Asharq Al-Awsat, London – In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat during her recent visit to London, Sozan Shahab, member of the Kurdistan regional parliament spoke about a number of measures that are being taken to curb the phenomenon of violence against women in Iraqi Kurdistan. These include measures against honor killings and female genital mutilation.
“Violence against women has increased over the recent period and this is a concern for the Kurdish government. Recent statistics showed that in one month, 166 complaints of violence against women had been made and that over 100 women had been killed,” explained Shahab. “There are two kinds of killings: there are honor killings on one hand, and there are suicides and cases of being burnt alive on the other. Until now we have not been able to determine whether these women set themselves on fire or are being set alight.” The Kurdish MP added that women are not necessarily being killed by weapons; some are thrown down flights of stairs, beaten or strangled.
Suzan Shahab went on to say that other statistics had shown that “over the course of six months, more than 300 women had been killed; all of these were so-called ‘honor’ killings however there is no proof of this.”
“On the day that the government announced the Week for Combating Violence campaign (November 19), a young girl was killed in Penjwin by her brother and cousin because somebody who loved her, or someone she was having a relationship with, had given her a mobile phone. But the good thing is that they have both been arrested and are awaiting trial because being bought a mobile phone is not reason enough to kill anybody.”
According to Shahab, violence against women is not specific to any class or area. She stated that a university study revealed that the murder of women is quite a rare occurrence amongst the educated classes. The study also showed that the ages of the women who have been killed ranges between 13 and 40 years of age.
Suzan Shahab highlighted that violence against women is not confined to Kurdistan but that it also takes place in the central regions of Iraq and in the south. Shahab indicated that the Iraqi media has prioritized other issues, such as the state of security, over the issue of violence against women.
Shahab explained that violence against women increased after 2003 but that these cases may have existed beforehand but failed to be documented. She praised the media, women’s organizations and the government for highlighting this issue.
Suzan Shahab, also a member of the parliament’s Education and Higher Education Committee, added, “In 2001, the Kurdish government approved a resolution that states that honor killing will not be considered a crime of special circumstance and would be treated as any other crime and there would be no lenient sentences. Before this resolution, there was neglect on part of the government and executive bodies with regards to following up on these issues. However, over recent years, courts have ordered the executions of over 22 people charged with committing honor killings and today, a number of accused people are awaiting trial.” She stressed that the two main parties in Kurdistan have ruled that protection will not be given to anybody accused of killing women, as was the case in the past when the accused would turn to political parties for protection.
“The police force now fulfils its role in a better way and so do the departments that were formed to curtail violence, and even the courts have begun to see the issue in a new light and with more interest. In the Kurdish government, we have taken on the role of public prosecutor because if there are no complainants, then the public prosecutor will register complaints against the accused in cases of murder or violence,” added Shahab.
Suzan Shahab explained that departments for combating domestic violence and women’s organizations have given out phone numbers to assist women in speaking to social workers and to launch complaints if they have been subjected to violence. Shahab emphasized that over a three-month period these departments received over 166 complaints.
Shahab stated that the Kurdish government had completed the first draft of a new law against domestic violence that also deals with cases of female mutilation and physical or psychological domestic abuse. An article within that law calls for creating courts to deal specifically with these issues and imposing certain punishments such as imprisonment and fines.
“We have launched a special project to prevent female genital mutilation as part of the domestic violence law. Recent statistics have shown that 60 to 70 per cent of girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation.” However, Shahab expressed doubt regarding the accuracy of these statistics and added that “A women’s organization has other statistics that indicate that the number [of women who have been subjected to female genital mutilation] is between 34 to 40 per cent.” “It is considered a form of domestic violence against young girls who have not given consent for it. If a law is passed, then the father and the mother [of the girl] and the person who carries out the procedure will be punished with imprisonment,” said Shahab.
The Kurdish government recently approved amendments to the personal status law. In this regard, Suzan said, “Since 1991, women’s organizations in Kurdistan have realized that strengthening the position of women is achieved through her position in the law. Law 188 that was passed in 1959 has been amended 18 times and this is the nineteenth.” It includes a change to the definition of marriage.
Shahab stated that the five conditions to polygamous marriages have been reduced to two. Men can only marry more than one woman if the first wife is unable to bear children or suffers from a sexually transmittable disease.
Shahab added that the new draft also states that this violation of marital duties, known as ‘Nowshooz’ applies to both men and women, not just women.
With regards to prostitution, Shahab stated that there is a draft law to curtail this phenomenon as well as reforms to the prostitution law whereby the man, as well as the women, will be held accountable for his actions.
In conclusion, Suzan Shahab stated, “I hope that the Arab world realizes that violence against women does not only take place in Kurdistan but in the entire Middle East, and the difference between Kurdistan and other societies is that we are talking about these issues without feeling embarrassed about our shortcomings.”