Iraq: Rise in family-based violence against women linked to conflict

An increase in domestic violence against women is closely linked to the legacy of conflict in Iraq, finds a new report by Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights. As a result of conflict violence, women and girls experienced higher rates of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of their partners – including killings in extreme cases – in a surge of domestic violence that reached over 33,000 officially-recorded cases nationwide in 2022. Due to disincentives in reporting, the true total of cases of violence against women is believed to be much higher.

Drawing on the documented experiences of over 1,200 Iraqi women and girls who were exposed to intimate partner violence between 2018 and 2023, the report War Waged in the Home: Rethinking conflict and gender-based violence in Iraq finds that the status of intimate partners as combatants/fighters, former combatants and/or victims of violence are all linked to violence in the home. Conflict further reinforces notions of masculinity tied to violence, and notions of femininity limiting women’s role to the domestic sphere, which are often reflected at the political level, including in policies and practices which limit protection for women and even legitimate violence against them.

‘One of the most dangerous places for women and girls during conflict is inside their own homes,’ said Miriam Puttick, author of the report. ‘After decades of conflict in Iraq, the armed threat to life may have decreased, but domestic violence linked to conflict factors has persisted and even increased.’

Iraq has been through almost constant war for decades, from the Iran-Iraq War, to the Gulf War, to the US-led invasion and, most recently, the war against ISIS. Successive periods of conflict have reversed political and social advancements for women, hollowed out state institutions, revived traditional gender norms, and increased women’s dependence on male providers, all of which have contributed to a rise in intimate partner violence.

Despite these findings, intimate partner violence is rarely seen as being connected to or caused by conflict. As a result, international and domestic programming to address conflict-related violence, by excluding violence in the household, currently fails to account for a major source of harm to women and girls.

This report recommends:

  • protecting women and girls from gender-based violence in all its manifestations, including domestic violence, should be a main priority in post-conflict policy reform, transitional justice processes, and humanitarian programming;
  • comprehensive national legislation against domestic violence and all other forms of gender-based violence should be enacted as a priority by the Iraq government, together with adequate resources devoted to its implementation;
  • shelters for survivors of domestic violence should be opened in all major population centres, domestic violence courts established in every governorate and other measures taken to improve women’s access to justice including increasing recruitment of women in the police forces and the judicial system.

Notes for editors:

  1. War Waged in the Home: Rethinking conflict and gender-based violence in Iraq by Miriam Puttick is published by Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights on 16 April 2024.
  2. According to the Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq, a total of 21,595 domestic violence cases were reviewed in 2022 across Iraq (excluding the Kurdistan Region). The majority were cases of violence against women (17,438). In addition, the KRG General Directorate of Combating Violence against Women handled a total of 15,897 cases of domestic violence over the year 2022.
  3. Ceasefire’s work to strengthen legal protections for civilians and secure reparation for violations is supported by the Swiss Federal Dept of Foreign Affairs.

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