Community Engagement Assignment

Locate an organization that is working on one or more of the issues highlighted in this class. Interview the people at this organization: What is the name of the group? What is its mission or goal? How does it carry out its work? What is your sense of the effectiveness of the group? Include a personal comment about your visit.
Write a short report of 4-5 thoughtful paragraphs about the organization.

Having lived in both Canada and Iraq, the organization that I have chosen is the Shaghaf team, working in partnership with Iraqi Al-Amal Association with funding received by the Norwegian Embassy of Amman. The two organizations are currently running a campaign of volunteers across Iraq to promote women’s rights and combat gender-based violence and domestic violence. I interviewed a woman named Shayan K., co-founder of Shaghaf team. We discussed an upcoming event they’re hosting, with a plan to raise awareness about domestic violence in Kirkuk and grow support for upcoming legislation that combats it.

As it stands right now, passing legislation combating domestic violence has been nearly impossible. The Iraqi parliament in 2019 and 2020 attempted to pass anti-domestic violence laws; however, the legislation was blocked due to the substantial presence of elected ultra-conservatives who oppose it. The members that blocked the legislation believe that perpetrators of domestic violence should not be punished by the state, including those who have committed gruesome acts of so-called “honour” killings. In fact, presently, the Iraqi penal code legalizes domestic violence through Article 41, granting men the power to punish their wives and children. Even more, (dis)honour killings are virtually legal under Article 128(I), which stipulates “honour crimes” to be mitigating circumstances for sentencing and punishment. Unfortunately, there are significant differences in East vs. West perceptions of human rights, with many Eastern religious conservatives attacking human rights advances as Western imperialism(HRW), arguing it is trampling local culture. Nonetheless, this argument and others put forward by opponents often water down to patriarchal beliefs that uphold an unfair system favouring men.

In my chat with Shayan, I learned she is working on a brochure for Shaghaf Team/Al-Amal. This brochure briefly outlines basic statistics concerning domestic violence and very modestly defines it. It provides a basic, cursory overview of the fundamentals of domestic violence; however, if you can read Arabic, you’ll notice that it is relatively sparse in details. There is a reason for this, for there is a real fear that local men may take opposition, leading to protest and potentially harming the chance of passing legislation to combat domestic violence. Shayan tells me that NGOs and rights activists walk a fine line in disseminating information while trying not to provoke backlash.

My sense of the effectiveness of the group is that there are tremendous roadblocks that make it extraordinarily challenging to change minds. Merely talking about gender-based violence issues like marital rape is extremely difficult due to the taboo nature of such topics compounded with many men feeling it is their religious right to perform such acts. These beliefs about domestic violence are normalized to such a scale that many local men and women struggle to comprehend even the basics of women’s rights. Sadly, men often feel it is their right to commit abuses, often with no comprehension that certain acts are abuse at all.

As I chatted with Shayan, she discussed how men often dictate a woman’s life. Many men often instruct their partners on what to wear, either directly or implicitly through coercive and manipulative language. Likewise, often a woman’s privacy is invaded, where even in younger relationships, men may randomly appear at their partner’s engagements to ensure their wife is where she said she would be. There is no understanding that these behaviours are psychologically abusive and harmful to women. Polygamy is also relatively common, and many men maintain multiple marriages, particularly in more conservative regions of the country. Women are frequently kept economically dependent on men through a lack of job opportunities, and socially enforced conservative gender roles that keep women in the home as caregivers. With that in mind, Shayan tells me that it is a struggle to obtain basic rights, as many men also do not want to lose their privilege to dictate the lives of their wives, but also, fear reprisal for abuses committed.

Shayan and I also discussed the major hurdle of having no shelters for women trying to escape domestic violence. The anti-domestic violence legislation of 2019 and 2020 would have compelled the government to build women’s shelters across the country. This is particularly important because families and police in Iraq often take a conciliatory approach, where they try to negotiate a rejoining of partners rather than helping women escape violence. Unfortunately, such an approach places women directly back into harm’s way of violent and abusive partners. Thus, until such legislation passes, women hoping to escape domestic violence lack the means to go anywhere safe. For Shayan, she noted this is the sad reality, that they may be advising women about domestic violence, but at the same time, cannot provide immediate relief for women currently facing these problems.

HRW. (2020, October 28). Iraq: Urgent need for domestic violence law. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from