Gender-based violence is one of the most common human rights breaches globally. In Iraq, there is a lot of work to be done to address the problem and raise awareness around what gender-based violence is, its effects on individuals and communities, and how it can be prevented to provide a safe environment for women and girls, where their human rights and dignity are respected. The rate of gender-based violence throughout the world is staggering and according to WHO GBV affects one in three women in their lives. Worldwide, 35% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner or non-partner, and 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner, with an intimate partner committing up to 38% of femicides (the killing of women and girls). Even though women and girls are the primary survivors of GBV, it also harms families, communities, and society as a whole. In this article, we will provide some clarity on the meaning of gender-based violence, the types of violence it refers to, and how to help if you or someone you know has been exposed to some form of gender-based violence.
What is Gender-based violence
Gender-based violence refers to all violence or harm that is directed towards a person based on their gender. This means that if the survivors were not of that gender, they would most likely not have experienced the harm, such as rape or sex trafficking. Gender-based violence,also known as GBV, is deeply embedded in gender inequality and abuse of power. It constitutes a form of discrimination against women and is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. GBV disproportionately affects females over males, but men and boys can also be exposed to GBV, especially sexual violence. It is important to understand how gender affects the harms that different groups experience and work towards fostering an environment where all rights are respected without discrimination.
What are the types of Violence?
Violence is often used to describe actual physical harm. But the definition is much broader than that and can include:
- Physical (eg assault (serious or minor), deprivation of liberty, murder)
- Sexual (eg sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape, sex trafficking)
- Psychological or emotional ( eg coercion, intimidation, verbal insults, harassment)
- Economic abuse (eg controlling access to financial resources, property damage, refusal to pay alimony)
Gender-based violence constitutes a violation of basic and universal human rights, for example:
1- The right to life
2- The right to personal security
3- The right to equal protection under the law
4- The right to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment
There are many more rights protecting women, and it should be remembered that women's rights are human rights. Human rights are protected under International Law, and should also be protected under the laws of each country. The special International Law that relates to the protection of women’s rights is called the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and more information can be found here
Risk factors for GBV:
GBV occurs in every country and can affect people regardless of their age, ethnicity, religious background, economic status, and education. However, several risk factors can contribute to a greater prevalence of GBV, including:
1- Unequal social roles: inequality between men and women influencing responsibilities, expectations, privileges, opportunities, rights, and discrimination based on gender.
2- Vulnerability: lack of empowerment, lack of legal protections or support network, lack of knowledge of legal rights, the age of the person.
3- Conflict and displacement: increased vulnerabilities, power dynamics, presence of armed groups.
4- Poverty: although poverty is not a determinant, it can be a risk factor and contribute to prevalence due to less access to support services, education, and opportunities
5- Weak justice system: the lack of accountability, transparency, rule of law, and avenues for redress
6- Harmful traditional practices: such as early or forced marriage.
7- Drugs or alcohol: can contribute to high prevalence, though is not the cause of GBV.
What are the consequences of violence?
GBV hurts everybody, It can affect the survivors, families, the perpetrator, children, and the community, in different ways
- The survivors may suffer from:
- Physical – injury, sexually-transmitted infections, death, pregnancy
- Psychological– anxiety, stress, PTSD, depression, trauma, feelings of shame, fear, mistrust
- Financial – loss of employment due to having to take sick leave, or not being permitted to work, medical costs
- Educational – poor school or university performance or drop out,
- Relationships – loss of social or family network, loss of children/custody, loss of a marriage
- It also affects society in general as it results in:
- Less participation of women in the public sphere including in politics, the economy, paid employment
- High economic cost due to the medical fees to support the recovery of the survivor and the legal fees associated with the prosecution of violence or divorce
- Increased insecurity in neighborhoods and increased pressure on police.
What is the link between consent and gender-based violence?
Consent: refers to a person providing permission or agreeing for something to happen.
Informed consent: refers to a person permitting something to happen with full knowledge and understanding of the consequences and accepts it with their free will and without any force being used against them, over (18), and being mentally stable (Being of right mind – either with good mental health, no intoxication, no learning difficulties).
The absence of informed consent is an element in the definition of GBV, so there can be no consent in cases where any type of force is used (physical violence, coercion, etc.). The phrase "she did not say no" is often repeated as a common defense of types of GBV, but the survivor may in many cases resort to saying "yes" or saying "no" because she feels threatened and fears for her safety, social status, family or her life. This is not giving consent, as coercion or threats will mean she is forced into something against her will and she is prevented from cannot freely decide. The threats or coercion can be express or implied. It is also assumed that children (under the age of 18) cannot provide free and informed consent, so anything done against them such as forced marriage is assumed to be against their will.
Gender-based violence in Iraq during COVID-19:
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic forced governments to take public health measures to contain the spread of the virus, including imposing curfews movement restrictions and the closure of services. For women and girls, these measures may have resulted in a heightened risk of violence and even death. Recent global and regional reports showed an alarming increase in cases of GBV during the outbreak of the pandemic, especially domestic violence. Many of the measures necessary to control the outbreak of the virus have greatly contributed to limiting the ability of survivors to protect themselves from perpetrators or to access support services and resources. As the United Nation in Iraq reported that Iraq was no exception since the GBVIMS (Gender-Based Violence Information Management System) has recorded a significant increase in the number of reported violent incidents in 2020. This is concerning given that Iraqi women and children - especially those with special needs - were already exposed to high levels of domestic violence risks before the outbreak, with domestic violence accounting for more than three-quarters of all reported incidents of gender-based violence in Iraq. Bearing in mind that a large number of the cases go unreported, a major and urgent priority must be given to reducing gender-based violence, responding effectively to it, and mitigating its risks. Many women and girls continue to be the target of violence and abuse due to the lack of laws that can protect them and hold the perpetrators accountable. Support services must continue to be available and accessible to women, throughout necessary COVID-19 containment measures.
What can I do to help someone I know (like a family member friend or neighbor) is being abused?
If you are concerned about a friend who may be experiencing domestic violence, abuse, or threatened by someone, please review these tips on how to help them to find safety and support.
1- When you think your friend is going through domestic violence, try to stay in touch and Avoid making the abuser suspicious to keep the communication running between you and your friend. For example, if you both have children, suggest play dates or create connection between both yourselves and the kids. Creating secret code words is a good idea to have safe conversations.
2- Make sure the connection is according to your friend preference, to establish a safe communication channel because, many times, they could be close (or even in the same room) with the abuser and might be hearing conversations. Ask them if they prefer an instant message or text over a call, or other application and platform they feel safe to use.
3- Believing your friend and supporting them is very important part of communication, by reassuring them that they are not alone and you are available to help. Recognize that it may be difficult for them to talk about the abuse. If they want to talk, listen carefully and be empathetic.
4- Think with your friend about how to stay safe during COVID-19, by helping them to create a plan for lockdown situations, by looking for other friends or family who can stay with during this time.
5- Unless you strongly believe their life is in danger, avoid taking actions without their approval.
6- Because of safety issues, stigma, feelings of shame, and victim-blaming that survivors often face, it is important that their identity and experience remain secret, unless they give specific approval to reveal them.
7- If you are able, offer them a safe place to stay, transportation, or other forms of support that may increase their safety.
8- Let your friend know they can talk with someone who has been trained to help. Provide them with information about local services and helplines.
Following are numbers of Women Protection and Empowerment - International Rescue Committee:
Panja Ali Camp1: 07730159661
Panja Ali Camp2: 07701352161
Al-Karama neighborhood: 07730714050
Al-Mithaq neighborhood: 07700859930
Al-Entssar neighborhood: 07723618121