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 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. More than 257.000 people from Iraq have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Of almost 290,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, the vast majority (almost 250,000) comes from Syria. Approximately 1.5 million IDPs and refugees are seeking safety in the autonomous region of Kurdistan.
  • Some 6.7 million people in Iraq (about 18 percent of the population), including 3 million women and girls, need humanitarian aid and protection.
  • Female genital mutilation (FGM) is particularly common in 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. In the rest of the country, UNICEF estimates the rate at one percent; for the country as a whole the estimate is seven percent.
  • 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.
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. While sexual assault is criminalized, charges can be dropped on the basis of patriarchal legal interpretation if the assailant marries the victim. Efforts in parliament to pass a draft law against domestic violence came to a standstill in 2019.
  • 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: 2020)


Practical examples:

Emma empowered 615 women in vocational courses such as tailoring, needlework, English and hairdressing. These courses also always include women’s rights awareness sessions.

Please support this work with your donation!

Partner organisations:
Haukari e.V. with implementation partners Khanzad and PDO
EMMA Organisation for Human Development

Project regions:
Kurdish Autonomous Regions

Project priorities:

  • training and competence building for staff in the healthcare, police and judicial sectors
  • psychosocial counselling, family counselling and legal advice
  • establishment and support of self-help groups
  • public awareness work on gender-based violence and women’s rights

Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ)
Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ GmbH)
Federal Foreign Office
Donations/own resources

Source: annual report 2019

Overview of all partner organisations of medica mondiale

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

medica mondiale has been supporting projects in northern Iraq since 2014.

EMMA – Integrated support for women and girls

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, Dohuk and Shekhan, 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.

2019 EMMA organised a major peace conference, bringing together representatives of government and academia, as well as members of national and international NGOs. Together with participants, the women’s rights activists discussed issues such as the situation of Yazidi women and their children born of rape.

Also, a network meeting of EMMA staff members with women's rights activists from India and Afghanistan took place. As women's rights activists in a society that makes women and girls responsible for the violence inflicted upon them, they share similar challenges. In this regard, they exchanged views on various political issues. A strong network of women’s organisations is not only helpful for the exchange of experience, but also increases the political leverage of each member.

Training of medical and psychosocial staff

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: 2019)