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Community Engagement Assignment

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 organisation I chose is the Shaghaf Team, which works in partnership with the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, with funding from the Norwegian Embassy in Amman. The two organisations are currently running a volunteer campaign across Iraq to promote women’s rights and combat gender-based and domestic violence. I interviewed Shayan K., co-founder of the Shaghaf team. We discussed an upcoming event they’re organising to raise awareness of domestic violence in Kirkuk and build support for upcoming legislation to combat it.

As it stands, it’s almost impossible to pass legislation to combat domestic violence. The Iraqi parliament attempted to pass a domestic violence law in 2019 and 2020, but it was blocked by a large number of elected ultra-conservatives who oppose the bill. The members who blocked the legislation believe that perpetrators of domestic violence should not be punished by the state, including those who have committed horrific acts of so-called ‘honour’ killings. In fact, the Iraqi Penal Code currently legalises domestic violence through Article 41, which gives men the power to punish their wives and children. In addition, (dis)honour killings are effectively legal under Article 128(I), which makes ‘honour crimes’ a mitigating circumstance in sentencing and punishment. Unfortunately, there are significant differences between East and West perceptions of human rights, with many Eastern religious conservatives attacking human rights advances as Western imperialism (HRW), arguing that they trample on local culture. However, this and other arguments put forward by opponents often boil down to patriarchal beliefs that perpetuate an unjust system that favours men.

In my conversation with Shayan, I learned that she is working on a booklet for Shaghaf Team/Al-Amal. This booklet briefly outlines basic statistics on domestic violence and defines it very modestly. It’s a simple, cursory overview of the basics of domestic violence, but if you can read Arabic, you’ll notice that it’s relatively light on details. There is a reason for this, as there is a real fear that local men will resist, leading to protests and potentially damaging the chances of passing legislation to combat domestic violence. Shayan tells me that NGOs and rights activists walk a fine line in disseminating information without provoking a backlash.

My sense of the effectiveness of the group is that there are enormous barriers that make it extremely difficult to change minds. Just talking about issues of gender-based violence such as marital rape is extremely difficult due to the taboo nature of such topics, compounded by the fact that many men feel it is their religious right to commit such acts. These beliefs about domestic violence are so normalised that many local men and women struggle to understand even the basics of women’s rights. Sadly, men often feel it is their right to perpetrate abuse, often without understanding that certain acts are abuse at all.

When I spoke to Shayan, she talked about how men often dictate a woman’s life. Many men often tell their partners what to wear, either directly or implicitly through coercive and manipulative language. Similarly, a woman’s privacy is often invaded, with men, even in younger relationships, randomly turning up at their partner’s engagements to make sure their wife is where she said she was going to be. There is a lack of understanding that this behaviour is psychologically abusive and harmful to women. Polygamy is also relatively common and many men maintain multiple marriages, particularly in the more conservative regions of the country. Women are often kept economically dependent on men through a lack of employment opportunities and socially enforced conservative gender roles that keep women in the home as caregivers. With this in mind, Shayan tells me that it is a struggle to gain basic rights, as many men do not want to lose their privilege to dictate the lives of their wives, but also fear reprisals for abuses committed.

Shayan and I also discussed the major hurdle of the lack of shelters for women trying to escape domestic violence. The Anti-Domestic Violence Laws of 2019 and 2020 would have forced the government to build women’s shelters across the country. This is particularly important because families and the police in Iraq often take a conciliatory approach, trying to negotiate the reunion of partners rather than helping women escape violence. Unfortunately, such an approach puts women right back in the hands of violent and abusive partners. Until such legislation is passed, women hoping to escape domestic violence will have no way of getting to a safe place. For Shayan, this is the sad reality of advising women about domestic violence, but not being able to provide immediate relief to women who are currently facing these problems.

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

Thought Question: Structural Violence, HIV/AIDS

Thought Question: Structural Violence, HIV/AIDS

Dr. Gene Richardson introduced the idea of structural violence in this unit. He also speaks about how reliance on medical technology can undermine the introduction of social interventions that may be relevant for preventing or treating HIV/AIDS.

Please describe the idea of structural violence.

Next, describe one or two social (i.e. non-pharmaceutical) interventions that you think could be effective in preventing or treating diseases such as HIV/AIDS or other infectious diseases.

Write 4-5 thoughtful paragraphs about possible interventions and the role they could play in improving public health. Be sure to save a copy of your writing on your computer so you can access it.

As discussed by Dr. Richardson, structural violence comes from institutionalized racism, gender inequality, lack of access to clean water, and lack of access to housing. To expand on this, it is how socioeconomic and political systems may endanger the lives of a minority group, increasing the risk of morbidity and mortality (CHER). It perpetuates inequality in health and well-being through social forces that harm a minority group.

In the context of women’s rights, often structural violence is woven into the fabric of society where institutions at all levels may treat women differently than men. We see this with lack of access to healthcare, education, and prioritizing the needs of male family members over women in many impoverished nations.

Regarding HIV/AIDS, social intervention is an effective method for preventing and treating the disease. Data shows that when young girls are educated about the disease, taught about prevention, and provided with instruction on contraception, then rate of disease lowers. Likewise, when women are empowered through education that informs them of their rights, particularly regarding bodily autonomy, the rate of HIV/AIDS is reduced as women realize it is their right to decide and negotiate sexual encounters with others.

Furthermore, raising the economic outlook for women, once again through education that empowers girls and women, is critical. Through appropriate education, girls are empowered with skills to enter the workforce that may provide opportunities for economic independence. In doing so, young women move away from relying on family and marriage, where men often become the sole source of income and forces women into dependency.

When considering marriage is the primary risk factor for obtaining HIV/AIDS in many developing nations (Murray), economic independence becomes critical. Often young women marry older men out of necessity to eat and survive, however, commonly men will take part in unsafe sexual behaviour with others, in-turn, infecting their partner (Murray). Therefore, women who are economically empowered are more capable of providing for themselves, and better able to negotiate relationships and marriage, breaking out of the patriarchal cycle of economic dependency.  


CHER – What is structural violence? Center For Health Equity Research Chicago. n.d. 11 February 2022. <>.

Murray, A. F. (2013). Adolescence: Change and Vulnerability. In From outrage to courage: The unjust and unhealthy situation of women in poorer countries and what they are doing about it (pp. 75–101). essay, Common Courage Press.

Thought Question on Female Genital Mutilation

Thought Question on Female Genital Mutilation


Consider the different terminologies used for the cutting of female genitalia, as discussed in the text, “From Outrage to Courage.” Discuss the implications of using these different terminologies:

  • Female Genital Cutting
  • Female Genital Mutilation
  • Female Circumcision

Based on the experience in Sierra Leone and other countries, explain how and why you believe different cultural practices are maintained in a community. Is there any possibility of shifting cultural practices?

Please write 4-5 thoughtful paragraphs. Be sure to save a copy of your writing on your computer so you can access it.


The implications of these terminologies directly affect how someone interprets the meaning of the procedure, whether it is linguistically negative, positive, or neutral. The term Female Genital Mutilation sets a tone that such a practice is harmful with debilitating consequences, and this explicitly indicates that such a practice is injurious and destructive. By comparison, the terms Female Genital Cutting and Female Circumcision imply a medicalization of the procedure, and such terminology may sound neutral or even provide a positive connotation.

Furthermore, Female Circumcision, as a term, creates a false equivalence by implying the procedure is comparable to male circumcision. While both involve cutting of genitalia, male circumcision does not impair sexual function. In contrast, female circumcision involves partial or total removal of the clitoris, a process termed clitoridectomy, and this procedure commonly carries debilitating outcomes for girls and women (Murray). It cannot be understated how damaging FGM may be; a few of many immediate complications may include hemorrhage, infection, urinary problems, shock, and death, as often the practice is performed in unsanitary conditions by non-medical professionals. Long-term complications often include painful urination, menstrual problems, sexual problems, increased risk during childbirth, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and need for later surgeries, among other severe and life-altering complications (WHO). There is no doubt that FGM is highly destructive and damaging.

Moving to answer the second part of the question: in the context of Sierra Leone, there is an argument by some groups that Western imperial nations are invoking cultural hegemony upon developing nations. This argument would take a cultural relativist position insofar as believing no culture is superior to another (Danial). They assert there are no universal moral principles and that moral views are relative to the individual and society of a particular culture (2). Conversely, the UN, through various conventions, including UDHR and CEDAW, takes a global feminist or universalist approach that asserts that all humans are inextricably linked within a global community and that human rights are universal (3).

With that in mind, proponents of the practice have argued that due to local cultures linking a woman’s femininity to having undergone FGM, girls and women who do not complete this procedure may be alienated from their community and disadvantaged. Nonetheless, this does not remove from the equation that the practice is harmful and dangerous and may leave women unable to participate in the community if they are injured or die during the procedure. In addition, there is a strong argument that cultural relativism is fundamentally flawed as a philosophical principle.

Dominic Wilkinson, Director of Medical Ethics at the University of Oxford, succinctly addresses cultural relativists. He iterates over James Rachel’s assertion against cultural relativism, where Rachel demonstrates that the approach is flawed and the conclusions do not follow the premises. Citing examples, he shows that cultural relativism would justify the holocaust in Nazi Germany. Societies make moral progress over time, such as banning slavery, which must be considered. Furthermore, he examines how much weight should be given to the cultural value of a particular practice and suggests that no weight to cultural value should be considered in ethical debates. Culture is not immutable – it is possible to change coming-of-age rituals so that they do not harm girls or women.

Finally, in the video discussion with Isha Daramy regarding FGM in Sierre Leone and the so-called “secret societies,” she suggests a solution. She believes the practise would die out naturally when girls and women are educated on the consequences of FGM. She proposes a middle ground, where neither condoning nor condemning the practice, but rather making available the correct information about its implications and history may lead to a decline and FGM (Baer and Brysk). Given that many women and men are not aware of its impact, compounded with a fundamental misconception about its historical associations, it is argued that education may be the best tool for ending this harmful practice in countries where the culture has resisted change. While this argument has strong merits, it needs to be considered that +4 million girls undergo FGM each year (UNICEF); therefore, many do not have the luxury of waiting for it to “naturally” die out as a cultural practice. We must, instead, be forever proactive.


Ameyaw, Edward Kwabena , et al. “Female genital mutilation/cutting in Sierra Leone: are educated women intending to circumcise their daughters?” BMC International Health and Human Rights (2020).

Baer, Madeline and Alison Brysk. “New rights for private wrongs: Female genital mutilation and global framing dialogues.” The International Struggle for New Human Rights (2010): 93-107.

Danial, Sandra. “Cultural Relativism vs. Universalism: Female Genital Mutilation, Pragmatic Remedies.” Prandium – The Journal of Historical Studies (2013): 1-10. <>.

Daramy, Isha. Isha Daramy on FGM in Sierra Leone. 2013. Digital. Murray, Anne Firth. “Chapter 3 – Childhood: the Hope of Education and the Persistence of Discrimination.” Murray, Anne Firth. Outrage to Courage. 2013. 37-72.

UNICEF. “Female genital mutilation <>

WHO. “Female genital mutilation key facts” (21 Jan 2022) <>

Wilkinson, Dominic. “Cultural relativism and female genital mutilation” (7 Feb 2014) <>