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.
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.
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