While Iraqi-kurdish women and men shared the burden of struggling for existence against Sadam’s regime to secure autonomy in the early nineties, patriarchal values have not ceased to dominate society as women remain treated like property rather than partners.

In the last days of 2018, a woman and her three children were set on fire inside the family house in Chamchamal, Sulaymaniyah governorate. On December 12, 2018, Sewan Qadir, 23 years old; Darun, one year old; Larin, two years old and Darin five years old were all burned alive inside their house. The three children died immediately in a hellish fire and smoke.

With burn injuries on her body, Sewan, the children’s mother  was transferred to the emergency hospital in Sulaimani. The medical examiners confirmed that 90% of her body was burned. After staying at the hospital for six days battling the pain and injuries, she also closed her eyes for good and joined her children. Sewan Qadir and her children’s death was such a brutal case of domestic violence that it created an unprecedented wave of social unrest. As she was lying on her death bed with her injured soul and body, she accused her husband of setting her and her children on fire.

After 16 trial sessions that took place in the span of 18 months, the Sulaimani court upheld the accusations that she raised and sentenced her husband to death.

Sewan is not the first or last victim of violence against women. On the contrary, her case is one of the many thousands who have lost their lives in similar violent incidents against women in Iraqi Kurdistan. 

The latest data provided by Directorate of Combating Violence Against Family and Women of Iraqi Kurdistan show that violence against women continues and the numbers of victims have not decreased in recent years.

According to the data obtained by The Red Line, in the first half of 2021, 8 women were killed by their relatives, 34 women committed suicide, 48 women set fire to themselves, 55 were sexually harassed, and 5079 complaints were registered by women.

In the first six month of 2020, 3 women were killed, 13 women committed suicide, 26 women set fire to themselves, 45 were sexually harassed, and 3769 complaints were registered by women.

These statistics show the first six month of 2020 were safer for women in comparison with the first six months of 2021.

This has been happening while the Iraqi Kurdistan region’s government (KRG) officials promise to combat violence against women every year. Many workshops and seminars get organized, but the statistics still show difficult and strenuous conditions of women.

Not a year without violence

In this investigative report, The Red Line obtained data from the region’s Directorate for Combating Violence Against Family and Women. It shows that women in KRG have their rights violated  on a regular basis. Since the KRG’s creation in 1992, not a year has passed without women experiencing violence.

Between 2012 and 2021 – only nine and half years – 4414 incidents of violence against women have been recorded which include femicide, suicide, burning, self-immolation and sexual harrasement. During that period, 939 women have been killed or committed suicide. Also, 1075 sexual harassment and assault cases have been recored by the Directorate for Combating Violence Against Family and Women. Furthermore, tens of thousands of complaints have been made to the same directorate.

Kurda Omer, the director of the Directorate for Combating Violence Against Family and Women in Iraqi Kurdistan told The Red Line that ‘violence against family, especially against women is rampant: “This year, the violence rate is similar to previous years. threatened women contact the directorate’s hotlines on daily basis.’’ 

Hana Shwan, a project manager at the Gender-Based Violence department of Civil Development Organization (CDO), who has advocated for women rights for 20 years argues that the threats and violations started immediately after the 1991 Kurdish uprising. She added that ‘’the revolutionaries and the authorities started executing women under the name of honor, in addition to executing a number of women after accusing them of being collaborators with the Ba’ath regime. The murderers never faced any repercussions. This phenomena lead to femicide becoming a model and perpetrators are not afraid of killing women.’’

Getting legitimacy from social and political establishments 

Hana Shwan told The Red Line that in the past 30 years, the different socio-political and economical crisis, (such as the war against the Islamic State (2014-2018), along with the rise and proliferation of extremist religious views have had a considerable impact on the rise of violence against women. Also, the competition within/and between the political parties to gain political power has made women the main victims.’’

She also added that ‘’besides the violence that women suffer from, there is a lack of equal opportunities in the labour market, the media, and political decision-making positions. This is representative of a systematic attempt to keep women out of all social spheres. In addition, women get abused on social media platforms, in which they  are threatened with defamation including publishing their private video chats in order to silence them.’’

Kurda Omer holds similar views. She argued that social media, corrolated to the increase in gun ownership as well as social and psychological issues womenare facing are contributing factors to the violence against women.’’

Honor killing has decreased

Hana Shwan believes that ‘’women’s killers are often backed by a political and military wing of a party or a tribe who can help them avoid legal repercussions. There are cases of Iraqi Kurdish women who were killed by their relatives in Europe after migrating with their family. Yet, the perpetrators also managed to evade the law. But the women’s rights organization’s pressure has made it difficult for the perpetrators to avoid legal implications.’’ 

Shadi Nawzad, a member of Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament’s Defence of Women’s Rights Committee, told The Red Line that ‘’women killers are protected by political and social establishments, or manage to escape judicial repercussions for their crimes. Some of the killers move to disputed areas, namely Kirkuk and Mosul, where they evade authorities. These areas have become a hiding place, since  they are constitutionally disputed between the Iraqi Federal government and Iraqi Kurdistan government.’’ 

Shadi states that ‘’some of the accused are not handed over to the courts while in some cases, it takes a long time before they are arrested.’’  She added that ‘’the killers of two women were taken to court months later, even though their location was known and the law enforcement personnel, which could have arrested them and put them on trial earlier.’’  

According to law number 8 of Combating Violence Against Family in Iraqi Kurdistan of 2011, the article 7 of the law states: anyone committing violence against women will be punished. This includes imprisonment up to no less than six months and no more than 3 years. In addition, the perpetrators could be finedbetween 1000,000 and five million Iraqi Dinars (between 700 and 3500 USD). 

Kurda also said that  ‘’killings in the name of honor have decreased, at the moment the killings are due to other social issues, and femicide perpituators cannot legally be pardoned under the general pardon law but end up in prison.’’

Ten women were killed after they were returned to their families

In Iraqi Kurdistan, women who experience violence go to shelters seeking protection and safety. Three such shelters have been built for women who are threatened in KRG. While the security of those shelters is the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior, women still face threats and those shelters have not become a safe space for women. Women have continuously come under attack from their own families. 

Some of the women can not even reach those shelters. The violence against those women ends with either them being killed or them being physically beaten. 

In the past few years, two women have committed suicide and ten women were killed by their own relatives in or around those shelters. This happened after their problems were supposedly solved and returned to their families. Self-immolation exists in those shelters as well. 

The member of the parliament with regard to this matter said that ‘’women can go to shelters after the courts’ final judgments. Sometimes, due to the excessive bureaucracy within the court system, women have stayed in the shelters for years while waiting for a solution.’’ 

‘’it is imperative to both reform and improve women’s shelters. It is also equally important to reform the procedures involving the repatriation of the women to their families in order to prevent them from becoming victims of violence and threats of their relatives.’’ Hana Shwan stated. 

There are approximately 20 organizations concerned with women’s rights

According to the information provided by Redline, there are nearly 20 women organizations working on women rights In KRG along with tens of women activists who work independently as women rights advocates.

Hana Shwan, an activist, confirmed data provided by Redline and said that ‘’20 organizations is not adequate enough especially since many of their members work as volunteers. Many of these organizations do not even have the necessary funds to finance their own members’ food or transportation costs. Besides, there is a systematic attempt by the political parties to both silence and shut them down.’’

The activist further elaborated and said ‘’ oftentimes due to women organizations’ lack of organizing and a united outlook, it has not been possible for long term goals to be realized and for the promises to be kept. Also, the multitude of crises and human rights violations have become a double burden on such organizations to cope with.’’

“Even though in recent years, women organizations have become more united due to the increase in femicide and suicide, and were thus able to put more pressure on the Kurdistan Government’s Prime Minister and his deputy. This has increased the chances of trying the killers under arrest in a short period of time. More cases are investigated and legal procedures have been toughened, but this is not adequate enough. ” Hana Shan told Redline.