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Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in Iraq

Women and girls in Iraq have faced various forms of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as a result of armed conflicts and political instability that have ravaged the country in recent decades. Violence against women, particularly sexual violence, is rooted in structural causes related to patriarchal systems and traditions, and enabled by weak laws; the lack of institutional, community and family support; and the prevalence of a ‘culture of silence’ as many women and girls do not report violence for fear of repercussions due to the stigma associated with sexual violence and to victim blaming. In most cases of sexual violence, the victims deem it futile to speak up if the judicial system lacks the appropriate mechanisms and measures to punish perpetrators and bring justice to victims. As a result, violations against women and girls have remained largely invisible, leading to their persistence and aggravation.

Why were Iraqi SGBV survivors excluded from transitional justice efforts? 

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.

 

How is Impunity Watch involved in breaking the ‘culture of silence’ around SGBV in Iraq?

Together with the Iraqi Al Amal Association and PAX, Impunity Watch implemented, throughout the period January 2018 until December 2020, a project entitled “Engendering the transition to Peace and Security in Iraq,” funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The three organisations worked with Iraqi civil society activists and academics on mapping patterns of SGBV and abuse in Iraq and identifying their root causes. A series of multimedia products featuring Iraqi SGBV survivors was also produced and used in a national campaign launched by Iraqi civil society activists calling for new legislation that protects women from domestic violence. 

Marking the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, Impunity Watch, Iraqi Al-Amal Association and PAX organised a series of three virtual roundtables on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Iraq In October and November 2020. Download the reports for:  

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

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, determine the general profiles of perpetrators, and review the root causes for the continuance of these crimes and violations. 

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Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Iraq 2003-2018: Executive Summary​

This executive is based on the mapping report and seeks to start addressing this reality and expose SGBV faced by Iraqi women between 2003 until 2018. 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. 

 

 

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I fought back and survived: Illustration Booklet

In an effort to break the ‘culture of silence’ and destigmatise victims, Impunity Watch and Iraqi Al-Amal Association have created this booklet, in Arabic and English, of survivors’ stories to highlight the sexual and gender-based violence that took place in Iraq during 2003-2018, and that is still ongoing in many parts of the country. The booklet is based on the testimonies and experiences of Iraqi women, collected by women activists from five Iraqi regions (Baghdad, Basra, Kirkuk, Salah ad-Din and Sinjar). 

  

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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. It might be a long and very challenging journey, so it is important to be equipped with great courage as well as be 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.

Dr. Ilham Makki, Head of the research team of the mapping report. 

I have become more thoughtful of other people’s suffering and I am determined to defend them, speak on their behalf and convey their experiences in order to improve their real situation. We have acquired the skill of storytelling and we are more capable of telling human stories and thus becoming leaders in our societies.

Fadia, an Iraqi woman activist who participated in the SGBV storytelling training

"I am Amira from Salah Ad-Din. Many may think that my story is a figment of my imagination. Sometimes, even I do not believe what happened to me.". 

Amira, SGBV survivor. 

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How did a group of Iraqi women activists from Kirkuk, Baghdad, Salah Ad-Din, & Basra help some survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) tell their stories? Meet Doha and Inas from Baghdad, Iman from Kirkuk, and Zeina from Salah Ad-Din. These activists were trained on interviewing SGBV survivors. After they were trained on interviewing techniques, these activists helped survivors break their silence. They are agents of change within their communities and are creating hope for a better future!

 

"All I remember is the physical & psychological pain that never once left me since that moment." Hajar is a young Iraqi women from Kirkuk. She endured genital mutilation at the age of six and was later forced into child marriage. She was raped by her husband. How did she overcome her hardships? Many Iraqi women are forced into child marriage and are sometimes subject to marital rape and the worst forms of sexual and psychological abuse.

 

"I am Amira from Salah Ad-Din. Many may think that my story is a figment of my imagination. Sometimes, even I do not believe what happened to me." Amira’s suffering did not end after she escaped ISIS rule with her family. She survived horrible conditions in refugee camps. Amira and hundreds of Iraqi women survivors of Sexual and Gender Based-Violence (SGBV) deserve justice!