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Iraq: Activists Join Police to Combat Domestic Violence

Fears that the toll from abuse during lockdown could be higher than from the virus itself.
By IWPR
  • #ViolenceIsWeakness campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence both during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.
    #ViolenceIsWeakness campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence both during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.
  • #ViolenceIsWeakness campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence both during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.
    #ViolenceIsWeakness campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence both during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.
  • #ViolenceIsWeakness campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence both during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.
    #ViolenceIsWeakness campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence both during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.

A grassroots IWPR campaign in Iraq to combat rising levels of domestic violence amid the coronavirus lockdown has led to a unique collaboration with the national community police.

IWPR-trained women activists in Iraq launched #ViolenceIsWeakness (#العنف-ضعف) online in April to raise awareness over the issue both during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.

“Only two weeks after the lockdown, we started to witness and hear a lot of stories of domestic violence, with women and children getting beaten up,” said Nazik Barakat, 28, a Yezidi activist from Nineveh province. 

“I am afraid more people might die as a result of domestic violence during lockdown than from the actual virus itself.”

Barakat explained that aim was to pressure government to act to protect victims and criminalise abusers, while encouraging the wider society to challenge the normalisation of domestic violence. Efforts to pass a draft law against domestic violence have been stalled in parliament for the last two years.

The campaign received an enthusiastic response, with many other women recording a short video message  for the activists to post online.

Among them was 45-year-old Thikra Sarsim, deputy director of Babel Tower, a Baghdad development NGO originally set up with IWPR support.

“Although 25 per cent of parliament’s members are women, we have not seen any [progress in] initiatives to pass an anti-domestic violence law,” she said. Sarsim noted that many survivors were reluctant to file complaints because of conservative traditions limiting women’s ability to raise such issues, and also because they knew that the law was unlikely to protect them.

Iraq’s criminal code has no explicit mention of domestic violence and allows a husband the right to “punish” his wife “within limits prescribed by law or custom.” There is also mitigation for violent acts, including murder, if they involve “family honour”.

Istabraq Sabah Al-Zubaidi, a 24-year-old activist who launched the campaign in her home province of Diyala, said that she immediately received numerous responses from women affected by domestic violence.

One mother-of-one in her 20s wrote to Al-Zubaidi to tell her that since the lockdown, her husband had begun beating her almost every day. She said she felt particularly isolated as she had no-one in her family who could help her.

Istabraq said that bringing the issue into the open would help others reach out as well as end the normalisation of this kind of abuse.

“I think by talking we can shape public opinion and create disgust against domestic violence,” she concluded.

The campaign was welcomed by local dignitaries including religious leaders and received extensive media coverage. And as a result of its success, the department of community policing - a unit based in Baghdad’s ministry of interior - asked IWPR to help them with their own outreach efforts.

The collaboration centred on creating a leaflet to promote a domestic violence hotline, and distributing it across Iraq.

Community police director, Ghaleb Al-Attiyah, said that his department was focusing on addressing social problems, “foremost violence against women, which has increased in the wake of the corona pandemic crisis.

“IWPR jointly worked with us to raise awareness against domestic violence through the Violence is Weakness campaign, aiming at educating people about the risks of violence against women, through advertising for the community police hotline which receives reports of abuse and provides legal, psychological and social support to the victims.”

He added that IWPR’s contribution had had “a definite positive impact on spreading a culture of civil peace, tolerance and respect for human rights”.

Although there have been relatively few cases of coronavirus recorded in Iraq, the curfew imposed since March has had a catastrophic effect on an already struggling economy. Unemployment has risen sharply and is expected to worsen due to the plummeting price of oil, the state’s main source of revenue.

Yaqeen Al-Ani, a 25-year-old activist who launched the campaign in Anbar province, said that another aim was to support healthy relationships within families at this stressful time. 

“We advise couples to be honest with each other and talk openly with each other about the anxiety and fear which are affecting them during the isolation and economic hardship,” she said.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.

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