Monday, October 09, 2006

Rape and Repression as a Tactic in the Sectarian War in Iraq

A very disturbing look at the situation of women in Iraq who live around sectarian militia activity in the UK Guardian (a fact which may - or may not - effect the objectivity of the reporting.)
Strong anecdotal evidence gathered by organisations such as that of Yanar Mohammed and by the Iraqi Women's Network, run by Hanna Edwar, suggests rape is also being used as a weapon in the sectarian war to humiliate families from rival communities. 'So far what we have been seeing is what you might call "collateral rape",' says Besmia Khatib of the Iraqi Women's Network. 'Rape is being used in the settling of scores in the sectarian war.' Yanar Mohammed describes how a Shia girl was kidnapped, raped and dumped in the Husseiniya area of Baghdad. The retaliation, she says, was the kidnapping and rape of several Sunni girls in the Rashadiya area. Tit for tat.

Similar stories are emerging across Iraq. 'Of course rape is going on,' says Aida Ussayaran, former deputy Human Rights Minister and now one of the women on the Council of Representatives. 'We blame the militias. But when we talk about the militias, many are members of the police. Any family now that has a good-looking young woman in it does not want to send her out to school or university, and does not send her out without a veil. This is the worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives. In the name of religion and sectarian conflict they are being kidnapped and killed and raped. And no one is mentioning it.'
And of course, we know what happens to rape victims in many repressive Islamic families: honor killings.

The depressing part is the extent to which, unwittingly and with no intent at all that way, we have aided this development of returning women to a repressive situation. Makes you contemplate the wisdom of a cynical real politik approach to politics - the efficacy in doing nothing while people suffer repression, death or genocide is at least you are not inadvertently making it worse.
The situation has been exacerbated by the undermining of Iraq's old Family Code, established in 1958, which guaranteed women a large measure of equality in key areas such as divorce and inheritance. The new constitution has allowed the Family Code to be superseded by the power of the clerics and new religious courts, with the result that it is largely discriminatory against women. The clerics have permitted the creeping re-emergence of men contracting multiple marriages, formerly discouraged by the old code. It is these clerics, too, who have permitted a sharp escalation in the 'pleasure marriages'. And it is the same clerics overseeing the rapid transformation of a once secular society - in which women held high office and worked as professors, doctors, engineers and economists - into one where women have been forced back under the veil and into the home. The result is mapped out every day on Iraq's streets and in its country lanes in individual acts of intimidation and physical brutality that build into an awful whole.
Is the Iraqi government doing anything to mitigate any of this? I doubt it. The Sadr militia men are their political allies so they are not going to do anything to undermine them.
'Since the beginning of August it has just been getting worse,' says Nagham Kathim Hamoody, an activist with the Iraqi Women's Network in Najaf . 'There are more women being killed and more bodies being found in the cemetery. I don't know why they are being killed, but I know the militias are behind the killing...


Hat tip: Normblog

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