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Posted by on Mar 20, 2013 in Blogs

Combating Violence Against Women in Iraq— inspiring stories

Combating Violence Against Women in Iraq— inspiring stories


By Yusur Al Bahrani


While it is very easy for many of us to accept stereotypes presented in the media, it is challenging to seek truth. Stereotypes disrupts our understanding and affect those who we build stereotypes on. One of the most important things to be learnt during the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women is that violence against women exists in any and every region. While this is an evident truth for many of women activists in different parts of the world, the mainstream media often portrays that violence is prevalent in the so called “developing world.” Taking into consideration the domestic violence, workplace harassments and different kinds of discrimination that women face, I can say that women in all over the world are facing the same challenges. However, women in Iraq are facing more challenges because of the previous wars that they faced and the terrorist attacks they are facing now. War and militarism affect women from different backgrounds in Iraq. However, I was fortunate to meet very inspiring Iraqi women and men who are dedicated to eliminate violence against women in all over Iraq. I want to share some insights.


I attended an event on the role of the non-governmental organizations in Iraq in eliminating violence against women. Al-Hakim Foundation organized the event. The stories shared by the speakers and women from the organization were very inspiring. In order for activists combating violence against women to spread awareness, they decided to do that using the religious occasions and mobilize people during those events. Iraq is a place where spiritualties attract people, and it is very important to use those spiritualties to advocate for human rights. For instance, Al-Hakim Foundation decided to dedicate a day for women naming it “The Islamic Day for Anti-Violence Against Women.” The day was chosen to be 1st of Safer (in the Islamic calendar). This day is usually commemorated in Iraq by spiritual rituals showing love and affection to a Saint woman, Lady Zainab, who happened to be a victim of torture when her brother was killed in the battle of Kerbala in Iraq. She was taken as a prisoner of war with other women and children. She and her brother, Imam Hussain, are the grandchildren of the Prophet of Islam. The idea behind using this occasion is very powerful— if you reject violence against Lady Zainab, then why would you accept violence against other women? In Iraq people love Lady Zainab and would listen to preachers using her story to advocate for women’s rights.


According to Laila AlKhafaji from Al-Hakim Foundation, around 20 organizations from the conservative city of Najaf showed their support and solidarity towards Al-Hakim Foundation’s initiatives towards combatting all forms of oppression faced by women in Iraq. Having support from a conservative city is very challenging and personally, I was very surprised and pleased at the same time.


Until 2003, there were no non-governmental organizations in Iraq because the old regime would criminalize them considering any activism as political activism. AlKhafaji was a prisoner of conscience and had spent 10 years in prison during the past regime.


Women in Iraq have faced a lot of challenges during the past regime, during the wars, and even now. They are strong and you find them in different professions. For example, 25% of the parliamentarians are women. However, violence against women still exists. There are drastic positive changes, but advocating for women’s rights is still challenging in Iraq and all over the world.