Iraqi voices: women brutalised by sanctions and war

Iraqi voices: women brutalised by sanctions and war
5 min read
11 April, 2015
Feature: Long years of sanctions and wars have brutalised generations of women and girls in Iraq, and set back the struggle for equal rights by decades.
There are approximately 1.6 million widows in Iraq today, as suffering continues [AFP]
In Iraq, women and girls have been subjected to gross human rights abuses such as abductions, killings, trafficking, torture, forced marriage, and sexual violence.

Years of protracted conflict have continued to affect family structures, with approximately 1.6 million widows in Iraq.

Since 2003 The BRussells Tribunal has been focusing on Iraq,
     From the day the occupation started in Iraq, there was a systematic violation of women and their rights
- Hana Ibrahim in 2005

detailing information and analysis on the sanctions in the 1990s and the illegal invasion and occupation thereafter.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed highlights some of this evidence to bring to light how little has changed or progressed in the country.

Hana Ibrahim, the director of the Women's Cultural Centre in Baghdad, spoke to the 2005 World Tribunal on Iraq about gender based violence:

"From the day that the occupation started in Iraq, there was a systematic violation of women and their rights.

Women in Iraq today

Sexual violence: Reports of sexual violence against women and children have increased in Nineveh, Najaf and Kerbala. Additionally, there are reports of an increase in abductions, trafficking and forced recruitment. Due to stigmatisation of rape and sexual abuse, many survivors are reluctant to seek assistance, or openly discuss their trauma.

Human trafficking: Accurate numbers are impossible to obtain. IS has reportedly opened an office in Mosul where they have been selling Yazidi women and girls to local men.

Health: Essential services have sharply deteriorated and are inaccessible in many areas. Many living spaces for refugee women lack segregated living areas and security.
(Source: United Nations in Iraq, March 2015)


"They were kidnapped, raped and even taken to other countries in order to have them work in networks.

"I spoke to one person involved in a gang that picked up these women.

"He told me that if a woman is not a virgin she would not cost more than $2,000 or $3,000 but if the woman was a virgin then she would cost much more.

"If that woman can be used for her organs because she is a healthy subject then her price could go up to $10,000.

"This kind of crime is being committed on a daily basis in a systematic manner by an organised mafia. That kind of thing did not exist in Iraq before the occupation.

"We were like normal people. We would go to restaurants and cafes with our children but now all the women and children rush to their home before the sun sets because they are afraid.

"Before, women used to drive cars themselves and some were also taxi drivers.

"Religion is a sort of a place of escape for women because women feel protected by religion when they find no other way to escape the harsh reality that they are enduring; and if they are wearing the headscarf it is because they are afraid.

Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project

"I can tell you of many instances of young women at universities who feel threatened and this is why they are wearing the headscarf.

"Families are also under threat. Fathers are taking their young girls and young children to schools themselves because they are afraid of them being abducted or raped, and because of fear for their family members many university students have been withdrawn from schools.

"Women's contribution to social life has diminished. Women are only working in domestic services such as housekeeping, cleaning and chores and they are paid very poorly for this.

"Prostitution is on the rise and we see more women and children among the beggars.

"One of the saddest situations facing women is when the person responsible for maintaining the livelihood of the family disappears.

"What is a woman to do? She may be afraid of going to official institutions because she may be the wife of a soldier killed or a soldier detained so she may be at risk.

"The first day Haifa Zangana said that we will continue resisting in Iraq for you as well as for ourselves because America is not the fate of humanity.

"They are not the power to rule over the world in future and we can create another world.

"We can create a more enlightened world for women and we would ask you to look at the world from women's eyes because women's eyes see through their hearts."

Iraqi women 'commit suicide' after children starve

Iraqi authorities have arrested thousands of Iraqi women illegally over the years, with many subjected to torture and ill-treatment, including the threat of sexual abuse.

Many women are imprisoned for months or even years without charge before seeing a judge.

Human Rights Watch met a woman in 2014 in Iraq’s death row facility in Baghdad's Kadhimiyya district.

Human Rights Watch

She was on crutches. Nine days of beatings, electric shocks, and falaqa in March 2012 had left her permanently disabled. The split nose, back scars, and burns on her breast were consistent with the abuse she alleged.

She was executed in September 2013, seven months after Human Rights Watch interviewed her, despite lower court rulings that dismissed charges against her following a medical report that supported her alleged torture.

Hana Ibrahim added: "I would like to ask a question that most of you have already asked: why are detained women left naked? Why are they made to walk naked before other detained male prisoners?

"And why are naked men made to go into cages where naked women are kept under detention? We have documented all this. The Union of Phycisians documented the Americans carrying out this torture through their own photos."

Today, women in Iraq continue to suffer. Already paying the price for a decade worth of war, they are now facing ongoing brutality by Islamic State militants. In March 2015, the extremist group captured hundreds of Yazidi women, and boasted they had enslaved them as spoils of war.

Iraqi writer and political activist Haifa Zangana said Baghdad has survived invasions, destruction and tyranny through the ages. This it has. But how much longer are the women of Baghdad, and the rest of Iraq, expected to survive the invasions, destruction and tyranny for?