The situation for Iraqi women has gotten worse
in many respects since the U.S.-led invasion two years back, says a report from
"The current lack of security has forced many women out of public life and
constitutes a major obstacle to the advancement of their rights," says the
Decades of Suffering - Now Women Deserve Better," published Tuesday.
The report seeks to highlight the present situation and not compare it to the
Saddam days. "It is difficult to make a comparison because the situation was
also very bad before," Nicole Choueiry from Amnesty told IPS.
Kidnapping and rape are reported to be a continuing problem. "This is not
something that started with the invasion and then stopped," she said.
This subject is taboo in Iraq but Amnesty has received several testimonies
that this remains common, Choueiry said. "Women have been kidnapped for ransom,
and many have been raped while they were kidnapped." The extent of the problem
is very difficult to establish, she said.
"Armed groups have had a big impact on participation of women in the public
sphere and in the political domain," Choueiry said. "Many women have stopped
going to universities and stopped going to work. Lack of security is the overarching
problem. Many women cannot now go out even for everyday tasks like shopping."
The lack of security has been worsened by discriminatory laws in place and
a lack of specific measures to protect women, she said. "There is a need to
reform laws and to take measures like opening shelters for women."
The Amnesty report was based on interviews with activists and victims, and
testimonies gathered by Amnesty staff from Amman in Jordan. Several activists
within Iraq were commissioned to get testimonies from women, Choueiry said.
Iraqi women must have an active role in shaping the future of their country,
the report says. It documents how women and girls in Iraq have been targeted
directly, because they were women, and how they suffered disproportionately
through decades of government repression and armed conflict.
The report points also to the discrimination against women under the Saddam
days. "Three wars and more than a decade of economic sanctions have been particularly
damaging to Iraqi women," it says.
"Under the government of Saddam Hussein, they were subjected to gender-specific
abuses, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, or else targeted
as political activists, relatives of activists, or members of certain ethnic
or religious groups."
The report demonstrates how gender discrimination in Iraqi laws contributes
to the persistence of violence against women. Many women remain at risk of death
or injury from male relatives if they are accused of behavior held to have brought
dishonor on the family.
The report says that women of non-Iraqi origin have also been held as hostages,
often in an attempt to force a withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq. "They
have been beaten and threatened with execution, and at least one of them, Margaret
Hassan, has reportedly been killed," the report says.
Amnesty International says it has repeatedly called on armed groups to end
the violence against women, including harassment, death threats, violent attacks,
kidnapping, and killing.
Amnesty International said it equally calls on the U.S.-led multinational forces
to improve safeguards for women in detention and investigate promptly all allegations
of violence against women, including sexual attacks by their forces or other
Women's rights organizations in Iraq have repeatedly called for measures to
be taken in order to stop violence and to end discrimination against women,
Amnesty says. In recent years, numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
and other bodies working for women's rights have been formed, including groups
that focus on the protection of women from violence.
The report says women in the next government and the elected National Assembly
must take the lead in ensuring that "Iraqi legislation and future amendments
are in total harmony with international standards."