Women will not remain hostage under laws, practices and traditions of misogynist patriarchy: Wherever there is patriarchal oppression, there will be feminist resistance

In this age when feminist movements started to take big steps towards attaining their rights of equality, freedom and dignity, it is different in Iraq, where women find themselves in a dark abyss and have no right to decide their own lives because of the laws of successive governments under occupation. Islamic opposition groups and governing institutions and the militias have committed widespread massacres and organized mass murders against “minorities” and activist women and driven many other young women to group suicide. What all of these savage and abject practices have in common is hatred towards women and such primitive practices are the main characteristics of tribal and Islamic governance. Occupation forces empowered the most backward social groups that stand against any social development.  Freedom of women is a reflection of social liberation in general, and therefore Iraqi women’s status witnesses unprecedented regress in the current post-occupation times. The Islamic governing institutions, ISIS and government affiliated militias have imposed an erosion of the status of women that has never sunk as low in the history of Iraq.

In a few months, organized brutal and misogynistic crimes of unspeakable cruelty have occurred. ISIS slaughtered fifty Yazidi women, six young women committed mass suicide in a government rehabilitation shelter and militias assassinated six activist women. The Iraqi government and the responsible parties did nothing about these crimes. In the meantime, various Islamic groups have been busy purchasing bourgeois governmental positions so as to guarantee their access to stealing the wealth of Iraq. They divided all of these positions between radical Sunni and Shia groups that are planning to impose the Jaafari laws that guarantees them the right to rape children and to turn women into slaves whose jobs revolve only around domestic service and reproduction and who are legally private property that can be disposed of whenever appropriate for the male owner. Based on these concepts, Iraqi lawmakers are trying to set a trap for the future of Iraqi women.

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq rejects and condemns the misogynist agenda that the Iraqi government is trying to forcefully impose. We call on all Iraqi women to stand and rise up against the patriarchal regime that is imposing poverty on working class people and hatred and discrimination on religious, racial and ethnic ‘minorities’, such as Yazidis and the Black community in Iraq, and especially women of those ‘minorities’. This is the time to stand together with all of the people in these communities to make a great difference for humanity, freedom and equality.

Long live March 8, the symbol of the struggles of women and freedom-lovers for women’s rights and equality. It is the time to unite the women’s and working class’ struggles with the struggles of the minorities that have suffered from the repression of Islamic and bourgeois parties which are supported by the occupation.

Long live equality, long live freedom, and long live March 8

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq                                                  6-3-2019

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/uncategorized/women-will-not-remain-hostage-under-laws-practices-and-traditions-of-misogynist-patriarchy-wherever-there-is-patriarchal-oppression-there-will-be-feminist-resistance/

Condemnation of the Killing of Six Young Iraqi Women in the Governmental Rehabilitation Shelter for Teenagers in Al-Athamiya

A women’s rehabilitation shelter in Al-Athamiya, Baghdad, suffered a fire that killed six young women and burned and injured other residentson the evening of January 3rd. It was found later that seven young women had filed a complaint against the administration, which was not considered adequately. Official sources announced that the seven young women burned themselves in what amounted to a mass suicide attempt in protest against the management of the governmental rehabilitation shelter.

We found that the bodies of other women, that were not totally burned, had signs of severe beatings. These young women asked the management to bring them back to the prison which they felt was less harmful than the governmental rehabilitation shelter. It is known that this shelter is dedicated to teenage females who have completed their prison sentences and have no family or supporters, and houses displaced women from ages six to twenty-two. They consider girls in the shelter homeless and morally delinquent and they imprison them in the shelter without any possibility of communicating with the outside world.  The behavior of the shelter towards young women does not belong to the modern world that recognizes human rights. Evidence from government sources showed that the seven young women had attempted mass suicide and only one woman survived.

The suicides happened because of the women’s depression due to bad treatment that crushed their humanity and made them lose hope of having an acceptable life with improved conditions and respect. Suicide was their scream of protest.  The mass suicide by six young women can only be explained by the fact that these women had been subjected to psychological, physical and moral torture. This abuse and  sexual exploitation were systematic and impossible to escape from.

OWFI has extensive experience of caring for more than eight hundred women fleeing from domestic violence, death threats and exploitation. OWFI works to provide safe and peaceful shelters within an environment of women’s empowerment. We followed the scandals of this governmental shelter in previous years and received many cases of young women who left and came to our shelters. By contrast, OWFI has not lost any women except for two when armed groups attacked us from national security institutions. These groups were acting as militias and ignored the warrants and the order of the judge. They kidnapped two of our residents in recent years and brought them back to their violent families. We have submitted our complaints to the United Nations and are still waiting for the results of their investigations. In response to the crime of the burning of six young Iraqi women, we demand the competent institutions to:

First, publish the results of the investigation for the public, hold fully accountable those who are responsible for this crime, and declare the reasons that pushed these women to end their lives. In addition, that they
recognize the failure of the government and compensate those who have been traumatized by the fire and other victims of the psychological torture in this house.

Second, close all the government shelters and assign qualified people to manage the tasks in a responsible way, and protect women from the patriarchal terrorist groups such as the national security and intelligence militias that attacked our offices and shelters.

Third, amend the “Protection from Family Violence” draft law, replace the government shelter paragraph with one for shelters that are managed by women’s organizations. Also, provide financial support for this task without any governmental guardianship that turns the shelters into places of corruption, sexual exploitation and psychological torture and of young women.

OWFI invites women and human rights organizations to join us in defending the young women’s rights and filing a lawsuit against the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that was responsible for them committing suicide.  We will not accept the extreme secrecy exerted by the ministry to prevent our visits to the shelter or to the young survivor to get the details of what happened.

The Iraqi state’s view towards women is as private property of men and family who can be respected only if they have a man that defends their rights. But other women who have been left alone, homeless and vulnerable do not constitute any importance to the state, institutions and law, since no man can defend them. In this country, there is no recognition of women as citizens who should be protected by state and law.

The Iraqi state neglected these young women, abused and sexually exploited them, which led them to commit suicide.

A government official is trying to put the blame on the victims by claiming that they had psychological illnesses. Wouldn’t this official have psychological illnesses if he was subjected to systematic humiliation, beatings and rape?

Shame on the oppressive, patriarchal state institutions for exposing Iraqi women to continued violence.

Shame on the judicial and security institutions that impose violence on women and on women’s organizations rather than protecting them.

However, the reins of power will not last for the most backward and corrupt elements of society who have established the humiliation and punishment of women in Iraq.

Long live women despite the oppression of male – dominated society and dark forces of tyranny.

Long live equality between women and men.

Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq

January 6, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/uncategorized/condemnation-of-the-killing-of-six-young-iraqi-women-in-the-governmental-rehabilitation-shelter-for-teenagers-in-al-athamiya/

Tribal Killings of Women must be Tried under Anti-Terrorism Laws

Hundreds of women are reported to be killed every year in Iraq, but in reality a thousand additional women are killed annually at the hands of patriarchal tribes who accuse women of immorality and who are proud of this suppression and for forbidding any personal freedom or any other rights for women. They are turning women into slaves whose role revolves only around domestic work and reproduction, based on their tribes imposing a husband on them who they hate and do not have any feelings toward.

Women according to the patriarchal tribal thinking are defined as slaves and obedient to the male masters who impose and dictate to women everything about what she says, works, moves and lives. The tribes are strengthened by their enslavement of women based on Islamic concepts about so-called “adultery”. They also deal with the wife as a tool for service, reproduction and private property that can be disposed of whenever appropriate for “the owner”, the husband, or as it is called in the law, “the head of the family”.

The Judicial Foundation in Iraq seeks to provide legal support for tribal killings of women with sections of the Penal Code, allowing male killers to evade homicide charges. The reasons for these legal efforts are to allow  masculine vulgarity  to eliminate female individual rebellion against repression and tribal patriarchal control. Despite the feminist movement’s demand to abolish Article 409 of the Penal Code, which provides legal cover for the killing of women, the Ministry of “No Justice” did not move in any way to put an end to the tribal practices. It even asked backward Islamic lawmakers to create what they call the “Jaafari law” which seeks the abuse of young women, the elderly and the girls in forms that are not accepted by the modern segments of society in Iraq.

It is time for the state of Iraq to recognize the woman as a full citizen and not as a slave to her owner, to  remove the right of husbands, fathers and brothers to kill women and to deal with women as  humans who have the same rights and privileges as men. In addition, the state must be responsible for protecting women as  citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution.

It is a shame on a state that allows, and even supports, the tribal killing of women under the pretext of male honor.

The Supreme Judicial Council must immediately issue a decision to deal with tribal killings of women under the Fourth Anti-Terrorism Act, since the killing of a woman causes her family and her children to face terror and lifelong fear.

The killing of women by criminal tribes is not an act to remove the women’s shame; it is a consecration and a declaration of the shame and hatred of the male towards the life of women and their right to a free and dignified life, and nothing more than an expression of the extent of their crime and underdevelopment. The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq rejects the complicity of the state as a partner and supporter of the killing of women.

We call for the immediate repeal of Article 409 of the Penal Code and the accountability of all those who kill women under the provisions of  Anti-Terrorism Law, since the killing of more than one thousand women annually is not less burdensome to society than a tribal act which is known as “tribal Dhaka” (Dhaka in English means a tribal practice that allows the opening of gunfire on a house as an act of warning).

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq

November16th, 2018

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/uncategorized/tribal-killings-of-women-must-be-tried-under-anti-terrorism-laws/

The Network of Anti-Trafficking in women had held the ninth conference in Dhi Qar in Commerce Hall in Nasria province.

The Network of Anti-Trafficking in women had held the ninth conference in Dhi Qar in Commerce Hall in Nasria province.
In the presence of local officials, number of civil society organizations and those who are concerned in women’s issues from central and southern Iraq to discuss the proposed amendments on the draft law of Family Protection which will be bypassed to a second reading under the dome of the Iraqi parliament. The president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, The new draft law needs amendments that guarantee the rights of women suffering from domestic violence, including the right of women’s organizations to open shelters.
The conference reviewed the situations of women in the south and the various problems that led to increasing the numbers of suicide among the women, including the province of Dhi Qar and hear the views and suggestions of the people of the south on the causes of the spread of suicide and the necessary solutions to the State and civil society organizations to make a suitable solution to the phenomenon that spread In the south, especially in Dhi Qar.
The conference also reviewed the situations of women in the camps and areas controlled by ISIS, pictures and videos had shown women sufferings in those areas presented and how the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq were able to provide help to women in Mosul by opening 5 shelters for women and children whose husbands were killed on ISIS hands.

The conference has come out by number of significant recommendations
1-The Conference recommends that the necessary measures be taken to deal with the phenomenon of suicide, such as media campaigns and opening a hotline. The competent authorities in the State should differentiate between suicide cases and the cases of ”honor crimes”, criminalization of attempted suicide, and taking the law into account in this matter.
2- The approval on the proposed amendments of the draft law of Family Protection that had been discussed and the amendment on it in the conference.
3-The opening of social and cultural clubs in all cities of Iraq for the purpose of reducing the trend of youth to drugs.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/article/the-network-of-anti-trafficking-in-women-had-held-the-ninth-conference-in-dhi-qar-in-commerce-hall-in-nasria-province/

OWFI’s staff distributing the first deliveries from the food bags on women and children in the Eastern side of Mosul

OWFI’s staff distributing the first deliveries from the food bags on women and children in the Eastern side of Mosul. The bags have been distributed in the following neighborhood (Hay Al Wahda, Hay Al Karama, Hay Al Intesar and Hay Al .Quds, Hay Kogek Jali.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/uncategorized/owfis-staff-distributing-the-first-deliveries-from-the-food-bags-on-women-and-children-in-the-eastern-side-of-mosul/

OWFI’s reception center in the front lines of Rubida village

OWFI’s reception center in the front lines of Rubida village which are receiving families fleeing from ISIS held territory. Where many women’s with their children are crossing on Hamreen Mountains each day on their foot for 17 hours totally thirsty without any water to be drank. Now when these families are reaching the front lines found boxes of water and they don’t know who had provided it to them. The Iraqi forces who are located in the front lines are distributing water on these families and inform them that the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) are supplying the center with boxes of water to quench their thirst.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/article/owfis-reception-center-in-the-front-lines-of-rubida-village/

OWFI staff distribute flour bags

OWFI’s staff have reached to Al-Shirqat in Hay almuearid neighborhood to distribute flour bags on the displaced women’s and their children from Alzaab and Hawija districts.


Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/article/owfi-staff-distribute-flour-bags/

OWFI refused the Women of Courage Award from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the US

The American Embassy in Baghdad has contacted the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq demanding from her to nominate for the International Women of Courage Award since the beginning of this year, the answer of the organization’s president Yanar Mohammed was that she had refused to nominate; this is the political position of the organization since it was founded; rejecting the policies of the American invasion which brought destruction upon the Iraqi society and drew sectarian and nationalist division policies in Iraq, and empowered the misogynist groups whether religious or nationalist which were the legitimate or illegitimate parents of Daesh groups.
As the US administration always had its way to wrap around the resolutions of progressive or feminist groups that rejected the invasion, they addressed individuals from OWFI about the award nomination; thereon suggesting the nomination of OWFI activist Jannat Alghezzi requesting her approval. As we in OWFI are not used to imposing our views or policies on individuals especially on individuals who are unaware of the political repercussions of such awards. We were taken by surprise when the nomination was for our colleague Jannat Al ghezzi, we nevertheless set our condition on her to nominate herself as individual and to represent herself only and not use the organization’s name in any form because we do not accept to receive any awards from the US government which was the reason of Iraq destruction.
It hurts us to see our colleague Jannat Alghezzi standing with the first lady Melania Trump receiving the award from those who are considered symbols of extremism, populism and hatred of other people, as well as symbols of misogyny and denial of women’s rights, as in our view that Jannat’s status within OWFI is much higher than this company.
We in OWFI issued this statement because of the many questions which have been directed to us by our allies after they thought that the award was directed to OWFI. For that reason we wanted to clarify this subject: That OWFI refuses to take the award from the US government which was the reason of the destruction that happened to Iraq and the endless violations against the lives and freedoms of Iraqi women. The award has been taken by Ms. Jannat Alghezzi as an individual and not as part of the organization. We regret that we had to write a statement about this subject.
OWFI continues to hold its grounds in anti-imperialist position, rejecting both the American occupation and their reactionary allies in Iraq, who stand for all inhumane and misogynist recent changes in Iraq. It was the American occupation of Iraq that started the genocide of Iraqis at the hands of the American military arsenal, and later on at the hands of sectarian Islamic groups who were supported into power by the US occupation, and who became later on the heroes of women’ enslavement and exploitation by Daesh and other extremist groups. The US occupation had similarly empowered other extremist groups to grow stronger against the women of Iraq, especially those who legislated the Jaafari law which allows the marriage of 5 year old girls to adult men.
Shame on a state which sends military envoys to kill us, divide us, supply Daesh with ammunition and empower women’s misogynist groups from one side, then hand awards for human rights to us in the other hand. We don’t want neither your awards nor your policies which have pushed Iraqi women to the bottom of the abyss.
Yanar Mohammed
President of Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
April 4, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/article/owfi-refused-the-women-of-courage-award-from-the-department-of-foreign-affairs-of-the-us/

March 8th: A day in opposition against the genocide on the people of Mosul

Instead of doing celebrations for women struggles and achievements over our modern histories, we spend the days of March 8th waiting for the news from the battle of Mosul. When the news about the liberation of West Mosul are passing as a new or as a lightening phase or stage, then it follows it weeks of exhausted news from the transgressions of Shi’a Militias, kidnapping, demanding ransom and throwing their body corpses, as if the battle is a sectarian war and not as a battle to liberate the whole city from ISIS.
In those days the intensive bombing is still ongoing on the East of Mosul on people who are suffering starvation and thirstiness; those who ISIS is using them as human shields. As these families are waiting in the houses death from starvation and hunger, in the time that the International community are surrounding them from everywhere with their tanks directed at them under the slogans of liberating them.
Starvation cases have passed on Mosul city repeatedly during the history days but there weren’t cases for shelling, destruction, starvation and sectarian revenge as we are passing in it during our days. After the families are suffering killings and enslavement from ISIS, they are suffering now on the West of Mosul districts the Militias that have started to kidnap the sons of the families in order to ask for ransom but without getting the sons back alive to the families. After new districts are liberating, they demand from the families to displace forcibly in order to ransack and stole the furniture of the families in front of their eyes. When Khawla from Ma’moun neighborhood had refused to leave her house, they killed her in front of the other families and still her body corpse is in front of her house.
Iraqi women’s suffered a lot in the light of the imposed sectarian wars on Iraq; after the enslavement cases on ISIS hands, the enslavement that has been fallen on the Yazidi, Turkuman, Shabks and Christians women’s. Thousands of them find themselves with children from ISIS fighters, or pregnant from them. The women’s and children fates will be unclear. The Yazidi woman can’t get back to her society with a child from ISIS fighter. While the women’s from the Western district who are Muslims are waiting their fate of honor killing crimes, many of them had died… while the shame should be on their tribes who couldn’t protect them from ISIS. The Christians women’s are waiting in the camps after the transgressions on them and their communities who don’t dare to get them back to Mosul, unless it will be turned to International Sanctuary which protect them from the Islamic transgressions whether from ISIS or without ISIS.
We in OWFI are watching the events to reach the ability access to lift the gross injustice on women’s in the camps as possible as we can. Meanwhile, we addressed the Ministry of Defense to allow us to open shelters to women’s in Mosul who suffered enslavement and will suffer also the aggressive killings by their tribes in this old historic chapter. Neither the Ministry of Defense nor their representatives have reposed to us which looks like they don’t consider themselves as responsible on the lives of thousands of threatened Iraqi women.
Under the coverage of the Iraqi Parliament, some discussions are spinning about the ”family protection law” that has been written after the oppositions for more than 14 years on the violence directed against women’s. The legislatives have insisted on not to put in its title the naming of ”Violence” or ”Woman”. Instead that the goal of this law should be protecting hundreds of women who are killing annually but it transpires from its code (text) that it is just to reunion the family members and to force the woman on getting back into her house although of the violence imposed on her. As the safe houses (Shelters) that are mentioning in this panel code had come as a respond to our opposition for 14 years but it wasn’t sufficient as for these new shelters are considered as prisons to women.
The government empowerment to the tribal and religious institutes hadn’t meet with the outlooks and freedoms of the youngest women. As a result, it pushes many youngest women’s in big numbers to reject the enslavement of the family housed and work life imprisonments. The numbers of the women’s who are fleeing from their tribe cruelty, work enslavement and the isolation imposed on them are increasing daily. This opened and started the growing cases of the feminist individual revolt which become a characteristic for this historical period. OWFI is working on disseminating the shelters/safe houses for these women’s and organize them within a political feminist resistance which realizes their goals and enemies and it could be a way to get rid of this society. We will continue forward until we built a feminist base which stand against all the imposed transgressions on the Iraqi women, whether in ISIS era or without them.
Long live March 8th as a symbol of our feminist struggles for equality and freedom.

Yanar Mohammed – OWFI president March 7, 2017

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/article/march-8th-a-day-in-opposition-against-the-genocide-on-the-people-of-mosul/

Important New Support for OWFI’s Work from European Funders

We are proud and grateful to have received significant new funding for our work in the last few months.

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a long-time supporter of OWFI, has partnered with us again for a multi-year project to support a wide range of OWFI’s efforts to advance legal and social improvements for Iraqi women.

Norad, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, has also provided important funding for our work helping women and their families affected by conflict in the Mosul area; both those who have fled to IDP camps and those who remain in the city.

And we must again thank the Rafto Foundation for Human Rights, who awarded their annual prize to OWFI President Yanar Mohammed in November. During her visit to receive the award, Rafto organized meetings with Norwegian officials, including MPs and the Prime Minister, which led to the award of the Norad grant. (read more.)

These two new grants join the significant multi-year funding OWFI receives from the European Commission, the Oak Foundation, and the much appreciated support provided by the other organizations listed at the bottom of this newsletter.

We thank all our funders and supporters from the bottom of our hearts.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/activities/important-new-support-for-owfis-work-from-european-funders/

Bread Baking Stoves and Supplies Empower Women in IDP Camp to Feed and Support Many Others

In January, an OWFI activist team visited people displaced by the fighting in Mosul who are living in the Khazir camp.

We provided bread-baking stoves and sufficient amounts of flour to 10 women who have suffered human rights violations by ISIS fighters. Each of these 10 women will be able to support 20 tents through the product of their baking work, and meet the needs of almost 2000 people! Empowering the women of Mosul is one of our top priorities right now.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/activities/bread-baking-stoves-and-supplies-empower-women-in-idp-camp-to-feed-and-support-many-others/

OWFI Sheltering More Women than Ever Before

OWFI is now providing shelter and support to by far the largest number of women and children we ever have — 26, some with children. We have responded in every way we are able to the many threats facing Iraqi women right now.

In January, we opened two new shelters. The first, in Kirkuk, provides protection for women from Hawija and other western Iraq cities who have fled ISIS abuses, as described above.

The second is in the southern city of Basrah, where a traditionally misogynistic culture has been strengthened by the growing power of the militias. This shelter offers refuge to victims of sex trafficking who were unjustly imprisoned as prostitutes, and then threatened with honor killing by their own families upon release. UN agencies asked us to help these women, since the government’s so-called shelters will not accept them.

Safe rooms have also been developed in the homes of several strong supporters of OWFI to protect women at risk of honor killing in Mosul itself.

We are especially proud of the leadership role that young, former shelter residents are playing in this new expansion of our sheltering capacity. “Graduates” of OWFI shelters are becoming the front-line feminists of Iraq.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/campaigns/owfi-sheltering-more-women-than-ever-before/

The city of Mosul is devastated.

Hundreds of thousands have fled, with nothing, through a landscape of immense danger. The stories my colleagues and I have heard from the women who somehow survived this journey are heartbreaking. Families who must choose between staying and starving, or fleeing at a high risk of death.  Children abandoned along the route, some run over by tanks.
When they finally arrive at Khazir Camp, they find themselves locked in, forgotten.
Many women we speak to are badly traumatized. They won’t make eye contact, in fear of questions about rape or ISIS fighters. In most cases, their husbands are dead. Some are pregnant. Where can they go? How long can they hide? The fact of their abuse is used as a reason for their own families and tribes to murder or abandon them.


These women have been the focus of every ounce of our efforts so far this year, and will continue to be.
Thank you for your continued support,
~ Yanar Mohammed, President, OWFI

Permanent link to this article: https://www.owfi.info/article/the-city-of-mosul-is-devastated/

In Conversation: Yanar Mohammed on trafficking in Iraq

Yanar Mohammed is the President of Organization of Women’s Freedom, our grantee partner in Iraq. The group focuses on protecting women’s human rights, including fighting against trafficking of women and girls, and operates six safe houses for women survivors of violence. In this interview with Yanar, we hear about how her organization’s work against trafficking in women and girls, particularly sexual exploitation, has been impacted by the turmoil caused by Islamic extremists and ISIS.

Yanar, you’ve been an activist and a defender of women’s rights in Iraq for over 13 years. What do you think are the main challenges women in Iraq are facing right now?
We focused in the last year on working against trafficking in women and girls and expanding a new network, the Network of Anti-Trafficking of Women in Iraq. We started the network in 2013, barely nine months before ISIS began gaining ground in Iraq. As ISIS grew, they started their attacks against women in the north of Iraq, including against the women of Yazidi faith. They trafficked them in broad daylight.

Trafficking in women and girls is now a tactic used by opposing groups in instances of sectarian violence in Iraq. Women and girls are looked upon as the representatives of a community’s honor, and so the sexual exploitation of women and girls belonging to a certain community is seen as the most effective way to humiliate and break it. Unfortunately, it is therefore not a surprise that the so-called Islamic State, ISIS, as a Sunni group, has targeted non-Sunni Muslim women and girls such as Shi’a Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. Retaliations ensue and wars are led on women’s bodies.

6c7ffa0a-4110-4045-b05c-6245b547bcd4When ISIS began to enslave women, we found that this was the time when we should rise to the occasion and highlight the issue of trafficking in society and the government. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by laws, practices, programs, and by some understanding from the society as to what it means that a woman gets compromised, gets exploited, and gets enslaved. So we set up this network, which is now about 40 NGOs working together on the issue. We began to talk about trafficking in women and girls, especially sexual exploitation, and address it as something that’s not only happening under ISIS but also happening in Iraq more broadly, without anybody daring to give it any importance.

Beyond ISIS, orphans and widows of war in Iraq who are extremely impoverished have fallen prey to sexual exploitation. They are being used and exploited and violated daily in Iraq, without anybody thinking of it as a human rights issue. So this is our focus; we have decided we will work on this until we get the government to pass laws that make the suffering of these women less, and also that open the way for us to protect the women from this kind of violence.

Is there any legislation right now against trafficking?
We demanded that the government pass a law for the financial support of Yazidi women when they step out of their enslavement. When they come back to areas of Iraq that are not under ISIS control, they should be compensated just like prisoners of war for the sufferings they went through. And we were so happy when it took only a few months and the Iraqi government decided to give monthly stipends for survivors in May 2015. That was the first success of the network. At the time nobody else had demanded this kind of support for ISIS survivors, so we felt that we were on the right track and that we should proceed to the rest of our demands that we needed in order to address violence against women.

What would you say is the level of public awareness around the issue of trafficking?
We have struggled a lot to make many words and terms debatable in our society—to remove the taboo. I will give you an example: in 2003 when we began to talk about honor killings and how it needs to stop, everybody was disgusted with us and saying that women’s groups should refrain from speaking about taboo and sexual issues, and that we do not address women’s rights in a way that they find acceptable. It took us almost 5 years to make discussion of honor killings a mainstream argument. Now when you go to Iraq, the issue of honor killing has become such a regular thing to talk about. There are so many NGOs that are standing against it, talking about it, are lobbying against it. Whenever we have an issue like this, we find ourselves the first ones on the front lines to address it until, it becomes a mainstream argument.

Now as we talk about trafficking and discuss sexual exploitation of women and girls this issue is a very taboo and difficult issue to address.

How many women and girls in Iraq are at risk of being trafficked?
The dilemma of displacement in Iraq is huge because of ISIS. The number of displaced people is two million, going to three million. Most of these are women, because the men are either in the Iraqi army fighting ISIS or have been recruited into militias also heading to fight ISIS, or stuck in the cities defending them. It may be impossible to give the exact number, but we can estimate that out of the 1.5 million women who are displaced, half of them are between ages 16 and 30—the biggest age group at risk of trafficking. So I would say not less than 100,000 women are being trafficked at this point in Iraq.

So the political instability caused by ISIS is increasing the threat of trafficking for women and girls, even if ISIS is not doing the trafficking directly.
Yes. ISIS has created the most ugly reality of trafficking, where they defend it as a religious right. They say it is their right to enslave the “spoils of war” who are not of Muslim faith. They describe them as faithless and as less of human beings whose enslavement makes them better, makes them closer to Islam. ISIS has brought an example that has totally shocked the region and shocked it in a way as to taking us back to a time when people had no human rights, basically. And they are trying to make it a fact to force on the people of Iraq, Syria, and maybe other places if they are allowed to expand.

Can you tell me about the shelters that your group runs?
Our shelters are currently keeping safe women who survive trafficking. They are also getting educated; our shelters are not only a place for women to rest and be safe, they are also schools for social transformation for women to turn from victims into defenders of women. We only had one shelter until 2008; since then we have expanded to have six shelters all over the country. We also have a pipeline from the southern city of Busra, to direct violated women to our shelters in Baghdad. And we have many supporters in the network of the 40-plus NGOs, who are our eyes and ears in more than nine cities in Iraq and are guiding women who are in need of shelter to us. I like to put it in a very short story: our organization was able to spread its wings over most of the Iraqi cities in the last few years.

However, the Iraqi government is not facilitating our undertaking of women into our shelters. And it boils down to one point—we need a piece of legislation from the Iraqi government to provide legal status to shelters that are run by NGOs or other private sector groups. Although the government does not have a law that says that our shelters are illegal, they do have a law that allows the ministry of social affairs to determine if they should stay open. So some of the tribal and misogynist officials did tell us in the past that we are doing an illegal thing, but they did not shut us down.

So, although we are protecting women from trafficking and domestic violence and all that—although we are doing the duty of the government, the duty the government is not taking seriously and do not want to move on, and although they should be supporting us and applauding us for doing their job, in reality they confront us, telling us that our sheltering of women is promoting promiscuity, that it is encouraging women to go against their families and have full sexual freedoms and come stay in our shelters. So some governmental officials have intimidated us in the past, telling us we are doing something illegal, when we are protecting women.

What can the international community do to help Iraqi women be empowered and experience less violence?
We are asking the international community to ask the legal committee in the Iraqi parliament to legislate for the legal status of our shelters. Letters that are addressed to the Iraqi parliament—and specifically to the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament—asking them to legislate for the legal status of women’s shelters that are run by the NGOs. This would be a great help to us.

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Would you say that action now is especially important to protect women? Is right now a critical moment?
Right now is a very critical moment because ISIS is at the point where it can be defeated. It has lost the social support of those among the Sunni groups in Western Iraq that were supporting it because people saw the atrocities that ISIS can commit against them. It is a very special moment in time to act against ISIS, but is the kind of action we are seeking a military one, where we have more US army in Iraq? No.

Our experiences of the last 13 years tell us that US intervention in Iraq never brought us anything good. It always has caused more deterioration. Now is the time to have a political intervention, and to ask the Iraqi government to stop its sectarian, politics that gave way to ISIS, as well as empower the Iraqi army so that they can regain the cities that were taken by ISIS.

What are some of the other forms of violence that women come up against in Iraq?
We have many kinds of violence we undergo, and we know what is making this kind of violence worse, which is Islamist extremist parties reaching power. Some of these parties have shown us a terrible example of what they want to bring to Iraq, including legislating for Jaafari law. This law allows the marriage of a 9-year-old girl to an adult man—in other words it legalizes pedophilia in Iraq. It also allows men to be polygamous, and allows for getting rid of wives if they are not sexually pleasant for husbands.

The amount of humiliating material in this law against women is incredible, and out of this era. It’s something that modern humanity cannot even bear to hear of. We must keep this legislation outside of parliament, because the law was not passed, but it is still waiting for us. The Islamist political parties are just waiting for some stability and for the moment when they feel stronger to bring back this legislation. And that would really be the end for Iraqi women.

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