Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 October 2019

Iraqi women urge Parliament to approve domestic abuse bill

President Barham Salih has sent a long-stalled bill for the protection of women against gender-based violence to Parliament

Women in Basra protest hours after masked gunmen shot dead Soad Al Ali, a human rights activist and mother of four, Iraq, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. AP
Women in Basra protest hours after masked gunmen shot dead Soad Al Ali, a human rights activist and mother of four, Iraq, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. AP

Iraqi women are calling on Parliament to pass a draft bill banning domestic abuse against women, which has the backing of President Barham Salih but has not progressed since it was proposed eight years ago.

Forced marriage and violence against women has increased in Iraq as it tackles the aftermath of years of war and widespread corruption.

Mr Salih said that the bill, which was sent to Parliament on Sunday, aimed to protect Iraqi families, especially women and girls, from "all forms of gender-based violence".

It would also punish the perpetrators, provide protection to victims and compensate them for damages.

If passed, the draft will also help to provide women with the necessary care and rehabilitation through the establishment of “safe centres for victims of abuse”, Mr Salih said.

But it could again languish because of vocal opposition among member of religious parties.

Women's rights groups have been pushing for the legislation of the bill since 2011, Sohaila Al Assam, a prominent women’s rights activist, told The National.

“Violence against women in Iraq is increasing day by day because there are no laws that protect them from domestic abuse and violence,” Ms Al Assam said.

She said granting women legal protection would be beneficial for them, society and the country.

Progress on the bill has stagnated due to divisions in Iraq since the overthrow of former dictator Saddam Hussein, and especially since religious parties took over leadership of the government and sought to impose their values on society.

The draft law must be supported by the police, interior and health ministries, Ms Al Assam said.

“We need their help and assistance in passing this law,” she said.

Ali Al Bayati, a board member of the Independent High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq, said that it was imperative that the law included clear penalties for anyone who tried to abuse women or children.

“It is necessary to accelerate the enactment of this law," Mr Al Bayati said.

"It must include preventive programmes to eradicate the idea of ​​gender discrimination within the family and the enslavement of women or children."

He said Iraqi women had been subjected to “catastrophes” that increased after ISIS seized large areas of the country.

“They assaulted Iraqi families and raped and enslaved women and girls,” Mr Al Bayati said.

Iraq’s personal status law enshrines women’s rights regarding marriage, inheritance and child custody, and has often been held up as the most progressive in the Middle East.

But domestic violence is yet to be addressed and observers fear the bill will not be given Parliament’s approval.

Although the Iraqi constitution expressly prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family", only the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has a law on domestic violence.

For a law to be successfully introducedit would need a strong institutional and societal infrastructure that does not exist in Iraq, said Balsam Mustafa, a researcher on Iraqi politics and society.

“This law will face many barriers hindering its implementation,” Ms Mustafa said.

She said that corruption, bribes and a lack of integrity would present obstacles.

Ms Mustafa said that religious parties claimed the women's rights bill was not in keeping with their values.

Updated: September 17, 2019 03:33 AM

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