The Ongoing security challenges for Women in Iraq
By Raya Abu Gulal, Lawyer and Co-Founder Women Lawyers Group-Middle East
Women in Iraq continue to face growing security challenges due to structural changes within country, a general shift towards extremism, continuing civil war and political uncertainty. On a daily basis they face threats on their personal security as well as a continued deterioration in general security conditions.
There are numerous examples that help us better understand the nature of the security threats women face. According to a recent UN report 3,500 women and children from the city of Sinjar have been held as slaves. Other sources report that thousands have survived rape, enslavement, and torture, or have been forced into marriages. In the city of Ramadi, Iraqi authorities recently discovered mass graves of women executed by extremist groups. Many female journalists and women’s rights activists face death threats
These are not isolated incidents. Iraqi women continue to face similar threats across the country. These include random attacks by extremists groups, domestic violence, and honour crimes. Also, various reports show that in some parts of Iraq women who wish to participate in n the political and economic process are facing threats and kidnappings. Lack of security and initiatives from extremists groups have proven to be the main obstacles preventing the economic advancement of women in the country.
Early 2014, Iraq was the first country in the MENA region to develop a National Action Plan for the implementation of UNSCR 1325. The Iraqi government worked closely with partners (the Alliance) such as local and international civil society organisations, and activists in order to negotiate and adopt the Plan. The Plan is structured around six pillars, each one consisting of strategic objectives accompanied by specific actions, expected results and indicators, budget, responsible actors, and a timeframe. The pillars are defined as follows:
• Women’s participation;
• Protection and prevention;
• Social and economic empowerment;
• Legislation and law enforcement; and
• Resource mobilization and monitoring and evaluation.
In April 2014, the Plan development process seemingly came to an end with the adoption of the Plan by the Iraqi government. Civil society and organisations inside Iraq discovered that major amendments were made in the Plan. The Iraqi government has removed pillars 4 and 5 without consulting or informing the Alliance, or explaining their reasons. In addition, the implementation budget was left out of the adoption of the Plan. According to Suzan Aref (founder and Director of Women Empowerment Organization), who worked closely with the government on the Plan, the exclusion of these pillars prevents a broad and holistic agenda for the improvement of women’s participation in peace and security issues.
Security issues related to women have a serious impact on the society as a whole, and affect any country’s international relations and human rights records. In addition they have led to an increase in women suffering mental and physical problems and other acute illnesses, further impacting the society, families and the country’ economy.
Efforts should be made to offer more security for women, in particular in areas affected by war. Policy makers on a national and international levels well as leading religious figures should recognise the importance of security for women by increasing participation of women in decision-making and the economy, as well as implementing actions by rewriting the civil and penal codes to add gender violence, honour crime, threats definitions and tougher punishments.
It is also important to note that security for women is a basis for building a viaable society and country, and Iraq cannot simply ignore half of its population. They must act now to provide a secure environment including protective laws and policies for women.