Iraqi Kurdistan: Women Human Rights Defenders Challenging a Continuum of Violence

01.06.16

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Introduction

Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Iraqi Kurdistan face the same types of risks as any other human rights defender worldwide, but as women, they are also subject to gender-specific threats and violence. The reasons behind this extra layer of targeting of WHRDs are complex and have to be understood within the social and political environment, the formation of the Kurdish identity, which has been characterised through many decades by oppression and resistance, and of course in these times, by the conflict with the terrorist group Daesh (also known as ISIL or ISIS.) GCHR conducted research in Iraqi Kurdistan in January of 2016, meeting WHRDs and organisations working on women’s issues in Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimanyia, with the purpose of understanding the situation for women defenders operating in the region, to publicise the difficulties that they face, and offer solidarity and support for their work.

The work of WHRDs often focuses on challenges to the traditional notions of family, and gender-specific roles within them as well as within society more broadly. Because these challenges are very personal and intimate in their nature, they can trigger deeply entrenched hostility not only from the authorities but also from the general population.

It is now widely accepted that the family, far from being a place of safety for women, is often in fact the most dangerous place for them. This is a universal phenomenon, which holds true in Iraqi Kurdistan just as it does in the United Kingdom. In the UK for example, two women are killed by their intimate partners weekly. These are universal problems; it only takes a brief look at twitter and other public comment threads online to see the visceral reactions that are very often directed at women who engage in debates in public fora. WHRDs generally then, are often the first to be criticised or ostracised by conservative community leaders and religious groups, to be stigmatised by families and communities who consider their work to be a direct threat to family honour, to religion, to culture and to the very fabric of society.

For the full report click above on "Download File". It is also available in Arabic.

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