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".

If we succeed in giving a new meaning to a woman’s life it helps her to recover“. Consultant from Iraq

The Kurdistan Autonomous Region of Iraq is groaning under the on-going financial burden of refugees and internatlly displaced people (IDPs). Despite national and international help, there is a lack of funds.

Also during and after their escape to safe regions women are still exposed to a high level of violence. Many women and girls report of constant fear of aggression and attacks, especially in refugee camps.

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.

Iraq – political and economical crisis

Iraqi soldier in front of a school, a group of children in the background.
  • According to a report from the EU Commission, between 2014 and 2017 there were 5.8 million internally displaced people in Iraq who have sought to escape the violence of IS militia. Meanwhile, 4.5 million people have returned, but there are still 6.7 million people in need, including some 450,000 internally displaced persons in refugee camps and more than 250,000 refugees from Syria. Accordong to the Kurdish Regional Government around 1.5 million IDPs and refugeesare seeking refuge in the autonomous region of Kurdistan.
  • According to a UNICEF study in 2018, 37.5 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 49 in the Autonomous Republic of Kurdistan reported having been genitally mutilated.
  • 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.
Iraqi girl. Copyright: Pixabay
  • 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.
  • According to UNICEF due to decades of conflict and lack of funding currently around 3.2 million children in Iraq are unable to attend school.

(Last updated: 2019)


Practical examples:

300-400 women participate every month in the different courses organised by EMMA in 2018. The most popular class is a weekly literacy course in the community center of Erbil.

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Partner organisations:

Project regions:
Kurdish Autonomous Regions (Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah), Central Iraq

Project priorities:

  • Training for psychotherapists in the areas of psychological health and psychosocial support
  • Empowering and capacity building of local structures and professional staff to support women and girls affected by gender-based violence
  • Boosting capacities to take action against gender-specific violence in refugee accommodation and in host communities
  • Development of a contextualised staff care concept for local partner organisations

Strengthening the resilience and sustainability of medica mondiale’s partner organisations

Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ)
Anne-Marie Schindler foundation
Donations/own resources

Source: annual report 2018

Overview of all partner organisations of medica mondiale

25 years of medica mondiale – an overview

Women and girls from Syria and Iraq are affected by and threatened with sexualised violence both in their home regions and when fleeing. Copyright: Renas Merkhan/medica mondiale

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.

Since September 2018 medica mondiale has been working with the women's rights organisation EMMA. It pursues the goal of eliminating gender-based violence and empowering women. In Erbil and Dohuk, EMMA  provides points of contact for women affected or threatened by violence. Therapeutic measures support survivors to come to terms with their experience. Courses such as reading and writing or sewing help women to lead a self-determined life. In addition, EMMA sensitises staff working in public institutions to dealing with survivors of violence and engages in lobby work at political level.

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.

(Status of: 2018)

Map of the field of operation in North Iraq.