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 https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/22/iraq-urgent-need-domestic-violence-law