World Tribunal of Iraq Istanbul, Turkey 25 June 2005
Fourth Session / The Invasion and Occupation of Iraq (Moderator: Haifa Zangana)
Gender Based Violence By Hana Ibrahim
By talking about freedom fighters Bush has robbed American children of their innocence. At a speech he made for an international organisation about the U.S. going to Iraq, he said that the U.S. is going to Iraq in order to free Iraqi women. Yet, the price that we had to pay in Fallujah, in Baghdad and in other places as women is a very high one. There are many examples of this both in the cities and in the rural areas. Women are having to endure injustice; so many women have been killed with a single bullet going through their heads. 72 women were killed in 6 days in Fallujah in this manner and the only thing that they did was to open their doors when they were knocked on.
During the election campaign Bush talked about this gender issue and said, 'As concerns the beating up of pregnant women, this is a great violence committed against both the woman and the child that she is bearing.' Bush did not apologise for all the crimes committed against women, for all the violations committed against women, not only in Abu Ghraib prison but all over Iraq. We should also remember here the children that were born in Abu Ghraib prison. This should not make us forget all the suffering of women who are not imprisoned. Bush never apologised for all the wrongs that have been committed against women. Gender discrimination is a very clear issue in Iraq.
I would like to very briefly go over the violations endured by Iraqi women and the economic, religious and social impacts of this. From the day that the occupation started in Iraq there was a systematic violation of women and their rights. They were kidnapped, raped and even taken to other countries in order to have them work in networks. I talked to one of these people who was in a gang that picked up these women. He told me that if a woman is not a virgin she would not cost more than 2,000 or 3,000 dollars but if the woman was a virgin then she would cost much more. If that woman can be used for her organs because she is a healthy subject then her price could go up to 10,000 dollars, whereas in Iraq this does not have a price at all. Now this kind of crime is being committed on a daily basis in a systematic manner by an organised, mafia-type organisation. That kind of thing did not exist in Iraq before the occupation.
Now let's look at the issue from the point of view of the security of women. Religion is a sort of a place of escape for women because women feel protected by religion when they find no other way to escape the harsh reality that they are enduring; and if they are wearing the headscarf it is because they are afraid. I can tell you of many instances of young women at universities who feel threatened and this is why they are wearing the headscarf. Families are also under threat. Fathers are taking their young girls and young children to schools themselves because they are afraid of them being abducted or raped, and because of fear for their family members many university students have been withdrawn from schools.
We were like normal people. We would go to restaurants and cafes with our children but now all the women and children rush to their home before the sun sets because they are afraid. Before, women used to drive cars themselves and some were also taxi drivers. In order for us to have such a right we did not have to claim our rights or organise demonstrations for this but you cannot see this anymore in the streets of Baghdad or elsewhere.
Women are fleeing from Fallujah with their children (I am talking about Fallujah becuase you all know about it but it is the same in Mosul and in Kirkuk). All those who fled from Fallujah are almost entirely women and children. Men have stayed behind in order to guard their homes. Women fled because they did not feel secure. Those who did return and saw that their houses were ruined would beg to have their houses rebuilt and even live in tents. They were humiliated.
Another reality that we can observe in the Iraqi family is that there is no trust in anybody anymore because people are afraid of one another now. Another important reality is that women wear pyjamas or long dresses when they are asleep at night because they are afraid of dying naked if ever they are shot or they house is bombed. Another fact is that now all of the family members are sleeping in the same room because of the impluse of fear. Therefore, we can see the changes occuring in these relations and there is presently no way of resolving this. Those who are running this military and psychological warfare are seriously violating human rights.
The scandals in Abu Ghraib are the most dissipated scenes that you can witness. I would like to ask a question that most of you have already asked: why are detained women left naked? Why are they made to walk naked before other detained male prisoners? And why are naked men made to go into cages where naked women are kept under detention? We have documented all this. The Union of Phycisians documented the Americans carrying out this torture through their own photos.
Iraqi women are today trying to find security in their own families or in their tribes. They are not resorting to the United Nations or other security organisations at an international level. Yet, the economic security of the family is non-existent. I can give you figures of unemployment from an international organisation: there is 72 % unemployment that rises to 90 % for women. Similarly, women's contribution to social life has diminished. Women are only working in domestic services such as housekeeping, cleaning and chores and they are paid very poorly for this. Prostitution is on the rise and we see more women and children among the beggars.
One of the saddest situations facing women is when the person responsible for maintaining the livelihood of the family disappears. What is a woman to do? She may be afraid of going to official institutions because she may be the wife of a soldier killed or a soldier detained so she may be at risk.
The first day Haifa Zangana said that we will continue resisting in Iraq for you as well as for ourselves because America is not the fate of humanity. They are not the power to rule over the world in future and we can create another world. We can create a more enlightened world for women and we would ask you to look at the world from women's eyes because women's eyes see through their hearts..
HANA IBRAHIM (Iraq)
Writer and journalist, she worked in the Palestine camps in Jordan and Lebanon during 1970-73. She was the manager of Women's Cultural Center in Baghdad and edited and wrote in many feminist journals. She worked in the Occupation Watch Center in 2004. She is currently the Chair of Women's Will organisation and is editing its journal.