For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

Headwinds for law protecting women in Kurdistan region of Iraq

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Often, women who report their husbands for abuse are not able to support themselves financially and therefore have to return home. Because of this the police force and women's rights organisations try to work with the victims family and inform them of the law and the risks of being sentenced to prison if breaking it. Photo: Ester Sorri.

Often, women who report their husbands for abuse are not able to support themselves financially and therefore have to return home. Because of this the police force and women's rights organisations try to work with the victims family and inform them of the law and the risks of being sentenced to prison if breaking it. Photo: Ester Sorri.

The Kurdistan region of Iraq has one of Middle East’s most progressive laws on protection of women – but the implementation has been faltering. Now, women’s rights organisations are working to increase public awareness of the law.

“When I am to bake, there is no wood, my husband doesn’t bother to fetch any. When he comes home at night he blames me for all he can think of, and then he hits me. And he beats the children.”

The woman telling this has bruises on both hands and feet. The rest of her body is covered in a long dress. She lives in a village just an hour’s drive from Slemani in the eastern parts of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Here, houses and walls are simply constructed, built in stone and clay. From afar they melt into the brown hillside.

Only 18 families live here and for the battered woman there is no help available. To leave her family and the village community for a life alone somewhere else, is basically unthinkable. Women who get divorced often have to leave their children with their former husband or his mother.

Since this woman can’t read, she would have a hard time to support herself. Also, it’s very rare for someone to live alone and it’s not considered normal, regardless of it being a woman or a man. The security situation for women who live by themselves is often bad and they are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse.

“Many of us are afraid of our husbands, but what can we do? We have nothing to put against them” says another woman from the same village.

More freedom

Still, women in Iraqi Kurdistan enjoy more freedom than in the rest of Iraq – to dress as they like and to move about outside of the home. They also have more opportunities to study and to work.

Nevertheless, public places are almost totally dominated by men, who spend much of their social life outdoors. Women rarely go out if they don’t have a specific reason to do so, and women who move about by themselves are often subjected to harassment and slander.

Violence against women is a major problem in Iraqi Kurdistan. Sometimes it’s the women’s husbands who are behind the violence, but it can also be a father, a brother, an uncle or another relative. Mostly, violence is used as a way to control a woman so she doesn’t put the family’s honor in danger.

Having sex outside of marriage, can be equal to writing your own death sentence. Recently, there have also been reports of young people being killed, because they had sent text messages to someone of the opposite sex. Other reasons for severe beatings or murder can be wanting to choose your own partner or asking your family for permission to divorce.

Consequence of  history

Some women activists argue that the violence is a consequence of Kurdistan’s and Iraq’s violent history. That violence has become a natural part of everyday life and therefore is close at hand even at home. Before Iraqi Kurdistan created a de facto autonomy from central Iraq, in 1991, women were killed every day, but this was all treated with silence. In despair, women committed suicide by setting themselves on fire. Others were burned by family members.

Since then much has happened and there has been progress. In 2011, Iraqi Kurdistan adopted a progressive law to protect women. Among other things, it prohibits domestic violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation, forced marriages and attempts to hinder the education of girls.

But crimes committed for so-called reasons of honour are considered having mitigating circumstances. The penalty for murder can be as low as 6 months in prison, up to three years at the most, if honour can be invoked. Meanwhile, a woman was recently sentenced to death for killing her husband when she no longer could bare his daily violence against her.

Runak Faraj Raheem, Head of WMEC.

Runak Faraj Raheem, Head of WMEC.

Lobbying for 20 years

“The law is not perfect, but I’m glad we got it. We have carried out insistent lobbying for over 20 years to get this far, says Runak Faraj Raheem, Head of the organisation Women’s Media and Education Center, WMEC.

WMEC is working to spread knowledge of the law, both in society and within the judiciary. Their number one channel is their magazine Rewan, which deals with subjects concerning women’s rights, health and honour-related violence.

Rewan has a circulation of 4500 copies and is distributed to offices, public agencies and politicians.

Much of its content tackles the ever present severe violence that women are subjected to.

The editorial staff is also dedicated to highlight women who are politically active and to present them as role models.

Additionally, every issue features a page with articles on women’s health, like pregnancy and childbirth, which many women lack knowledge about.

“It is our belief that women are autonomous. Therefore we want to strengthen them” says Rewan’s Editor in Chief, Hana Shwan.

Trainings for police officers

WMEC has also organised trainings in the law on violence against women for over 1000 police officers and prosecutors.

”Even though they are working at the front line, not all police officers are familiar with this new legislation. Others just don’t accept it. They find it hard to abandon the idea that violence within the enclosed walls of a home is ok” says Project Organiser Robin Qasim.

Police investigations of domestic violence have often been sloppy and marked by a distrust of the victims. In addition, the victims have to endure a long and painful process in which they have to submit their testimony over and over again to different people. Several women’s organisations say that women are subjected to sexual abuse by the police when reporting on violence, and that judges call them prostitutes when their cases are processed in court.

Hope for better investigations

Many hope for a higher quality in these types of investigations, when the regional directorate working with violence against women takes over the responsibility next spring.

Chalar J Mohammed, Deputy Director of the directorate.

Chalar J Mohammed, Deputy Director of the directorate.

“So far, these cases have been handled by the local police, while the directorate’s staff have had to make do with just following the process from a distance. We hope this change will make it easier for women to report violence. Here, they can be certain that their reports remain secret and the directorate’s staff, who are police officers, are all dressed in civilian clothing” says Major Chalar J Mohammed, Deputy Director of the directorate.

Support from social worker

When a woman has reported that she is a victim of violence, she’s put in contact with a social worker, who supports her through the following process. It’s important that the woman feels that there is hope, since it often is impossible for her to see any solution to her problems.

“If it’s a minor offense, we call the woman’s family and try to mediate. The family must sign a contract saying that this crime will not be repeated, and after that we continue to keep an eye on them.”

If the woman’s life is deemed to be in danger, a judge may decide that she, and sometimes her children, should move to a shelter. There are three public shelters and one non-state one. According to Runak Faraj Raheem, the shelters are more like prisons than homes. The women receive all possible care, but they can not go outside and they have no contact with their families. Sometimes the solution can be to help them to a new life abroad. But most of the times, the women move back in with their family after the mediation.

Mediation not reliable

However, mediation is not a reliable solution. To return to the family means a continued risk to be subjected to threats and abuse. There are several known cases where women have been killed by their families after the authorities have intervened.

According to Chalar J Mohammed there is a trend of more women daring to report violence, probably because knowledge of the law is spreading and women are hoping to recieve help. But women’s organisations experiences show that state protection for these women still is extremely weak.

Annette Ulvenholm Wallqvist

This text was originally produced for The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation‘s news letter Fred i sikte.

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

”Important signal from some of the world’s most powerful countries”

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Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie launch G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, 11 April 2013.

Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie launch G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The G8 have adopted a declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict. “The declaration is an important signal from some of the world’s most powerful countries that the G8 take a leading role in preventing and combating sexual violence in war and conflicts, says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Stockholm.

On April 11, the G8 agreed on stepping up action against sexual violence in war and conflict. Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, attended the meeting in London and welcomed the initiative.

The declaration reiterates the illegality of sexual violence in international humanitarian law, human rights and humanitarian law.

G8The Group of Eight is a forum for the governments of the world’s eight wealthiest countries. It brings together the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the U.S. Please find the full declaration text here.

“The ministers make it clear that there is an explicit link to international security. The declaration stresses that there is a lot to do and that the work must be continued and intensified. The statement comes a week before the Security Council debate on the same subject, which is important,” says The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s Secretary General Lena Ag, and continues:

“The G8 recognize clearly the role of civil society, pointing out that women activists and human rights defenders, who often are the ones who alert about the abuses, also can be at risk of becoming victims of violence and abuse. Special efforts are necessary to protect them.”

The Declaration also emphasizes the importance of women being involved and represented in peace negotiations, peace building and conflict prevention.

“The G8 declaration was initiated by the conservative British foreign minister William Hague, who has shown great personal commitment to this issue. The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation hopes that the Swedish foreign minister will be inspired by his colleague and that we’ll soon see a Swedish initiative on the issue,” says Lena Ag.

Text: Karin Råghall

Translation: Katharina Andersen

Women have a hard time to take part in Kenyan politics

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The ballots of the Kenyan general elections on March 4 are still being counted, but the election’s outcome for women is less unsure, as Kenya is a deeply patriarchal society. Until now, women had almost no say in politics.

The elections were the first ones held under the new constitution, which was passed in 2010. The constitution contains a provision that states that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” This should change political representation for women radically – as women must now form at least one-third of any elective public body. But in December 2012, the Kenyan High Court decided that this provision should first be effective after the elections.

Only one of eight presidential runners was female. And, according to opinion polls before the election, only about one percent of Kenyans would have voted for her. Politics is still regarded as the preserve of men – women in authority are still mainly regarded as a curse to the community and as violating the tradition. “Society sees our place being the kitchen and the bedroom. Nothing beyond there,” parliamentary candidate Sophia Abdi Noor told Reuters.

Threat and smear campaigns

Female candidates were threatened with rape and violence and found themselves subjected to smear campaigns aimed to destroy their reputation. The parliamentary candidate Alice Wahome, for example, found her hometown littered with condoms with her name on them in an attempt, blamed on her main male rival, to portray her as promiscuous and thus not trustworthy.

Many women look with envy to Rwanda, where more than half of legislators are women, more than anywhere in the world.

But there is also a ray of hope: Before the March 4 elections, the two-thirds gender equilibrium had already been implemented in some offices: one-third of the members of the Supreme Court, the commission on revenue allocation, the commission for the implementation of the constitution and the salaries and remuneration commission were female.

Katharina Andersen

Domestic violence goes unpunished in Armenia

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Armenia is a country where one out of four women have experienced violence – mostly in their family environment. Nevertheless the government recently rejected a law against domestic violence.

“A woman is like wool, the more you beat her, the softer she will get” says an Armenian proverb. Domestic violence is not only a proverb but everyday life for many Armenian women. According to an Amnesty International report from 2008, over a quarter of women in Armenia have been hit or beaten by a family member and about two thirds have experienced psychological abuse. Nonetheless, Armenia has no specific laws against domestic violence. In January, the government of Armenia even blocked what could have become the country’s first domestic violence law and recommended amendments to other existing laws instead, claiming that amendments would make a separate law unnecessary.

Anna Nikoghosyan from Society Without Violence, Armenia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Karin Råghall

Anna Nikoghosyan from Society Without Violence, Armenia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Karin Råghall

Anna Nikoghosyan from the Yerevan based NGO Society Without Violence sees in the rejection of the bill an unwillingness of the government to recognize domestic violence as a serious issue and the lack of political will to promote women’s rights and gender equality. “While our government is rejecting the law on domestic violence, there are women who suffer, who are murdered, who undergo psychological, sexual or physical abuses, who do not know where to go and how to protect themselves.”

There is no state help for women who have experienced violence, their support has been left to NGOs. But being short of funds and the fact that domestic violence is widely regarded as a taboo and a private matter makes this a challenging task.

It is deeply rooted in the patriarchal society to justify domestic violence and Anna Nikoghosyan says that many women even believe that they themselves provoke men to beat or rape them through their behavior. If a woman gets raped, it is only to be blamed on her and leaves her stigmatized and a social outcast. At the same time, a woman has to submit to a man’s sexual demands.

Most of the rapes in Armenia go unreported due to the social stigma attached to it. The official police statistic for 2012 lists 621 cases of domestic violence, 5 of which were murder. Those are only the reported incidents, the number of unreported cases is far higher. Violence often happens in the broader family context, by intimate partners or family members. To report domestic violence is equated in society with ‘destroying the family’ and is strongly stigmatized. Amnesty International suspects that crimes and violation of women’s rights “are both significantly under-reported and perpetrated with widespread impunity.” 

Presidential Election in ArmeniaOn February 18 Armenia elected a new president. The only female candidate, Narine Mkrtchyan, was forced to withdraw her candidacy, according to Gulnara Shahinian from the organization Democracy Today.

Amnesty International quoted a woman who dared to say stop and break the silence: “I put up with his beatings for 14 years because that’s what’s expected here in Armenia. In the Armenian family the woman has to put up with everything, she has to keep silent. The fact that I did something about it, that I went to the police and divorced my husband – [made] people in my village point at me and say she’s crazy, look at what she did to her husband, she should have kept quiet.”

Many women who dare to file complaints often subsequently withdraw them again because of the social pressure or threats by their parents or husbands, or because the police tell them to handle that matter privately.

Corruption within the police and among judges is common, so women are often denied justice when they do take cases to court. “Because of the lack of legislation and absence of special regulation mechanisms, many domestic violence cases still remain unpunished or the court decisions are lighter than they could be in case of a separate law,” says Anna Nikoghosyan. The Armenian government’s refusal to recognize violence against women as a crime and implement a law against it is a key obstacle to justice.

Katharina Andersen

Historic number of women are up for election in Jordan

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Jordan elections 2013 Khawla Al Armouti

Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation / Johanna Wassholm

Today, parliamentary elections are hold in Jordan. When it comes to women’s political representation everything can only get better, as there is not one woman in the present provisional government.

Today’s elections are early elections, King Abdullah II dissolved the parliament last fall, a common phenomenon in Jordan politics. According to the new election law, which is the result of two years demands for reform, are 15 of the 150 seats in parliament reserved for female candidates. This is an increase of three seats compared to the last election in 2010 and can be regarded as a tiny success. At the same time the total number of seats in parliament has increased, so the quota of 10 percent is still the same. The women’s rights movement in Jordan is not content with this low number and, since the last election, has been calling for 30 percent of the seats should go to women.

There is hope for a few more women to get into parliament after today’s election, as two women are number one on their respective parties lists and a couple more women have a chance of getting enough votes of their own to be elected.  The number of women to stand for election is higher than ever before. Out of about 1400 candidates, 215 are women.

Family voting is common

But even if women will be represented with more than 15 percent in the parliament after the election, the view on women as political actors won’t change over night. Many still think that politics is off-limits for women and neither men nor women vote in a larger extend for female candidates. The so-called family voting is also common in Jordan, especially outside the capital Amman.

Layla Hamarne from The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organization ‘Arab Women’s Organization’ works for advocating women’s political participation. She doesn’t believe that many women will decide for themselves for whom they will vote. “I think it is very uncommon for women to vote independently, except for intellectuals and people in the bigger cities, “she says.

It is the paterfamilias, safeguarding the families’ or the clans’ interests, who decides whom the rest of the family shall vote for. The lack of possibility to vote independently makes it difficult for women to vote for candidates who want to strengthen women’s power and influence in society.

Widespread discontentment

The big question is though: Will this play a role? Discontentment is widespread amongst voters as well as political parties. The claim for political reform has been loud since the Arab Spring started to spread two years ago, and even though there are some changes for the better, the situation is still far from being satisfying for the majority of the population. There was only a minimal response to the demand of a modernized and more democratic electoral law, and therefore some opposition parties boycott the election, amongst them the influential Muslim Brotherhood and some leftist parties.

A low voter turnout is expected; in Amman no more than 30 percent of the voters are anticipated to show up at the poll places. In public opinion, the candidates are the same who have been sitting in parliament for many years. Many corruption cases, apparently an inevitable part of the Jordanian power structure, chipped away at their reputation and they are not regarded as being able to bring about change. ‘They are all corrupt’, is a usual statement. Few people think that a new parliament will do something against the high living costs in the country or widen the freedom of speech, two questions which are pivotal in Jordanian politics right now – or should be pivotal, in the people’s opinion.

Text: Johanna Wassholm
working for the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Amman, Jordan

Translation: Katharina Andersen

 

Palestinian feminist aims for the Knesset

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Nabila Espanioly: feminist leaders in the Knesset!

Nabila Espanioly: feminist leaders in the Knesset!

Today, parliamentary elections are held in Israel. One of the candidates is the Palestinian women and peace activist Nabila Espanioly. She is determined to stand up for women’s, children’s, Palestinian’s and minorities rights, even though the political climate in Israel is increasingly toughening.

The general elections on January 22 take place in a country more and more dominated by ultra nationalistic and religious forces. During the last years, the democratic space for maneuver has shrunk, e.g. through laws restricting human rights organizations’ possibilities to receive financial support from foreign countries, or laws forbidding to advocate for a boycott of Israel or restricting public support for activities denying that Israel is a ”Jewish and democratic state”. This makes work difficult for mainly women’s rights activist, peace activists and –parties and left wing organizations. ”The political climate in Israel is very difficult and challenging. All Gallup polls indicate a right wing majority in the election, the question is how strong they will be”, says Nabila Espanioly.

Nabila Espanioly is the founder and leader of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organization Al Tufula in Nazareth. Now she is running as no. five for Hadash, a party for Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. This is her first serious attempt to win a seat in parliament, but Nabila Espanioly is by no means a newcomer in politics. The questions she wants to drive in parliament are the same she has been fighting for in the last forty years: peace in the region, poverty reduction, unrecognized villages and women’s, children’s and Palestinian’s security, amongst others. ”I have always been political active and felt responsible for trying to create new possibilities for children, women and Palestinians – that’s why I decided to run for office”, she says.

Political persecution

Those who work against discrimination of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are constantly challenged. In December 2012, the central election committee of Israel (CEC), which is dominated by right wing parties, decided to disqualify the only Palestinian woman in the Israeli parliament, Haneen Zoabi, to run in the upcoming election. Prior to that, Zoabi was accused by the governing party, Likud, of denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, because her own party supports ”a state for all his citizens” and by taking part in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 she herself ”had supported terrorism”. Israel’s High Court decided later that Zoabi’s disqualification was against constitutional law.

According to Maayan Dak, who works at The Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organization Coalition of Women for Peace, Haneen Zoabi is exposed to severe political persecution.  ”She constantly gets sexist comments, referring to her personal life, her age and the fact that she – god forbid – is a powerful single woman.”

In Nabila Espanioly’s opinion the incident around Haneen Zoabi is one of several examples of the right-wing parties’ political strategy to question the Palestinians’ legitimacy in the Knesset. ”Right-wing parties try to impair the influence of Palestinian leaders in the parliament. They regard our party, which welcomes both Palestinians and Israelis, as the most dangerous party in Israel,” she says.

Despite the circumstances Nabila Espanioly won’t be silenced. ”I’ll always say what I think. I’ll continue my fight for peace and women’s rights, Palestinians and marginalized groups, even if it costs me dear – I’ve paid the price before and I’m willing to do so again in the future.”

The forgotten occupation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for general elections in Israel last fall. The elections were planned to take place in October 2013, but political friction about the national budget got Netanyahu to call for early elections. The question of Israel’s occupation of Palestine fell off the agenda, especially during the election campaign. “The occupied Palestinian territories used to be a major issue few years ago, for both right and left wing parties. But now the occupation has disappeared from the public discourse”, says Maayan Dak, from the Coalition of Women for Peace.

Likewise not discussed is the link between poverty – which concerned many Israelis during the wave of protests for social justice – and the occupation’s economy .

Disregarded or forgotten is also the question of marginalized group’s representation in politics. Even parties who have a balanced representation of women and men avoid to put marginalized women, Mizrahi-Jewish activists or Palestinians on their list, according to Maayan Dak.

According to Anna Björkman, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation‘s coordinator for Israel and Palestine, it is likely that religious and ultra national parties will be successful in the elections. They have already influenced the Israeli society, not least the situation for women. Last year, Israeli media repeatedly mentioned incidents where women had been harassed because they had been wearing “provocative clothes”. One extreme example was the attack of ultra orthodox men on an eight year old girl in a bus, because she was wearing shorts. “Segregation in Israel gets more and more obvious and the election will largely be about in which society the Israelis want to live: A more secular and democratic or a more conservative one”, says Anna Björkman.

Nabila Espanioly is certain to win a seat in the Knesset. If her party won’t win five seats, some of the candidates placed higher on the list will give way, so that women will be represented. Before we hang up on the crackling line between Israel and Sweden, she says that it is important with international solidarity, especially among women’s organizations. “We need all support we can get to be able to continue to fight, we need a solidarity movement,” she says.

Text: Karin Råghall

Translation: Katharina Andersen

New weapon’s law in Iraq deadly threat to women

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A serious threat to all people in Iraq – especially women! Iraqi women’s rights organization ASUDA is very critical of a recently adopted law, that allows all citizens of Iraq to keep a gun in their home.

When Saddam Hussein were in power in Iraq, people were encouraged to carry guns in support of the Ba’ath regime. The gun became a symbol of honour and loyalty. Now, nine years after the fall of the Ba’ath party, the Iraqi government, following the recommendation of the country’s National Security Council, May 6th announced that all citizens from now on can keep a gun at home. The only restriction is that all weapons have to be registered at the nearest police station.

Many women’s organizations in Iraq are deeply concerned about the direction in which the country is heading, and what they see as a clear connection between a militarization of the society, an easy access to small arms and the escalating brutal violence against women.

Holds Prime Minister accountable

One of the organizations, Warvin, has previously reported on the connection between murdered women and guns being kept at home. When hearing about the new law they released a statement condemning it and holding the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki personally responsible for any new cases of women being murdered. ”It is a widely known fact that a government’s first responsibility is providing security and safety for its citizens and fulfill the rule of law in the country. (…) Instead of eradicating and collecting the weapon in Iraq to pave the way to exert the legal authority in the country, as one of the promises he made to people at the time of the election campaign, Maliki has turned his back to the law” the statement said.

Khanim Latif, ASUDA. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.

Campaign against guns

In the Kurdistan region, Iraq, several women’s organizations have joined forces in a campaign with the aim to get a ban on the private possession of small arms. By approving this new law, the government is signalling that issues of women’s security are not of any importance, says Khanim Latif at the women’s organization ASUDA.

- We were expecting a ban on possession of weapons, and for the government to start the process of eradicating and collecting the illegal weapons present in our society. We didn’t expect them to suddenly decide on a legalisation instead. This law represents a serious threat to all people in Iraq – especially women!

Meeting with the Parliament Speaker

ASUDA initiated the campaign, after a period of a drasticly increasing number of women getting killed by privately owned small arms. Naturally they are very concered about this new agenda.

- This law will most probably create instability and lead to a deteriorating security situation in Iraq. And it is likely that there will be an increase in incidents between different ethnic groups, which will lead to even more violence.

But the organizations are not giving up. May 9th they met with the Speaker of the Kurdistan region’s Parliament to discuss it and they will also advocate for the Iraqi government decision not to be carried out in the Kurdistan region.

 Why now?

One of the major questions is of course why Iraq is adopting this new weapon law right now? Ala Riani, coordinator for Iraq at the women and peace organization the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, elaborates:

- One of the suggestions is that by legalizing these weapons the government is legalizing the many militia groups that are active in the country. And most of them are said to be connected to Nouri al-Maliki.

Worldwide protests after Moroccan rape law caused suicide

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A young Moroccan girl’s suicide has caused activists to take to the street. They are protesting against a law that makes it possible for rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. That’s what happened to 16-year-old Amina Al Filali who, five months after a judge ordered the marriage, drank rat poison after being repeatedly beaten by her then attacker, now husband.

Moroccan law punishes rape by 5-10 years in prison, 10-20 years if the victim is underaged. But Article 475 of the constitution declares that a rapist or attacker of a minor cannot be prosecuted if he marries the victim. This as part of the cultural belief that exists in several societies that the loss of a woman’s virginity shames her and her family. The marriage should thereby save them from this dishonour.

Hundreds of thousands protesting

Last weekend hundreds of women’s rights activists marched in the Moroccan capital Rabat and staged a sit-in at the parliament, demanding a change in the penal code, reports Globalpost.com. There have also been protests in other cities worldwide and in social media, where the case has gotten its own Facebook-page and twitter hashtag: #RIPAmina. Over 650 000 people have also signed an online petition, to the Moroccan government, asking them to repeal Article 475.

Minister wants to toughen sentences

Morocco has updated its family code in recent years, including raising the marriage age from 15 to 18 and making it illegal for minors to be forced into marriage. But loopholes still exists.

- We can’t ignore what happened, one of the things we are looking for is to toughen the sentence for rape. We are also looking to creating a debate on the cultural and social aspects to create a comprehensive reform, Moroccan communications minister Mustapha el-Khalfi told Al Jazeera.

Iraq passes anti-trafficking law

Tags: , , , Categories: The Middle East

On February 23rd the Iraqi Council of Representatives passed a law to combat trafficking in human beings. It includes the establishment of coordination mechanisms for civil society, support to different ministries on victim of trafficking assistence and support to a proposed Higher Committee to Combat Human Trafficking.

- This legislation is crucial and has been long anticipated in its coming. In order to assist the vast number of displaced and vulnerable populations in Iraq, as well as the thousands of labour migrants in the country, who are all at risk of being trafficked, the legal grounds for protection from abuse is absolutely necessary, says Michael Pillinger, Chief of the IOM Iraq mission.

Processed by international working group

IOM’s (International Organization for Migration) mission in Iraq has been working with the law since 2008, and in 2011 they founded a Trafficking in Persons Working Group together with the US Embassy in Baghdad. The Working Group gathers representatives from the UN Country Team, NGO’s, universities, interested embassies and Iraqi ministries, to promote the legislative process and, at the next level, assist with its implementation.

Difficult to prosecute

Before this law the legal instrument to use was the Iraqi Penal Code No. 111 from 1969 that included trafficking in women and children as well as so called white slave trade. But without a specialized law it has been difficult for prosecutors to define crimes as trafficking in persons and therefore pepetrators have been able to escape punishment. The absence of a clear legal framework has also made it hard for civil society to support the victims and for the state to work with prevention and protection.

With the passage of the law Iraq became the 13th Middle Eastern country to institute counter-trafficking in persons legislation, thereby joining Syria, the UAE, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon.

Visit the Protection Project to read different international anti-trafficking legislation.