For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Increased violence in DR Congo threatens civil society

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A UN tank makes it way through the streets of Bukavu in South Kivu. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Mufariji Assy.

A UN tank makes it way through the streets of Bukavu in South Kivu. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Mufariji Assy.

Recent months have seen an increase in fighting between different militia groups and the national army in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. The situation is now so bad that it seriously affects civil society organisations ability to carry out their work.  

”We are deeply worried, both for the safety of our partner organisations and for all civilians who are subjected to this violence” says Ylwa Renström, Coordinator for DR Congo at the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation

In February this year, 11 African countries signed an agreement called the Framework of Hope for peace and security in DR Congo and the region.

The following month the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2098, in which it for the first time gave a brigade within a UN peace keeping mission (MONUSCO, DR Congo) the task of carrying out offensive operations – on its own or together with the Congolese army. The resolution also gave the newly appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, the task of helping the parties in the framework to deliver on their commitments. Within her mission is a special mandate to focus on women’s empowerment and regional economic integration.

Framework without women

Mary Robinson has highlighted the crucial importance of women and women’s rights organisations being a big part of the peace work. However, the framework itself hardly mentions women – apart from stating that it’s important that ”women’s groups” know the details of the agreement. And so far, neither the framework nor the resolution have lead to any big improvements in the situation for people living in the conflict-ridden North and South Kivu.

Besides from fights constantly flaring up, UNHCR in the end of July reported an alarming rise in sexual violence in North Kivu, with a registered 705 cases January-July, compared to 108 cases during the same period last year. At the same time tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to leave their homes, fleeing the armed violence. There are several militia groups that are active in the provinces and they are fighting amongst each other as well as with the Congolese army.

Severe threats against activists

Civil society organisations operating in the Kivu regions, are used to working under difficult conditions security-wise. However, it has gone from difficult, to worse, to really dangerous.

”Earlier our partner organisations talked about, for example, getting stopped in road blocks but being able to talk their way through. Now there are times when they don’t even dare to go out. There have been several severe threats against human rights activists and many are very afraid” says Katarina Carlberg, Kvinna till Kvinna’s Field Representative in DR Congo.

”It’s crucial that the Congolese government, as well as the international community, focus on the protection of civilians and to achieve a stable security situation. This is also in MONUSCO’s mandate.”

Malin Ekerstedt

Witch hunt on women’s rights activists in Armenia

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Women's Resource Center participating in a demonstration for increased equality. Yerevan, Armenia. Photo: Svetlana Antonyan.

Women's Resource Center participating in a demonstration for increased equality. Yerevan, Armenia. Photo: Svetlana Antonyan.

20 May, Armenia adopted a gender equality law for equal rights and equal opportunities for men and women. This sparked a heated debate regarding the concept of gender, which in recent weeks has developed into campaigns that include outright threats agains women’s organisations and named activists.

The anti-gender campaigns have mainly used social media to spread their message. Videos have been circulating with distorted explanations of the concept of gender, among other things linking it to pedophelia and bestiality.

The campaigns also mock and ridicule the work of LGBT and women’s rights activists. One of the Facebook pages that have been put up, incourages its followers to set fire to or in other ways attack supporters of the term gender, who are called “traitors of the nation” and are said to “engage in sexual abuse of children”.

Photos of activists

“These groups publish photos on social networks of activists, politicians, and generally anyone who even dares to talk about gender equality. It has the marks of a witch hunt and it hinders our work. Girls and young women that we work with, call us in panic, and we’re trying our best to calm them down. Some of our sponsors have asked us not to advertise that they support us” says Lara Aharonian, co-leader of the women’s rights organisation Women’s Resource Center (WRC), and one of the targeted activists.

“It’s ironic that we are accused of promoting sexual abuse against children, when we have been fighting that for many years. In 2010, in the wake of a high profile case of sexual abuse against minors committed by a school teacher, we intiated and led the work of a legal team that looked at making changes in some articles of Armenia’s Criminal Code, to ensure a fair trial for the victims and to make the punishment fit the gravity of these crimes” says Gohar Shahnazaryan, the other leader of WRC.

Employees at Women’s Resource Center have reported the threats to the police, and an investigation is ongoing.

Politicians want law amendments

The campaigns of the anti-gender groups have also reached political leaders. Even though the gender equality law was passed in the National Assembly with 108 votes against one, there has now been statements from both the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Filaret Berikyan, and Naira Zohrabyan, member of parliament from the Prosperous Armenia party, calling for amendments because of the protests.

Some parliamentarians have also taken action not only against the law, but also against the women’s organisations that lobbied for it to be adopted. Ike Babukhanyan (Republican Party) have called for an investigation to check the activities of Women’s Resource Center, accusing them of promoting sexual deviation and homosexuality among under-aged girls.

Homophobia widespread

Since homophobia is widespread in Armenian society – according to the 2011 Caucasus Barometer 97 percent are against homosexuality –  it’s easy to score political points on the issue.

“To mobilize the masses against LGBT persons is very easy in Armenia. And it’s a way to divert attention from the endemic corruption and other economic problems” says Lara Aharonian.

To strengthen cooperation with the European Union, Armenia is currently adopting a series of laws on human rights. EU is Armenia’s biggest trade partner and the two parties are in the process of negotiating an Association Agreement.

Julia Lapitskii/Malin Ekerstedt

Local elections in Jordan a chance for women

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It's not common for women candidates to put their picture on their campaign posters. Fatima Bani Yaseen is an exception. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström.

It's not common for women candidates to put their picture on their campaign posters. Fatima Bani Yaseen is an exception. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström.

Today Jordan holds local elections. With a recently raised women quota, the outcome could be more women than ever in local councils. We have met three women activists who stand as candidates.

In Jordan, local elections are being met with varying interest. In the capital Amman most people don’t seem to bother. It is just a day off for everyone and the common joke is that the shores of the Dead Sea will be full of people, since no one will go and vote.

But traditionally, local elections are more important for people living outside of the major cities. They are primarily a way to secure the family or clan interests, through making sure that a strong candidate is produced, that can be elected to the City Council.

Won over male candidates

Maysoon Meqdadi. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström

Maysoon Meqdadi. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström

In the village of Kura in the north of Jordan, we meet Fatima Bani Yaseen and Maysoon Meqdadi, active in the local women’s rights organisation with the same name as the village. They both run for election. Fatima has held a seat at the City Council for several periods now, and is a well-known figure in her constituency. When her clan was to decide on candidates for this year’s election, she was one of their final choices, beating several male candidates in the process. But getting to that point has not been easy.

Brothers decide

Her first time as a candidate was preceded by a long and painful struggle with her brother. Since Fatima is not married, her brothers have the final say on everything she is to do outside the walls of her home. But this time she refused to accept their no.

“I locked myself in my room and just cried. I refused to talk to my brother.”

Weeks passed, and when only two weeks remained before the election, Fatima’s brother finally gave in. She was allowed to run as a candidate.

“Our society is ruled by men and clans” she says cooly.

But she adds that many women want to support her and have called her to ask if they can help with her campaign.

Raised quota

For Maysoon it’s her first time as a candidate. Besides from her and Fatima, there are only two other women standing for election in the municipality, so they are both hoping to be elected.

And chances are good. In the latest revision of the Jordanian electoral law, the women quota at the municipal level was raised from 20 to 25 percent. It is a relatively high figure – in the Parliament only 10 percent of the seats are reserved for women – and a success for the women’s movement. But a success that demands commitment. To change the view of women being mere political alibis, women have to get engaged in politics and stand for election.

Out of 2 808 candidates in the local elections, 473 are women. The total number of seats in the city councils are 1100, which means that 275 of them are reserved for women. Thus, there are less than two female candidates for each seat. And some districts don’t even have one female candidate. This is solved by hand-picking women to the remaining seats – women who often are skilled and experienced, but who haven’t put themselves up as candidates.

Only female candidate

In the village of Rakeen in southern Jordan, lives Sara Rahayfeh. She is also active in a local women’s rights organisation, this too with the same name as the village. She also stands for election, and since she is the only female candidate in her constituency, chances are good for her to win a seat.

Besides from being the leader of the organisation Rakeen, Sara is an experienced and well-known midwife. Still, it is crucial for her to have the family or the clan behind her when standing for election.

“I have the support of my whole family in this. And I feel strong. I have learned so much through my job with the organisation” she says.

Posters and knocking on doors

Back in Kura, Maysoon and Fatima are talking with horror about a woman in their district running as a candidate, not in her own name but as the wife of Mr X – because his name is the important one.

Fatima has her picture on her election posters. This is rare for a woman, since it’s not considered appropriate. Maysoon has not printed any posters, but has been out knocking on doors in her constituency, talking to voters about the things she wants to change.

“I want to make sure that the resources of the municipality are distributed fairly between everyone who lives here. Waste collection is important, it has to run smoothly everywhere. And I want to ensure that there are street lights on all streets.”

Fatima is also adamant on the importance of resources being distributed fairly. And she is particularly interested in how the budget is being put together.

“There has to be women in the Budget Committee, and we must ensure that the money also will benefit women. Health care is an important example, women need special medical equipment” she says.

Johanna Wassholm

Women honoured at Liberian peace jubilee

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The women in WIPNET played a crucial part in the efforts to bring peace to Liberia. This Monday they celebrated the ten-year-anniversary of the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in a ceremony in Centenial Memorial Pavilion, Monrovia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Susanne Mannberg.

The women in WIPNET played a crucial part in the efforts to bring peace to Liberia. This Monday they celebrated the ten-year-anniversary of the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in a ceremony in Centenial Memorial Pavilion, Monrovia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Susanne Mannberg.

Thousands of Liberians gathered on Monday to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement that ended the bloody, 14 year long, civil war. ”Today, we are celebrating that we can feel safe” said Roseline Toweh from the women’s rights organisation WONGOSOL.

The Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, was signed on 18 August 2003, in Accra, Ghana, by the then Liberian government, the armed groups LURD and MODEL, and all the political parties. The Liberian women’s movement has been world renowned for its vital part in bringing peace to the country, including a sit demonstration outside the negotiating halls in Accra, when the women refused to let the different parties out until they had agreed on terms for peace.

In the aftermath, though, it has proven harder for women activists to gain ground for women’s rights, a situation described as “back to business as usual” by one activist in the report Equal Power – Lasting Peace (2012) on obstacles for women’s participation in peace processes.

“Celebrating feeling safe”

However, this Monday was dedicated to celebrating the years gone by, when Liberians haven’t been forced to live in the midst of war.

”We can always discuss whether we have a just and stable peace or not. But what we are celebrating today is that we can feel safe. My children can leave our home in the morning and I know that they will come back in the evening. I don’t have to look over my shoulder, always being afraid of someone following me. We can sleep soundly at night. That constitutes true wealth and is what we rejoice in today”  said Roseline Toweh, newly elected chairwoman of WONGOSOL.

Rural women awarded

The celebration of the anniversary in the capital Monrovia, started with a march through the city, organised by, among others, Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisation WIPNET. This was followed by a ceremony in the Centenial Memorial Pavilion. Among the guests of honour were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as well as the signatories of the peace agreement, and representatives from the transitional government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the political parties.

All received awards for their contributions to the peace agreement. And the women was not forgotten.

”We must give a special thanks to all those women – Mothers of Africa – that, no matter rain or burning sunlight, continued their relentless efforts to achieve peace” said Liberia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan.

Women from rural Liberia also recieved recognition in the form of an honorary award. Then, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a moment of silence to remember all of those who died during the war, those who paid the price for the peace and were missing in this celebration.

Talks on factors behind peace

WONGOSOL was one of the organisers behind the ceremony in Monrovia. Similar ceremonies were conducted in all of Liberia’s 15 counties. During the week preceding the celebration, WIPNET arranged public prayers and lit candles for peace. WONGOSOL have organised talks  all over Liberia, trying to identify the factors behind the peace being sustainable. Ministries and the international community have organised open meetings to discuss how to maintain the peace and how to further include young people in the development process.

Since young people were the primary target group of last week’s campaign, football games and similar activities have also been arranged.

Susanne Mannberg

Political transition – hope or defeat for women?

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In times of political transition, gender equality often balance between gaining ground or losing even earlier achievements. The will of the incoming government, the language of the new constitution and effective measures to make family responsibilities easier to handle, shows the 2013 report from the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

The Working Group (WG) was established in 2010, and is dedicated to ”identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women”.

In the beginning of the summer it presented its first thematic report which had a focus on political transition. According to this report, although there has been much progress since the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) entered into force in 1981, there are still huge gaps to fill before women are able to participate in political and public life on equal terms with men.

In fact, as recently as last year the United Nation’s General Assembly was so concerned by the marginalization of women, that it once again dedicated a resolution (66/130) to promote women’s political participation. And in Europe, where many countries pride themselves of being far ahead with women’s rights, the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, stated its alarm over the underrepresentation of women in the EU’s legislative council and leadership positions, as well as the stagnation of women’s representation at one third or less in parliaments across the region.

Gains and losses

When it comes to gender equality and political transition, experience has varied greatly between countries. In Eastern Europe during the 1990s, as well as in some of the political tranistions taking place recently in the Middle East and North Africa, key gains for gender equality and/or numerical representation of women was reduced. In contrast, the introduction of quotas within political transition in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, led to some of the highest percentages of women members of parliament.

According to the WG report, good practice in the latter states included ”the active engagement with the international community in the peacebuilding process and an emphasis on democracy, human rights and women’s rights as human rights”. This of course demands of the incoming government to have a responsive political leadership regarding women’s rights. In this work the report highlights the importance of autonomous women’s movements that can raise concerns regarding gender equality issues and that the government listens to and acts on these concerns.

Crucial areas

Among the several other areas crucial for women’s equal participation in political and public life that the report takes a closer look at, are:

Constitutions – ”A constitutional guarantee of equality for women,in line with international standards [like CEDAW] is essential” the report states, and exemplifies with the 2011 Moroccan constitution that expressly and systematically confers constitutional rights on women as well as men, and a constitution in the Latin American/Caribbean region which contains approximately 34 references to the rights of women.

Legislation – The report especially warns for family laws that, often with reference to religion, deny women equal rights to citizenship, owning property etc, or that deam their husbands or other family members to be women’s guardians, thereby hindering them from being full members of society. Here an explicitly written constitution also can be of help. Good practice mentioned in the report are some constitutions in sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, which, where they incorporate recognition of religious values or traditional custom in the text, nevertheless provide that they will not override the right to equality.

Violence – Stigmatization, harassment and attacks have been used to silence and discredit women who are community leaders, women’s rights defenders, politicians etc, sometimes with the silent approval or even active participation of state agencies. As good examples to fight this, the report mentions legislation in the Latin America and Caribbean region prohibiting gender-based harassment and violence against a women candidate, as well as pressure on her family.

Unequal caregiving responsibilities – Women are disproportionately responsible for taking care of household and family. The report acknowledges that ”both the reality and the a priori belief that this is the way it should be put women at a structural disadvantage in entering and participating sustainably in political and public life.” To come to terms with this the report lists good practices like childcare support and institutional family-friendly scheduling, including some states changing the scheduling of parliamentary sessions to allow a work-life balance for Members of Parliament who have parental responsibilities. It’s also worth noticing that the highest performing countries in terms of proportion of women in public office have the most generous entitlements for maternal and parental leave.

Political parties – ”The most effective strategies for women’s political empowerment involve reforms to incorporate rules that guarantee women’s representation within political parties” writes the WG. It notes that good practice in this area includes ”a legislative, and preferably constitutional, requirement that political parties place women in realistic positions for election, apply quotas (…) and condition the funding (…) on their integration of women in realistic positions on their candidate lists” and especially mentions Ecuador, which has a constitution that includes the principle of parity in all policymaking mechanisms.

Download the 2013 report from the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.

Women’s movement behind Liberian draft law on political quota

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Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of several high political officials, who have voiced their support for the new Gender Parity Bill. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Christina Hagner.

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of several high political officials, who have voiced their support for the new Gender Parity Bill. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Christina Hagner.

Last Thursday, female parliamentarians in Liberia presented a draft law on equal representation of women and men in politics. A women’s movement more united than ever, is behind the draft.

In the last elections in Liberia, in 2011, women lost seats in the Parliament. The few female parliamentarians lost out to men, partly because they lacked knowledge of the political process and were not sufficiently organised. Male parliamentarians also joined together across party lines to shut women out.

But the women’s movement didn’t give up and now women’s organisations and women parliamentarians have produced a draft law, the so-called Gender Parity Bill, proposing that each sex must have a representation of at least 30 percent in decision-making bodies. Last Thursday, the proposal was introduced to the Parliament. A decision is scheduled to be taken in January 2014.

Wanted 50 percent quota

A quota law has been discussed for some ten years, but has been met with resistance from both men and women, explains Susanne Mannberg, Field representative in Liberia for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

”Part of the women’s movement was adamant to have a law with a 50 percent quota. They had to fold now. What this draft says is that there must be at least 30 percent from each sex.”

Susanne Mannberg believes that a draft law proposing a 50 percent quota would have faced too much resistance from men to be adopted.

Push through before elections

Support for the 30 percent quota law has been unusually high, among politicians and within the women’s movement equally. The latter is keen to push the law through the Parliament before it’s time for Senate elections in 2014 and presidential elections in 2016. The probability of the next president being a woman is not great.

”The women’s movement has realized that if it doesn’t move forward now, it will never happen. This is their only chance” says Susanne Mannberg.

Backed by high officials

Among the politicians who have backed the draft law are President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Senator and former First Lady Jewel Taylor, several influential male senators and the Speaker of the Parliament.

Many also expressed their support of the proposal when the new secretariat of the Women Legislature Caucus was inaugurated in the capital Monrovia last Tuesday. The Women Legislature Caucus is a group of women parliamentarians from all political parties and they have coordinated the work with the draft law. The group has existed in the Parliament for a long time, but has previously had limited influence.

”Now they are overjoyed to have the secretariat up and running” says Susanne Mannberg.

Trainings for women parliamentarians

The secretariat will review all key legislative proposals from a gender perspective. Its five employees will also help women parliamentarians to write speeches and provide training in negotiating and how to write formally correct answers to questions from committees etc.

”In Sweden, you automatically recieve this type of training when you are elected to the Parliament, but that’s not the case in Liberia. Without this type of training it can be difficult for women to really penetrate the political system. Liberia also has no local political bodies, which otherwise is a common way for women to get into politics” says Susanne Mannberg.

Another important task of the secretariat will be to strengthen the contact between the women’s movement and women parliamentarians.

Financial support

Among those who helped draft the parity bill were the organisations AFELL and MARWOPNET. The umbrella organisation WONGOSOL with 105 members, has also been involved since the beginning of the process.

In June, Kvinna till Kvinna co-hosted a donor conference to find financial support to the secretariat and to a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the bill.

”The campaign is for making people aware of what the law means and why it is important. The literacy rate is very low in Liberia, so you have to use many different channels to reach out” says Susanne Mannberg.

Karin Råghall

Egyptian women’s organisations fight to influence new agenda

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Women have been a great force in the protests taking place in Egypt during the last years. But they have not yet gained any real influence in the official political processes. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Saba Nowzari.

Women have been a great force in the protests taking place in Egypt during the last years. But they have not yet gained any real influence in the official political processes. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Saba Nowzari.

After the Egyptian military removed president Mohammed Mursi from power in the beginning of July, following the wave of protests started by the popular movement Tamarod, it issued a roadmap for change. Egyptian women’s rights organisations have since then stepped forward, demanding that women and their rights should be part of this new agenda.

The roadmap suspended the Egyptian constitution and stated that a new, diverse, constitutional committee should be formed. It also contained passages on the installation of an interim coalition government and new presidential elections within six months.

But very little has been said or done to ensure that women take an equal part in these processes. As the women’s rights organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies pointed out in a statement in mid July, “current political developments do not seem to be promising with regards to their [women’s] right to being part of the process of policy formulation for the upcoming period”. According to Nazra the new governemnt’s awareness and desire could be questioned, since it has failed to “create spaces to integrate women effectively”.

Earlier this week Nazra followed up its warnings of exclusion of women, by presenting a list of 16 women nominees, all with prominent political records, to the up-coming constitutional committee.

13 articles for the constitution

Other women’s organisations have also been active in this debate. In the end of July, 16 women’s rights groups, forming the Alliance of Women’s Organisations, presented a document with 13 articles, which they demanded should be included in the new constitution.

The document is based on interviews with 10 000 women and was first presented last year, but its articles were never included in the constitution adopted last December. According to Amal Abdel Hady, head of the board of trustees of the New Woman Foundation – one of the member organisations – these articles would guarantee the future rights of women in Egypt and identify mechanisms to ensure equal opportunities and non-discrimination.

No amendments

Fouada Watch, which is the advocacy mechanism used by the women’s rights organisation ACT in order to influence the government on women’s involvement in the transitional period, has also issued a statement, calling for the drafting of a new constitution, instead of amending the old one. Fouadawatch’s spokesperson Fathi Farid said that civil society already ”has exerted great effort in the past two years in reaching the public and presenting their findings to the previous constitutional committees” and that these findings should be used to create the new constitution.

On the same day three other organisations, among them the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, ECWR, presented seven principles to guarantee women’s rights in the constitution, with using an explicit language, as in ”addressing men and women rather than using broad terminology such as ’citizens’ or ’persons’”, as one example. And in the beginning of August ECWR issued another statement, calling for women to make up at least one third of the upcoming constitutional committee instead of the proposed one fifth.

Change definition of rape

Besides from talking about political participation and the new constitution, earlier mentioned organisation Nazra also has highlighted the importance of integrating gender issues in the process of transitional justice.

In a statement with recommendations to the newly created Ministry of Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation, the organisation states that many human rights and feminist organisations, including themselves, since the beginning of the January 25 Revolution “have documented scores of testimonies of violations committed against women, which have not been officially investigated”. A major thing that needs to be dealt with is changing the definition of the terms “torture” and “rape”.

“One of the key problems of the system of justice is the lack of laws that provide protection for women. Nazra documented testimonies of violations against women that qualify as torture by virtue of the international definition of torture, but not according to Egyptian legislation” says the organisation.

20 percent women

The military interim president Adly Mansour has appointed a 10-member committee that will propose amendments to the constitution. This is scheduled to be finished on 18 August.

A second committee, comprised of 50 public persons including politicians, unionists and religious persons, then will have 60 days to review those amendments, before they will be voted on in a referendum. Yesterday the presidency released a statement confirming earlier sayings that the second committee should include at least ten women.

Malin Ekerstedt

Working for ban of guns in Iraqi Kurdistan

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Ronak Faraj Raheem, Director of Women's Media and Education Center, which was one of the organisations that participated in the campaign for a ban on guns in homes in Iraq. Photo: Ester Sorri.

Ronak Faraj Raheem, Director of Women's Media and Education Center, which was one of the organisations that participated in the campaign for a ban on guns in homes in Iraq. Photo: Ester Sorri.

Despite massive protests from the Iraqi women’s movement, last year a law was passed, making it legal for Iraqis to keep weapons in their homes. But women’s organisations in northern Iraq won’t give up. Now they are advocating for politicians in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to enforce a ban.

“In our village, almost all men have weapons at home. Some show off their guns to gain respect” says a woman from a mountain village situated a couple of hours drive outside of Slemani in Iraqi Kurdistan.

She and a couple of other women have come to a house used for common gatherings. The help organisation Wadi is visiting to talk about women’s health, but the conversation undulates back and forth and touches on violence and the presence of weapons.

“What can we do? The men have all the power and can do whatever they want with us. I’m often afraid, my husband has threatened me with his gun. I have no choice, I have to do what he wants” says a young woman, throwing her hands in the air in a gesture of defeat.

Common with guns at home

Having a gun or any kind of light weapon at home is very common in Iraq. According to statistics from Gunpolicy.org, based on research from the Sydney University among others, an estimated 34 percent of Iraqis own a gun. There is also an extensive illegal arms trade in the country.

This development has caused strong reactions among women’s organisations. They are concerned that more accessible weapons will lead to an increase in the deadly violence against women. The women’s rights organisation Warvin has warned about the risks, stating that most Iraqi women who get killed, are shot.

Counter campaign

When the Iraqi government a few years ago wanted to introduce a law allowing light weapons in homes, women’s organisations and concerned individuals joined forces in a counter campaign. The campaign called for a ban instead of a legalization and for the Iraqi government to gather all illegal weapons.

Despite the protests, in 2012 the new firearms legislation was introduced, making it legal for all individuals to own a gun and keep it at home. The only regulation is that it has to be registered with the police. At the same time the government urged all Iraqi households to keep a gun, to improve their safety.

“Question of mentality”

Women’s Media and Education Center, WMEC, participated in the campaign. However, the organisation’s director, Ronak Faraj Raheem, is not convinced that a ban on guns is the right way to go to prevent deadly violence against women. Mainly because she doensn’t see a direct link between firearms and honor killings.

“As an organisation, we are of course against keeping guns in homes. But I don’t believe that the act of killing someone is closer at hand just because it’s easier to get hold of a gun – first and foremost it’s a question of mentality. When it comes to defending family honour men use what’s avaliable; knives, strangulation, pistols. A gun in the home makes no bigger difference” she says.

Family honour important

In the Kurdistan region as well as throughout Iraq, family honour is an important issue and the social control is strong. A woman receiving a text message from an admirer or stating that she wants to choose her own partner, are reasons enough for her to be accused of bringing shame and dishonour upon her entire family. For this she may be punished by death and the act is often carried out by her father, husband, uncle or brother.

“We’re campaigning against weapons in the home, but more important still is that this mentality changes” says Ronak Faraj Raheem.

Lanja Abdulla, Warvin. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.

Lanja Abdulla, Warvin. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.

High hopes on a law

But Lanja Abdulla from Warvin has high hopes that a law banning guns in homes in Iraqi Kurdistan would reduce the deadly violence against women.

“Police officers, security personnel, members of political parties and ordinary people – everyone has a gun at home. Most killings of women are carried out with these weapons. If we got a ban, it would automatically reduce the number of women being killed” she says.

For example, with such a law, policemen and security agents would be forced to leave their weapons at work. According to Lanja Abdulla, that would make the men not being able to kill the women as easily in an aggressive domestic situation.

In the course of spring, Warvin has managed to get the five biggest political parties in Iraqi Kurdistan to support a law on firearms. Now, the organisation will start working on drafting a bill.

Annette Ulvenholm Wallqvist, freelance journalist