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September 26, 2018 Articles

Iraq: Strengthening Domestic Violence Legislation

Amid a backdrop of deeply patriarchal customs and traditions, violence against women has persisted in Iraq for decades, made worse by the invasion of ISIS in 2014. Despite the need, very few protections are afforded to women who try to escape forced prostitution, trafficking and domestic violence. Iraqi legislators even went so far as to criminalize safe houses for women, fearing they would become a pretense for brothels.

According to Yanar Mohammed director of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), “Shelters are thought of as encouraging women to disobey their husbands and daughters to disobey their parents. This leads to the presumption that a shelter - a place where a group of immoral women reside without a male guardian - is likely a brothel.” With government policies working against them, women’s rights advocates in Iraq have had to work in secret to protect victims of abuse, creating secret shelters shielded from state and religious militias.

The apparent neglect of women’s rights shifted in 2015, when the Iraqi Parliament introduced draft legislation to address the needs of survivors of abuse, entitled the Protection Against Domestic Violence. The bill offered key provisions for survivors of violence, such as restraining orders and penalties for perpetrators, targeted services for survivors and the creation of a cross ministry committee to address domestic abuse in Iraq.

While an important step forward, the draft bill included several concerning provisions, including a clause on mandatory family reconciliation, that prompted several women’s rights advocates to denounce the bill as a cover for government promotion of social norms as opposed to a meaningful attempt to provide support and justice.1 It also did little to address the unique needs of service providers who provide direct support to survivors, particularly those providing shelter to those fleeing domestic abuse and the threat of familial violence. 

Given these and other concerns, the Justice Defenders Program was privileged to support Dr. Ibtisam Aziz Ali, Director of the Women’s Empowerment Directorate, within the Iraqi Parliament, by providing independent analysis of the draft bill.  Working in coalition with women’s rights NGOs, both in Iraq and internationally, the Program identified several key gaps in victim protection in the draft bill and offered recommendations to strengthen the overall proposed law.

In order to generate wider support for these recommendations, experienced women’s rights lawyer and Program Consultant, Suhailah Al-Asadi engaged directly with relevant Iraqi government groups, including Members of Parliament and the judicial authority, and civil society and was able to solicit input and mobilize broader support for the specific recommendations made. Dr. Aziz Ali recently confirmed that several of its recommendations have been incorporated into the revised version of the legislation which is currently being circulated within Parliament.

The Program will continue to engage directly with both government and civil society to support adoption of the revised bill and to increase recognition of the rights and legitimate human rights work of women’s rights advocates in Iraq.

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