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Where have all the Iraqi women gone?

Sophie Ghaziri

Published: Updated:

Ten years have passed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, yet the country still remains in tatters. The massive destruction caused by foreign occupation and internal struggle has taken its toll on its people, especially Iraqi women.

Women in the country once had a place in society; held prominent and important roles across the public and private sectors. But after two wars, an authoritarian administration and U.N. sanctions Iraq has been left crippled with most women struggling to meet their most basic needs; most living in poverty.

The daily life of ordinary, poor women in Iraq is tough as they are without income, social security and are constantly at risk of being abused. Not to mention the women who still remain locked up in Iraqi prisons for unspecified reasons, or as blackmail to get their male loved ones to hand themselves over to security forces and confess to charges the government has brought against them.

It is men who take us to war, but it’s us women who suffer the consequences. For something we did not start or ask for, we end up bearing the brunt of the conflict

Sophie Ghaziri

Those women are the ones that sparked protests in Iraq over the last couple of months. Those women are the ones who face daily abuse, torture and no respect. The plight of female detainees brought thousands onto to the streets carrying placards of those who still remain behind bars, looking for justice.

Yanar Mohammed, the founder of Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), has received death threats from fundamentalist Islamist groups for her work to further women's human rights.

"Either we organize and demand our social and political freedoms," says Mohammed, "or we give way to a theocracy and the institutionalized, legalized oppression of women in Iraq."

The subsequent regime and lack of infrastructure in Iraq has failed to keep its citizens safe.

Women behind bars

“Ten years after the end of Saddam Hussein’s repressive rule, many Iraqi’s today enjoy greater freedoms than they did under his Baathist regime, but the fundamental human rights gains that should have been achieved during the past decade have signally failed to materialize,” says Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International.

Groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have shed light on the systematic abuse women in detention have faced over the years, not only by Iraqi authorities but at the hands of democratic countries like the UK and the U.S.

Both have publically denied the fact that few or any women are in Iraq’s jails, but dozens in the country would say otherwise.

“Iraq remains caught in a cycle of torture and impunity that should long ago have been broken” says Hadj Sahraoui. “It is high time that the Iraqi authorities take concrete steps needed to entrench a culture of human rights protection, and do so without further prevarication or delay.”

In a press conference on Dec. 18, 2012 the chairman of the Iraqi list, Hamad al-Mutlaq said “Iraqi prosecutors have submitted today a report to the chairman of the Iraqi judiciary Medhat al-Mahmoud that confirms the occurrence of torture and violations and rape of women detained in Iraqi prisons. The report is based on confidential testimonies of female prisoners in Iraqi jails.”

A report has also been released by the Iraqi parliament’s women, family and children committees which found there are at least 1,030 women in Iraq’s jails suffering from widespread abuse.

Did it have to take a little less than 10 years, along with recent mass protests, for the government to accept and acknowledge the status of these women?

This phenomenon in Iraq has been mirrored across the globe and most notably now in Syria.
The media seldom reports on the daily lives of women in conflict zones as news headlines are dominated by death tolls and weapons transfers.

In my eyes, it is men who take us to war, but it’s us women who suffer the consequences. For something we did not start or ask for, we end up bearing the brunt of the conflict through loss, torture, sexualized violence and most of all, poverty... When will they ever learn?


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Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.