Women's rights law no match for Iraqi
June 18, 2012
Susan Aref (Right-front), founder of the Erbil-based
Women Empowerment Organization. photo: inma-iraq.com
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Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — In June 2011, Iraqi
Kurdistan passed a landmark law that criminalized
female circumcision and domestic violence, but one
year on, activists remain frustrated with its
In what is a conservative society even by Middle
East standards, the passage of the law last year was
hailed by rights groups and NGOs as a major step
forward after years of struggle.
The law punishes physical, sexual and psychological
assault committed within the family, creates
conditions for the protection of victims and
mandates the establishment of specialized courts.
It also carries penal and financial punishments for
those who promote or practice female genital
Kurdistan is a three-province region in Iraq's north
that enjoys great autonomy from the central
government, with its own parliament, budget, and
The region benefits from a markedly more stable
security situation than the rest of the country, and
an improving economy, two factors that mean life for
women in Kurdistan is widely regarded as better than
Iraq's other provinces.
But terrible problems remain, one of which was
female genital mutilation.
Though often perceived as a problem mostly prevalent
in Africa, the practice was widespread in Kurdistan,
according to German NGO Wadi, which published a
report in 2010 on the subject, based on interviews
with 1,700 women in the region.
According to that report, 72.7 percent of women in
the region's two biggest provinces of Erbil and
Sulaimaniyah were victims of female genital
mutilation, with the rate rising to almost 100
percent in some areas.
Wadi pointed to a "clear link" between the practice
and illiteracy, pegged at 51.1 percent among women
The adoption of the law marked a "big victory," said
Suzan Aref, head of the Women's Empowerment
Organization, a local NGO established in June 2004.
"At least now we are talking about this," she said.
Pakhshan Zangana, secretary general of the High
Council for Women's Affairs, a Kurdish government
agency, agreed: "In our society, just to recognize
domestic violence is very important."
"Society recognized that, yes, we do have domestic
violence, it is a crime. This is so important.
"In other societies, it is [considered] the right of
the family, that they have the right to do
anything," she said.
But both women agree the battle will not be won
until the law is fully applied, which appears a long
"Yes, we have laws, but... we don't have
implementation," Aref said. "This is a big problem."
"You cannot find that the numbers [for female
genital mutilation] have reduced because of this
law, because no one knows about it," she said,
adding: "We need a campaign of awareness."
Police in the region are widely seen as reluctant to
investigate deeper in to violence against and the
causes of apparent suicides, which may well be
so-called honor killings, Aref noted.
Women see the law not being applied, she said, and
"they lose hope."
Ramziya Zana, head of the Erbil-based Gender Studies
and Information Center Organization, is more direct.
"It has been one year since the law was passed, and
it has still not been applied," she said. "It's a
disaster. Now, you have to either return the law to
parliament, or apply it.”
According to her, judges and religious leaders have
stood in the way of the law's full implementation.
"Most judges think this is harmful for the family,"
and those who apply it "can be counted on one hand,"
she said. As for religious leaders in Kurdistan,www.ekurd.net
"there is nothing in the law that they like" and
many have called for it to be amended or scrapped.
Zangana admitted there have been difficulties in
applying the new law, particularly in the creation
of special courts, but insisted an implementation
plan was being developed with the United Nations,
and said patience was needed.
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