As world powers deploy military missions to fight ISIL*, the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict is urging them to prioritize ending widespread sexual violence by ISIL and other militant groups in Iraq. The Campaign also warns that without the inclusion of Iraqi women in diplomatic efforts to establish peace, violence will worsen.
"With their monstrous tactics, ISIL has turned Iraqi women's lives into a nightmare,” said Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, a Campaign member. “Women in communities under ISIL control have witnessed beheading of their husbands and sons, and fear to be sold with their daughters as spoils of war to become sexual slaves for princes of ISIL. We are raising our voices to the international community, to say that our lives matter and that the world cannot ignore these violations of Iraqi women's human rights.”
The Campaign welcomed recent United Nations (UN) investigations into ISIL's brutal campaign of sexual violence in Iraq and Syria, which revealed that ISIL has forced an estimated 1,500 women and children into sexual slavery. However, the coalition of Nobel peace laureates, civil society organizations and sexual violence survivors says world leaders must take more comprehensive action to end rape and gender violence in the region, including responding to the Iraqi military's use of rape and torture as tools of intimidation, as reported by Human Rights Watch, another member of the Campaign. The Campaign says international leaders must pressure Iraq to end illegal detention and sexual violence by its security forces and prosecute all responsible for these crimes.
“In Iraq, there was rape, honour killings, kidnappings, trafficking and sexual exploitation before ISIL gave it ideological underpinning,” said Madeleine Rees, Secretary General of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a Campaign member. “If you don't address violence against women and have a society that accepts it, you get an ISIL. The dividing line is thin—so thin that for women, its difficult to see the difference between war and so-called peace. The lesson must finally be learnt that there is no alternative but to have women in decision-making, or there will be no such thing as real protection or real security.”
The Campaign warns that without the inclusion of women in all diplomatic negotiations on Iraq—prescribed by UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security—efforts to establish peace will fail. It points to the exclusion of women from Syrian peace talks and deteriorating conditions in Syria as an example to avoid. The Campaign also calls on the international community to increase resources for local Iraqi women's groups supporting survivors and working for peace.
“Iraqi women are specific targets of ISIL brutality and the first to respond to the needs of sexual violence survivors,” said Yifat Susskind, Executive Director of Campaign member, MADRE. “These grassroots activists recognize danger first and are risking their lives to offer women refuge from danger. Their knowledge is essential to ending conflict and sexual violence in Iraq.”
MADRE works closely with the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, which runs emergency phone lines and a safe house for women fleeing ISIL. In September, both organizations called on the UN and other international leaders to pressure the Iraqi government to change laws and norms making women and children more vulnerable to violence. These include Iraq's pending Ja'afari legislation, which would change the legal marriage age for girls to 9-years-old and permit marital rape, as well as current laws and government practices that deny shelter for women and prevent NGOs from running private shelters for displaced families and individuals.
The Campaign urges world leaders to tackle the severe need for psychological care in Iraq. Rates of serious mental health disorders are already at a critical high in neighbouring Syria—made worse with increasing ISIL kidnappings, sexual and other forms of violence. It also says survivors need the full range of medical, legal and livelihood services to rebuild their lives and communities.
*The militant group refers to itself as the “Islamic State,” but is also commonly referred to as ISIL, ISIS, and DA'ISH/DAESH.