On 7 July, I attended a meeting at the House of Commons, hosted by Jeremy Corbyn MP, about honour killings in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The meeting was called by the Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation (KMEWO).
Before this meeting, I have to say that I knew very little about the plight of some of the women in the region. The statistics and stories I heard have inspired me to take action on this issue and to ask others to do the same.
Women worldwide suffer structural and systematic oppression at the hands of men. We are beaten, raped, burned and killed by spouses, partners, family members and male friends.
In Britain, this means that, on average, two women are killed every week by their male partners. One in four women, according to statistics, will be victims of rape during their lifetimes (I suspect that this figure is very conservative). A young woman I met recently, N, was homeless due to extreme violence from her ex-partner and from her father, who had stamped so hard on her foot that her big toe had split. Every single woman I know who I’ve talked to about such issues has been a victim of sexual assault, extreme harassment or abuse, often all three. According to 2010 statistics, there were at least 2823 “honour crimes” in that year in the UK.
Iraqi Kurdistan has a population of less than five million people. Yet according to women’s groups in the country there were more than 2,500 incidents of violence against women and girls in just four months between January and May (that they are aware of). On average over the last ten years, 252 women have been murdered every year due to so-called ‘honour killings’.
In 2012, 15-year-old Nigar Rahim was brutally murdered by one of her brothers. At 14 a different brother raped and sexually assaulted her. She became pregnant and had a baby. Her life was at risk and went to a women’s shelter. After two months she returned to her family after they promised not to harm her. Forty days after this she was killed.
On 23rd May this year, 15-year-old Dunya was killed by her 45-year-old husband. He removed one of her eyes, severed her breasts, disembowelled her, tied her to a car and dragged her body into the road before firing nine bullets into her body. This was Dunya’s second forced marriage, after having to marry another man 35 years her senior when she was just 11 years old.
According to KWMEO, the authorities turn a blind eye on forced child marriages. Reports from Dunya’s mother to local media that Dunya was subject to burns and rape were not followed up. She also reported fears to the police hours before Dunya’s body was found and it took them hours to show up. So-called “tribal deals” have been offered to Dunya’s father, which involve offering ‘forgiveness’ in return for a sum of money.
The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) say that they are taking steps to prevent honour killings, and are praised by the British government for doing so, but where is the justice for Dunya, for Nigar, and hundreds and thousands of other women subject to abuse, rape and murder at the hands of violent men?
The tragic loss of women’s lives is not the end of the story. Surma Hamed spoke in the meeting about being a survivor of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), child marriage and surviving honour-based violence. Gona Saed, Project Manager at KMEWO, spoke of women being burned to death or burning themselves to death because they can see no other way out. The authorities often ignore and in some cases perpetuate violence against women and girls by allowing “tribal agreements” between violent men and the fathers of victims, by letting off rapists who propose to their victims, by imprisoning women for adultery and through women not being able to register a child in their own name.
But Kurdish women, both in Iraq and Britain, are fighting back! Zhiyan, a grouping of more than 50 women’s organisations in Iraqi-Kurdistan, have release a statement asking for international support and solidarity in putting pressure on the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) to meet their demands. KMEWO have released a template letter to send to the KRG’s embassy in London and have launched a campaign called ‘Justice for Dunya!’ and are looking for signatories for their petition. With the support of Jeremy Corbyn MP, there will be an Early Day Motion going to the House of Commons and a delegation going to the KRG.
Women like Surma are speaking out about men’s violence, their experiences and are asking for solidarity. We, as feminists in Britain, need to respond with our support and sisterhood.
We call on the Kurdish Regional Government to turn their words into action and put the murderers, rapists and abusers of women on public trial.
Justice for Dunya! Justice for Nigar!
Justice for all victims of misogynistic “honour crimes” in Iraqi Kurdistan and around the world!
Challenge the attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate men’s violence against women across the world!