Shermeen Yousif

Women Rights Violations in Troubled Iraq

Iraq has struggled for many years with human rights violations, notably in respect to women’s rights. Despite activists’ attempts to address the legal system and defend women’s rights, Iraqi women continue to encounter violence in all aspects of life. Domestic abuse and the usage of Article 41 of the Iraqi Criminal Code, have constituted one of the most severe violations of women’s rights in Iraq over the previous two decades of civil unrest and governmental changes.

The issue of domestic violence in Iraq is not a new problem, but rather a deeply rooted and historical phenomenon that is intertwined with societal pressures and a cultural emphasis on male dominance in all aspects of life. Over time, the manifestations of domestic violence have persisted and intensified. The fragile and insecure environmental circumstances that have plagued Iraqi families for many decades have made it a conducive environment for the emergence and proliferation of new forms of violence within both the family and broader society.

Flaws in the Legal System

Article 41 of the Iraqi Criminal Code permits a husband or parent to use physical force against his wife or children if he believes that they have defied him. This law has been a significant contribution to the frequency of domestic violence in Iraq, as it is frequently used to legitimize physical assault against women. As long as it is judged necessary to maintain discipline and control inside the family, the law basically grants men the right to use violence against their wives and children. In fact, this law has resulted in countless incidents of husbands subjecting their wives to physical assault, emotional abuse, and other sorts of mistreatment. Due to societal shame, cultural norms, and the absence of efficient legal procedures to address these concerns, Iraqi women who are victims of domestic violence often encounter enormous barriers when attempting to seek aid or protection from their abusers. The personal status laws include problems of minimum age of marriage, male guardianship, marriage and divorce laws, polygamy.

Beside governmental corruption and holes in the legal system, what complicates women rights is the intertwined issues of cultural norms. The presence of patriarchal beliefs and gender inequality is one of the most major challenges to tackling domestic violence in Iraq. In Iraq, women are frequently considered inferior to men and are expected to submit to male authority in all spheres of life. This cultural dynamic generates a power imbalance that makes it difficult for abused women to confront their husbands or fathers. Women who speak out against domestic violence are sometimes shunned by their communities or even punished by their abusers.

The Problematic Judiciary System

The absence of efficient legal tools to hold abusers accountable for their conduct is another challenge to resolving domestic violence in Iraq. In spite of the fact that domestic violence is technically criminal in Iraq, the judicial system frequently fails to provide adequate protection for victims. Infrequently are women able to secure restraining orders or other types of protection from their abusers when they seek assistance from law enforcement or the courts. In rural parts of the country, where cultural norms frequently dictate that women should remain at home, the situation is much worse, and women confront major challenges to basic human rights.

Often, women in Iraq are susceptible to sexual harassment and assault in both the workplace and public areas. Women who report these instances frequently experience stigma and shame, and may be exposed to additional abuse as a result of coming out. Due to the absence of adequate legal systems for resolving sexual harassment and assault, female victims of these crimes have few choices for seeking restitution or justice.

Escalating Gender-Based Violence Post 2019

In a recent Amnesty article, an urgent request was made to take immediate actions against rising gender-based violence. A pattern represented by a recent tragic murder of Tiba Ali, a blogger who was killed by her own father during a family dispute, triggered such requests. Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Aya Majzoub, has criticized the lack of robust legislation to protect women from such gender-based violence in Iraq. Domestic violence is not criminalized in Iraq, and the penal code treats so-called “honour crimes” leniently. There is no effective system in place for reporting domestic violence or providing adequate shelters to protect women and girls. The murder of Tiba Ali must be investigated, the perpetrator brought to justice, and the sentence should be commensurate with the gravity of the crime.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, UN agencies in Iraq conveyed their apprehension regarding the growing incidence of cases of domestic violence. During the month of February, a series of protests took place in Iraq whereupon activists assembled in order to advocate for the establishment of legislation against domestic violence and to raise awareness concerning the surging rates of violence that women in the country are currently facing.

In conclusion, abuses of women’s rights in Iraq throughout the previous decade have been extensive and diverse, involving concerns such as domestic violence, discrimination, and sexual harassment and assault. The use of Article 41 of the Iraqi Criminal Code to excuse domestic violence has contributed significantly to the incidence of violence against women in Iraq and fostered a culture of impunity for perpetrators. To address these concerns, a comprehensive strategy comprising legal reform, public awareness campaigns, and assistance for victims of violence and discrimination would be required. Until these challenges are handled, Iraqi women will continue to encounter substantial impediments in their pursuits.

About the Author
Shermeen is an assistant professor, a female academic who witnessed women’s rights issues within the civil unrest of post-war Iraq, escaped to the United States and earned a doctorate degree. She is an activist and a writer who focuses on social and political change in Iraq and the Middle East, as well as feminism and increasing awareness of women’s rights in the region.
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