Violence against women remains a reality in the Kurdistan Region, but another scourge remains less well known: Threats of violence -- and murder -- against women's rights activists.
Bahar Munzir and Gasha Dara Hafeed, two women working for women's rights, regularly receive threatening phone calls warning them to stop defending victims of domestic violence and so-called “honor killings.” Parwin Ali, a civil society activist, escaped a gunshot as recently as this month -- without anything in the media reported about the incident.
“I was shot at many days ago, and the media said nothing about it,” said Ali, who was unhurt after a bullet shattered the window of her hotel room, a week after she participated in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign in the Kurdistan Region. The campaign ended earlier this month.
Munzir, head of the People's Development Association, said she had also received death threats after taking part in the campaign, and that she had been regularly threatened for seeking justice for two women, Nigar Raheem and Sakar Hamadamin. Both were victims of “honor killings.”
"Three minutes before your phone call, I received a threat from an unknown phone number. The anonymous caller asked why I had reported the other threats to the police," Munzir told a Rudaw reporter.
"These threats are not related to my personal life. The caller, who is using two different SIM cards to threaten me, warned that if I continued my work for women he would kill me," said Munzir.
Hafeed, who chairs the Women's Rights Defense Committee in the autonomous Kurdistan Region's Parliament, also spoke about death threats from anonymous callers.
"The threats I received were not related to my parliamentary job. The anonymous caller said: ‘you want to give the right of divorce to women and you are taking the activities of women's groups into the Parliament; you need to be killed,'” Hafeed said.
"Last year, that caller threatened another woman who is in a decision-making position,” Hafeed said. “He pretends to be ignorant, but from the things he said, he seems very well informed and has even monitored our personal lives."
"When issues of this kind happen, the government must not treat them as normal cases. The government must realize that this threat is a threat against all who work in this field," said Munzir.
More than 40 women were murdered in Kurdistan from January to November this year, according to official figures, but the murders of Raheem and Hamadamin this year drew the widest public reaction.
At age 15, Raheem was sexually assaulted by one of her brothers, and was later killed by another brother. Hamadamin, a 28-year-old school teacher, was shot and killed by her father for wanting to marry a man that the family deemed unsuitable.