This post is also available in: Arabic
Ashura, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn Ibn Ali falls each year on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic Calendar. It is a time of mourning for victims of injustice and for remembrance and self-reflection.
This year Ashura coincided with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which falls on 25 November each year. This is also a day for remembering victims of injustice and for reflecting on what each of us can do to prevent the injustice of violence against women.
The historian Tabari tells us that as she passed the slain body of her brother Imam Husayn, Sayyeda Zeynab bint Ali lamented that the Prophet’s daughters were prisoners. Sayyeda Zeynab also called for the release of one of Imam Husayn’s daughters, Fatima Al Kubra, and protected her, although another daughter, the child Ruqayyah, died in captivity.
Injustice and violence against women remain with us. Just a few days ago, I heard a shocking report about women prisoners being raped and tortured in Iraqi prisons. If true, this behaviour is disgraceful and unacceptable, but sadly it is just one example of many incidents of violence which happen on a daily basis against women in Iraq.
Violence against women includes early or forced marriage; trafficking; female genital mutilation – all of which remain big challenges in Iraq. It also includes domestic violence. It is never acceptable for a man to beat his wife under any circumstances.
It is doubly sad that women who are victims of violence in Iraq may also be stigmatized and even face reprisals from family members. Blaming the victim adds insult to injury.
Last year, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki rightly said that Iraq’s laws were not currently sufficient to prevent violence against women. He underlined the need for more education and reform to protect the rights of women. There has been some progress but there is a lot of work to be done. Women around Iraq are waiting to see how these words will translate into action.
New legislation to combat human trafficking and the draft domestic violence law, when adopted, will go some way to addressing the issue on paper. But proper implementation of these laws is needed to make a real difference. Improved access to care and justice is also crucial to success.
The British Embassy in Baghdad and the British Consulate General in Erbil are this week launching a series of events and activities to draw attention to this issue. We are working with Iraqi organisations to raise awareness of women’s rights amongst women. We are also holding workshops with police, government officials and members of the judiciary to help them prevent and prosecute acts of violence and to protect women from violence.
This is part of a global initiative which the British Foreign Secretary launched in May to prevent sexual violence in conflict. More can and should be done.
Tackling sexual violence is central to conflict prevention and peace-building worldwide. This will be a key focus of our work when the UK takes over the G8 Presidency in 2013. Through the initiative we want to tackle sexual violence in its widest sense; recognising that it can physically and psychologically injure and also humiliate, degrade and stigmatise individuals and communities.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic, widespread human rights violations in the world. It undermines efforts to achieve global security and development. Although progress has been made across all continents – and has begun in Iraq – unequal pay and unequal access to healthcare, education, employment, inheritance and property continue to prevent many women from the full enjoyment of their human rights, and act as barriers to women’s political and economic participation.
It’s past time to make progress on tackling this injustice. I hope you will join us by participating in one of these events if you can, or by sending me your comments and suggestions for future action. Sayyida Zaynab’s voice still carries a message for us all.