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Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Iraq 2003-2018: A Mapping report

Impunity Watch, Iraqi Al-Amal Association and PAX jointly released on 20 July 2020 a new mapping report on: “Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Iraq 2003-2018” – available in Arabic and English. The report coincides with a national campaign which was launched by Iraqi civil society activists and calls for new legislation that protects women from domestic violence. The Executive summary of the report is available in Arabic and English.

In the clear absence of gender-sensitive data, particularly data dealing with taboo issues such as sexual violence, this mapping report seeks to address this gap and shed light on the general contexts in which SGBV crimes and violations are increasingly perpetrated. The mapping exercise also seeks to identify the most common patterns (and locations) in which these violations are committed and their root causes, as well as the general profiles of perpetrators. The mapping exercise covers three periods: 2003-2008, 2008-2014, and 2014-2018, respectively. The report is primarily based on information gathered from published reports, and supplemented by the direct testimonies obtained during interviews with survivors, as well as researchers and activists working alongside them.

Dr. Ilham Makki, who also headed the research team, described the report is a first attempt to address the SGBV situation in Iraq as well as reveal the violations that women endured between 2003 and 2018. “The crimes and violations against the women and girls remained largely invisible,” she said, noting that these crimes were interlinked with the marginalisation of women and the discrimination against them, which was formally or informally strengthened by the existing legislation and systems, in addition to a culture of justifying the crimes.

Over the course of many years of conflict, violence and political instability, Iraqi women who faced SGBV were excluded from post-conflict efforts aimed at dealing with past human rights violations. None of the government-led transitional justice or reconciliation efforts have systematically focused on the impact of SGBV or shed light on the types of human rights violations faced by women specifically. As a result, the experiences of women have remained largely invisible to the public, which in turn has impeded the emergence of a common narrative regarding Iraqi women’s long history of abuse and violence. In fact, each group has stuck to its own narrative, which only contributed to exacerbating divisions and hindering the acknowledgement of what the ‘other’ has faced or suffered.

The mapping process was initiated through a training organised by Impunity Watch and Iraqi Al-Amal Association in Beirut in 2018. The training focused specifically on mapping SGBV in Iraq to allow Iraqi women researchers to develop, implement, and evaluate effective transformative strategies to carry out applied research on the topic. The participants of this training subsequently led the data collection efforts based on what they had learned. Focus groups were also organised as part of the data collection process, and helped in the identification of root causes of SGBV as well as the formulation of the recommendations included in the report. The latter includes several testimonies of Iraqi women, which were collected by women activists trained by Impunity Watch, Iraqi Al-Amal Association, and PAX to help them conduct interviews and collect data from SGBV survivors in an ethical and sensitive manner.

“Iraqi women survivors deserve all the support in their long struggle for justice and redress. It is crucial to reveal the truth and to hold the perpetrators accountable for these horrible crimes,” added Dr. Makki. Noting that it might be a long and very challenging journey, she stressed on the importance of being equipped with great courage as well as being inspired by the survivors in order to achieve a better future for every Iraqi girl. “The most important thing is to address the root causes of sexual violence if we want to ensure its non-recurrence,” she concluded. 

This mapping report is part of a broader project entitled «Engendering the transition to Peace and Security in Iraq», implemented by, Iraqi Al-Amal Association, Impunity Watch and PAX, and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The three organisations have worked with Iraqi civil society activists and academics on mapping patterns of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and abuse in Iraq and identifying their root causes. A series of multimedia products featuring Iraqi SGBV survivors was produced including an illustration booklet and videos: We listened to the victims of sexual and gender-based violenceI am Amira, and this is my story; and I am Hajar, and this is my story