Women and girls from Syria and Iraq are affected by and threatened with sexualised violence both in their home regions and when fleeing. Reasons for this include the war in Syria, the unstable political situation in Iraq, and attacks by the terrorist militia "Islamic State".
Women’s rights work with local partners
Greater protection and improved access to trauma-sensitive counselling for women affected by violence are the focus of our projects in the region.
By means of our cooperation with regional women’s organisations and the regional government of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Dohuk/Iraq, we would like to strengthen and improve the long-term, sustainable offers of support for women and girls in the region.
Syria – sexualised violence used as weapon of war
- According to United Nations (UN) information, since March 2011 the war in Syria has led to more than 400,000 deaths and one million injuries in the country during the past five years. 6million people have fled from Syria and 6.3 million internally displaced people are seeking safer conditions within the country.
- Sexualised violence is being used systematically as a weapon of war in the conflict in Syria. This includes rape, sexual enslavement and forced marriage. Alongside military attacks and the destruction of necessary infrastructure, this is one of the most important reasons why women flee their homes.
- The threat is particularly high for women and girls in areas controlled by IS militia, in prison, in police stations and at checkpoints. Outside of Syria, the threat of sexualised violence is very high in refugee camps, in private apartments (from neighbours and landlords), and from staff of relief organisations.
- Syrian society does not treat women and girls who have been raped as victims, but rather as the focus of a “disgrace” which the whole extended family needs to cleanse itself of. For this reason, many women and girls do not speak about their experiences since they are afraid of the consequences, which has actually even meant death in some cases.
- When asked by the International Rescue Committee what their greatest difficulties are, Syrian women and girls in neighbouring countries answered: the everyday fear of sexual exploitation and harassment, the fear of violence from family members, and the fear of forced marriage.
- The UN reports that many women fled to neighbouring countries with their children. About 80 percent of the people seeking refuge in Jordan are women and children. There they often live with no income, in unsatisfactory accommodation, with no easy access to medical assistance, and with the threat of exploitation, survival prostitution and other forms of sexualised violence.
- In refugee camps near to the Syrian border in Turkey, many women are scared of being attacked by IS terrorist militia operating in the country. Many are therefore desperately hoping to flee further, leaving Turkey for the safety of Europe.
- The desperate situation of refugees in Turkey is being exploited in many ways. Urgently needed food or money is being offered to people in exchange for the chance to rape their children, and women are being forced into so-called survival prostitution.
Iraq – political and economical crisis
- According to a report from the EU Commission, there are 3.2 million internally displaced people in Iraq who have sought to escape the violence of IS militia since January 2014. Accordong to the UN around one million of these are seeking refuge in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, which has its own regional government.
- A survey published in 2009 by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Iraqi government revealed that 68 percent of young Iraqi men considered it acceptable to murder a girl if she had brought the family into dishonour.
- In 2013, the forensic institute of the autonomous region of Kurdistan reported that 1,748 women had been burnt, shot or suffocated. A further 236 women had suffered burns-related injuries.
- Since the start of the economic and political crisis, domestic violence in the autonomous region of Kurdistan has increased significantly. Women fleeing from the threat of murder by their family are often protected for years in a women's safe house. However, this is more or less a life in captivity.
- One study carried out by the Iraqi Health Ministry in 2006-7 showed that more than one in five Iraqi women (21%) between 15 and 49 had suffered physical violence at the hands of their husband. The majority (83%) of all married women in Iraq are subject to a regime of strict control by their husbands, according to a report from Human Rights Watch in 2011.
- A progressive family law was passed in Iraq in 1959. The United Nations sanctions after the Gulf war in 1990-1 damaged the Iraqi economy. Women were forced off of the labour market and became subject to traditional restrictions regarding their roles and clothes. In recent times, numerous acts of violence against women have been documented, committed by Iraqi security forces, US soldiers and, above all, jihadist fighters. Existing laws which protect the rights of women are not being enforced.
- The regional government of the autonomous region of Kurdistan has passed extensive legal reforms since 2009 designed to protect women from violence, including a 2011 law to combat domestic violence which makes domestic violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation punishable offences. Furthermore, numerous contact points for women have also been set up in Kurdistan.
- According to information from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), homosexual, bisexual and transgender people are being issued with death threats by IS militia and Iraqi militia. Violations of human rights against this group of people, such as murder or forced marriage by their family and violent harassment from security forces, have been on the increase in Iraq for years.
- UNICEF reported in October 2015 that about two million children in Iraq are unable to attend school because of the war.
(Last updated: 2017)
Autonomous Region of Kurdistan, Iraq
- NWE (Organization for Environmental Protection and Defense of Women's Rights)
The Kurdish organisation NWE, which medica mondiale started to fund in December 2015, has been operating a large women's centre in Halabja since the beginning of the 1990s. The centre assists women there by offering a range of education, training and advice. The grant from medica mondiale enables NWE to expand this offer to women and girls who have fled to Halabja. The centre will be able to offer them trauma therapy, gynaecological advice, sewing courses and self-help groups. In safe groups facilitated by a psychologist, women have the opportunity to talk about their experience of violence. Since sexualised violence is a taboo, women usually have no chance to confide in anyone on this issue.
- Cooperation with the health authorities in Dohuk province
In the Kurdish region of Dohuk medica mondiale is training healthcare staff on the issues of sexualised violence and trauma-sensitive psychosocial counselling. The doctors and nurses, psychologists, midwives and first aiders work in hospitals and health centres, where their patients often include women and girls who have survived violence and torture by IS militia. Until now there were no special or systematic training sessions provided on how to deal with survivors of sexualised violence in the training curricula of these medical specialists. Trainers are being trained and materials are being compiled in a variety of languages in order to facilitate the provision of this expertise. Furthermore, medica mondiale is assisting the health authorities in the Dohuk region to develop standards for psychosocial counselling. A particular focus here is on the counselling given to survivors of sexualised violence. By cooperating with the health ministry of Dohuk province, medica mondiale has the opportunity to facilitate a fundamental improvement in the standards of medical and psychological support given to women and girls who have experienced violence, anchoring this in long-term structures.
- WFBH (Women for Better Healthy Life)
Activists from different ethnic groups and religious faiths in Dohuk have joined together to register the NGO "Women for a Better Life".
- The Association of Legal Aid Against Sexual Violence
medica mondiale started supporting the women’s aid organisation The Association of Legal Aid Against Sexual Violence in December 2014. The organisation offers Syrian women in Turkey legal advice and helps them to access medical, psychosocial and further legal assistance. Furthermore, it documents cases of sexualised violence in order to make it possible at a later date to pursue them in a court of law. This documentation also serves to inform the public about violence against women. Syrian refugees in Turkey are have no legal right to accommodation, food, medical care or psychosocial counselling. This means that many Syrian women and girls are living on the streets without shelter or resources. The Association of Legal Aid Against Sexual Violence focuses its work on the refugee camps near the border and in Istanbul, Izmir and Edirne in order to ensure that it reaches as many refugee women and girls as possible.
(status of 2016)
partner organisations: Haukari/Khanzad NWE – Organisation for Environmental Protection and Defence of Women’s’ Rights Rasan Organisation for Women’s Rights Sewan Organisation for Women’s Empowerment The Association of Legal Aid Women Now for Development
Northern Iraq (KRI): Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah, Halabja
Syria: Saraqep, Hazeh, Kafr Batna
Project priorities: Northern Iraq: qualification of health professionals
Financing: Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ) Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Donations/own resources
Project costs: 557.216,04 Euro
130 police officers in Sulaymaniyah were trained in the causes and consequences of gender-specific violence, to enable them to deal more sensitively with the survivors of honour crimes and sexualised violence.
12 employees from the Ministries of Health, Employment and Social Affairs in Dohuk received one-day training in trauma-sensitive counselling and self-care.
Source: annual report 2016
Direct local assistance for women and girls:
The Syria/Iraq region has been a focus of our grant program for partner organisations since autumn 2014. The aims of this program are to ensure direct local assistance for women and girls affected by sexualised violence, build up specialist capacity and facilitate the organisations’ access to knowledge and networks.
If the cooperation proves to be successful during the period of the grant, it is then possible to expand this into a more comprehensive joint programme. In this way medica mondiale can establish long-term partnerships.
Healthcare training and psychosocial counselling:
In the Kurdish region of Dohuk medica mondiale is training healthcare staff on the issues of sexualised violence and trauma-sensitive psychosocial counselling. In 2016, we advanced this approach with the continuation of existing programmes and launching new qualification programmes. A small office in Dohuk has been coordinating local activities since 2016.
Furthermore, medica mondiale is assisting the health authorities in the Dohuk region to develop standards for psychosocial counselling. A particular focus here is on the counselling given to survivors of sexualised violence.
Widespread training project:
The new training project, run jointly since July 2016 by medica mondiale, the development association, Haukari, and the women’s centre, Khanzad, targets women in refugee camps and communities, counselling centres and state-run shelters as well as local police departments in Dohuk and the Sulaymaniyah region.
The two-year project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development, combines training for specialists and managers with improvements in training provision and public awareness raising.