appeals are not restricted to the United States. She said her organization and other advocacy groups for women also have been urging similar pressure from Britain, the United Nations, and the European Union.

Fakri said she and her colleagues will continue pressing not only the constitutional committee in Baghdad, but also the U.S. and British governments, as well as the UN and the EU. She said they don’t want the panel to lose sight of women’s equality when they have so many other issues to consider.

“We keep on pushing because the constitutional committee are overloaded, very busy. So we don’t want them to forget one of these demands. We want to keep on reminding them till 15 August,” she said.

Another way the activists are putting pressure on Iraq’s constitutional commission is to bring up the issue with the news media, as they did yesterday. That sounds like a good idea, according to Nathan Brown, who studies Middle Eastern issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based policy research center.

Brown, who has written extensively on constitutional issues in the region, says that on the issue of women’s rights, the Iraqi advocates must appeal not only to the administration of President George W. Bush, but also to the American public, through the media.

“The real pressure on the women’s rights issues — or the strongest pressure — doesn’t necessarily come from high-level members of the Bush administration themselves, but it comes from the court of American public opinion,” Brown told RFE/RL. “And the Bush administration does not want to see an Iraqi constitution that will embarrass it.”

In Iraq, women from professional backgrounds have been leaders in pressing for greater rights for women in the new, post-Saddam Hussein order.

But women from traditional backgrounds have been equally active in campaigning for religious parties that support strict interpretations of Shi’ite law.

At present, it is unclear how the committee drafting the constitution will address those varying demands.


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