Women and the Conflict in Iraq
Women and women’s rights in Iraq have been – and continue to be – affected by the country’s recent wars and the current internal conflict. Between 1960 and 1980, Iraqi women had successfully gained access to education, health care and employment, and their political and economic participation was significantly advanced. Subsequent armed conflicts worsened the situation for both women and men, and the future remains uncertain.
Background - the conflict
The Iraq War, also known as the Second Persian Gulf War, the Occupation of Iraq, or Operation Iraqi Freedom, is an ongoing military campaign which began on March 20, 2003 with the invasion of Iraq by a multinational force now led by and composed almost entirely of troops from the United States and United Kingdom. The invasion of Iraq led to an occupation and the eventual capture and execution of Saddam Hussein. Violence against coalition forces and among various sectarian groups soon led to asymmetric warfare with the Iraqi insurgency, strife between many Sunni and Shia Iraqi groups, and al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.
UNHCR estimates the war uprooted 4.7 million Iraqis through April 2008 (about 16% of the population of Iraq), two million of whom had fled to neighbouring countries fleeing a humanitarian situation that the Red Cross described in March 2008 as "among the most critical in the world".
Women in Iraq - 2009
International organisations and journalists continue to report on the ongoing hardships and discrimination faced by women in conflict torn Iraq. Women are faced with systematic discrimination and violence and are targeted specifically because of their gender. Attacked by men because of different political agendas or by Islamist armed groups who are attempting to impose veiling, gender segregation and discrimination. The British newspaper, the Observer, has established that in almost every major area of human rights, women are being seriously discriminated against. Women have been beaten for not wearing socks, wearing makeup or for being well educated and in the professions, and who work with organisations connected with the coalition forces. Some women have been threatened with death unless they wear the full abbaya. According to Amnesty International, women have also faced intimidation and harassment at checkpoints by Shi’a and
Sunni militias, including for not complying with strict dress codes or for driving a vehicle alone.
Crimes specifically aimed at women and girls, including rape, have been committed by members of Islamist armed groups, militias, Iraqi government forces, foreign soldiers within the US-led Multinational Force, and staff of foreign private military security contractors. Most of these crimes have been committed with impunity. Reported incidents of rape and discrimination are not systematically recorded.
Women under the law
Six years after the overthrow of former President Saddam Hussein, Iraqi legislators have yet to amend legislation that effectively condones, even facilitates, violence against women and girls. The Penal Code, for example, provides that a convicted murderer who pleads in mitigation that he killed with “honourable motives” may face just six months in prison.
It also effectively allows husbands to use violence against their wives. The “exercise of a legal right” to exemption from criminal liability is permitted for: “Disciplining a wife by her husband, the disciplining by parents and teachers of children under their authority within certain limits prescribed by Islamic law (Shari’a), by law or by custom.”
As a result, police frequently fail to arrest men accused of violence against their female relatives and, in the rare occasions when they do and such men are prosecuted before the courts, judges may hand down lenient sentences, even when a woman has been murdered. This sends out a terrifying message to all women in Iraq – that they may be killed and beaten with impunity.
In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, however, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has taken some positive steps in recent years. Law 14 of 2002 amended the Iraqi Penal Code to remove the “honourable motives” clause in cases involving crimes against women within the jurisdiction of the KRG and special units have been established within the police to address violence against women.
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