Sunday, May 25, 2008

Surge in violence against women in Iraqi Kurdistan

By Shwan Mohammad

Medics in Iraqi Kurdistan said on Saturday that they had seen a surge in violence against women in May, with both so-called "honour" killings and female suicides on the increase.

"At least 14 women died in the first 10 days of May alone," a doctor told AFP in the region's second largest city of Sulaimaniyah.

"Seven of them took their own lives, the other seven were murdered in still unexplained circumstances" -- apparently the victims of "honour" killings.

"Over the same period, we recorded 11 attempted self-immolations. These women were so desperate they set fire to themselves," the doctor added, asking not to be identified.

According to Kurdish regional government figures, in Sulaimaniyah province alone more than 50 women attempted suicide by burning in the first four months of the year and another eight tried to hang themselves.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has regularly highlighted "honour" killings of Kurdish women as being among the country's most severe human rights abuses.

Most such crimes are reported as deaths caused by accidental fires in the home.

Aso Kamal, a 42-year-old British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner, says that between 1991 and 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for "honour" reasons or committed suicide in the country's three Kurdish provinces.

The Kurdish autonomous region runs its own affairs and has enjoyed relative peace and growing prosperity since the US-led invasion of 2003, while Arab areas of Iraq have been plunged into sectarian warfare.

But crimes against women continue despite campaigns by human rights activists and repeated condemnation by women members of the regional government and parliament.

Most of the attacks are carried out by close relatives who believe the victims' behaviour to have been immoral. Desperate to escape the cycle of domestic violence, many women turn to suicide.

The Kurdish region's first centre dedicated to tackling domestic violence against women opened in Sulaimaniyah last October, and provides psychological support and legal advice to victims in complete confidentiality.

"Even if the phenomenon is deeply embedded in the historical roots of our region, it has become alarmingly commonplace in recent months," Layla Abdullah, president of the separate Kurdish women's rights group the Aram Shelter, said.

"In 2004, 48 female victims of domestic violence found refuge at the association in order to escape death," Abdullah said.

"The number rose to 71 in 2007, and now it stands at 25 for the first four months of this year," she added.

In 2002 the Kurdish government abolished a law which reduced the penalties for those convicted of "honour" crimes, but this has still not eradicated the violence, according to those fighting to protect Kurdish women's rights.

In November 2007, Kurdish human rights minister Aziz Mohammed acknowledged that domestic violence occurred in northern Iraq.

"Domestic violence, sexual abuse, death threats, insults, forced marriages, kidnapping, being forced to leave school... these are the problems which confront the women of Kurdistan," a ministry report said, adding that most victims were between 13 and 18 years old.

Paradoxically, Kurdish women are deeply involved in the region's political process with 28 in the 111-seat parliament and three holding ministerial positions.

"Suicide attempts by traumatised women are on the increase," said Bakhshan Zangana, who heads the parliamentary women's group.

"We must discuss and find a solution to this situation. Suicide is clearly one of the consequences of domestic violence and cruelty."

Source: France 24

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