A young woman from al-Anbar who escaped ISIS and survived sexual assault; a woman from Mosul who confronted the violations she faced after her husband was killed and she was taken to a refugee camp; a woman from Basra who challenged social taboos when her husband started beating and raping her.
These stories of resistance provide a glimpse into the strength and resilience of women and girls in Iraq. Many face various forms of sexual and gender-based violence, which are worsened as a result of armed conflicts and political instability. Of course, violence against women, particularly sexual violence, is not new. It is rooted in social traditions and harmful gender norms. Weak laws enable such violence, and prevent women from getting needed physical and psychosocial support, let alone from getting justice. The ‘culture of silence’ around sexual violence is hard enough to break within one’s own community, let alone when forced to flee and live among strangers, or living under rule of ISIS or militias.
Break the silence
In an effort to break the ‘culture of silence’, lessen the stigma of being a victim, and improve the government’s and the security sector’s response to such violence, women’s groups across Iraq have collected inspiring and brave stories of female survivors of sexual violence. The Iraqi peacebuilding organization, Al-Amal Association, and the Al-Firdaws Society, with the support of PAX and Impunity Watch, are raising public awareness in Iraq by telling these women’s stories. Impunity Watch has coordinated efforts to collect and present these stories, which are compiled in an illustrated booklet and will be distributed around the country.
PAX in Iraq
PAX has been working on these issues in Iraq for some time. Working with our partner organizations, PAX has trained female Iraqi academics to conduct qualitative research into the root causes of sexual and gender based violence. The policy briefs and stories coming out of this research have been used to engage the security sector and decision-makers in order to increase their responsiveness to cases of violence against women. Women’s groups have been established across Kirkuk, Basra, Baghdad and Salah ad-Din comprised of female volunteers and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Women in these groups have learned from one another and gotten better at engaging with local and national stakeholders about the issues that affect them.
PAX will be publishing these women’s stories as a blog series. Every week, we will publish new first-person accounts of the tragedies these women and girls have faced, and their resilience in overcoming and persevering.