Awarding Iraqi Yazidi activist, Nadia Murad, the Nobel Peace Prize on October 5, 2018 was the culmination of respect for the Yazidi women who fell into the hands of Daesh and were subjected to the worst forms of rape and physical and psychological torture, as well as respect for the women who were murdered in cold blood in the streets of Iraqi cities in broad daylight. This is after the assassination and murder of female civil activists and social figures, particularly in Baghdad, became a phenomenon that concern women and the citizen in general and deserves the condemnation of human rights organisations and women’s rights organisations in Iraq, the UN, and the across the world. These are crimes against humanity and is an organised phenomenon increasing in frequency, while the perpetrators remain unknown.
On 16 August, beauty expert, Rafif Al-Yasiri, died in Baghdad, the cause of which is unknown. Them a week later, Rasha Al-Hassan, a journalist and owner of a beauty centre in Baghdad, was killed, followed by Iraqi activist, Suad Al-Ali, who was killed in one of Basra’s most prominent commercial areas. Miss Baghdad runner-up in 2015, Tara Fares, was killed, and the Interior Ministry and concerned security authorities did not announce the real reasons behind her death.
Shaima Kassem, a fashion model and media personality, posted a video on social media saying that she has received death threats. In addition to this, Kuwaiti television personality, Mai Eidan, spoke about Iraqi actress, Dumooa Tahseen, receiving death threats.
The killing of four Iraqi women during a short period, over no more than two months, has increased concerns and fear and has spread panic and of not more than two months, increased fear and the spread of panic and alarm in the hearts of women and their families. The phenomenon of killing Iraqi women has unsettled the Iraqi public and is being reported on the front pages of newspapers and television channels, amid the weak performance of the Iraqi state and security agencies.
After these dramatic events that ended in murder, threats and intimidation, the outgoing Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, ordered the formation of a special committee to investigate the assassination operations in Iraq, describing them as “organised and planned”.
The social repercussions, the deterioration of the economy, the Daesh’s invasion of our Iraqi cities, the armed conflicts that prevailed in some areas, and the killing of many heads of households and providers have forced women to rely on themselves to bear the burden of the house and the costs of shelter, education and medical care in an attempt to engage in professional and community life. These are all among the challenges they are facing, along with the lack of welfare and social security funds, which should be provided by the state and the absence of employment opportunities. International statistics estimate that there are approximately 1 million to 2 million Iraqi families headed by women.
Doctors, lawyers, journalists and activists in civil society organisations were killed. Moreover, 28 female journalists were killed between 2003 and 2013. Doctor Ghada Shafiq, lawyer Najla Omari, activist Samira al-Nuaimi, Deputy Attorney General and member of parliament, Ibtihal Younis Al-Hayali, activist Iman Salman, doctor Majida Sobhan, doctor Lamia Ismail, Ibtisam Ali and Miran Ghazi were all killed, and the list goes on.
According to a report published by Britain’s The Guardian newspaper on July 3, 2014, “In Basra in 2008 a reported 133 women were killed for not ‘being Islamic’ enough” and in 2008 graffiti warning women that forgoing the headscarf and wearing make-up “will bring you death” was spread across the city walls. During the same year, 150-200 women were killed in the Diyala province.
What is it that women do, in the opinion of conservative mindsets and those issuing fatwas and interpretations of jurisprudence that is considered a departure from the familiar and backwards social traditions? Personal freedom to go about life normally has vanished now poses a serious threat to Iraqi women. The harsh traditions of traditional Iraqi society do not reconcile with the emancipated women in the artistic and social fields. The more violence is exercised against them, including sexual abuse, the more the ridged-minded individuals lame them and hold them responsible for the acts of violence committed against them.
Those committed to tribal customs and traditions, which date back to the centuries of nomadism, believe that killing emancipated and liberated women is a victory and triumph of social deterrence values, whether in Baghdad, Basra, Nasiriyah or Kirkuk. This is especially at a time when there is no legal legislation to reduce domestic violence and protect families and children and no laws limiting the phenomenon of armament. According to a joint report by Minority Rights Group International and The Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights in 2015, “The international community is increasingly recognising that gender-based violence is a constant feature in conflict situations. In military confrontations, women’s bodies often become one of the terrains of war. Physical, emotional and sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls has been used to impose political agendas, humiliate opponents, and destroy entire communities. Violence against women is not merely a side effect of conflict, but an integral part of it. The situation that women in Iraq are facing today is a stark illustration of this phenomenon.”
Despite all this, the Iraqi government has yet to reveal the truth about the crimes committed against women and girls across Iraq. While the spread of weapons in the hands of citizens plays a supporting role in the occurrence of such crimes, there is also a lack of strict and deterrent laws and penalties that reduce the state of chaos and insecurity, preserve the lives of citizens, and protect civil and community peace. The Iraqi society is suffering from the spread of hate speech and calls for violence and extremism.
This frightening and disturbing situation exacerbates the fear of women and prevents them from leaving their homes and going about their jobs in a normal manner. When will the killing of Iraqi women end? Will, the new government, take measures to limit the phenomenon of killing women, an event that has a significant impact on the stability and status of the country in regional and international forums, or will killing Iraqi women remain okay?
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Hayat newspaper on 11 October 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.