Pegeraf– Ghamgin Mohammed
Over the past ten years, nearly 1,000 women have been killed or committed suicide in the Kurdistan Region. Officials have registered more than 80,000 complaints about violence against women and girls.
Tens of thousands of other women suffer largely in silence, sacrificing their dreams each day.
"I have surrendered everything for the sake of my children. I have given up all my wishes, going out, and even going to my father's house," Lana Karim told Peregraf.
Although she is just 27-years-old, Karim’s young life has been turbulent. At 17-years-old, she was married off to a 31-year-old man and is now raising three children.
"The trouble and disaster of my life began when I agreed and said, ‘yes, I will marry an older man,’" she explained.
At the time, Karim wanted to finish her schooling, but her mother and sister told her that "girls should be married and, as long as he is a good person, don’t reject him."
"They said the difference in age doesn’t matter and you could continue your studies too," she continued.
However, Karim’s relationship with her husband quickly soured as he sought to control her entire life. She has only been out with him twice: Once for their engagement and once to buy household supplies.
"Even then, he had criticisms about my clothes, about how I looked, laughed, and talked. He controlled everything about me," she said.
All too common
Between 2012 and 2021, more than 80,000 complaints about gender-based violence were made by women, according to official statistics from the General Directorate of Combating Violence against Women (DCVAW).
During the same period, at least 412 women were killed in the Kurdistan Region. The majority were in Erbil governorate, where there were 180 murders. There were an additional 130 murders in Sulaimaniyah governorate and 102 in Duhok governorate.
Additionally, at least 571 women committed suicide during that ten-year span. Another 1,684 women were burned by another person, 1,015 women self-immolated, and approximately 1,400 were sexually assaulted.
This violent period covers the terms of three Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) cabinets, while each routinely espoused their ostensible commitment to women’s rights.
Karim’s experience is not unusual for women in the Kurdistan Region.
"When [my husband] controlled everything, I said, ‘He loves me so much, that’s why he is doing that,’" Karim told Peregraf. "I didn't know he would change my house into a prison."
After her marriage, Karim eagerly awaited the start of the new school year, so she could resume her studies.
When she reminded him of his promise to transfer her registration to a school in her new neighborhood, her husband told her that "women are not suitable for education. Only reading and writing are enough, I don't want you to be a professor."
At first, Karim tried to assert her rights, going back to her father’s house several times and once filing for divorce. She eventually withdrew the divorce petition after her husband promised to improve his behavior, but nothing has changed.
"I am sitting at home and raising my children, as my husband wants," she said.
Many other women, however, do end up getting a divorce from their husbands. According to official statistics, 11,699 couples in the Kurdistan Region split in 2021.
Other women face different problems in realizing their dreams.
Shilan, who is 40-years-old and asked that only her first name be used, told Peregraf that her father has prevented her and her three sisters, who are all over 20-years-old, from getting married. In the Kurdistan Region, older women face more difficulty in finding a husband than younger women.
"My greatest wish is to get married and become a mother, but if it goes like this my wishes will turn into dust," Shilan said.
Legally, any woman older than 18 can marry without her family’s consent.
"There was a chance to get married for me and my sisters, but my father says, ‘I love you and my heart isn’t able to give you to anyone else. I won't let you get married while I'm alive,’" Shilan said, explaining that this is a violation of her rights, even if father thinks he means well.
"My father is depriving us. We have no authority and we are committed to his word because of social conditions," she said. "As we get older, our sorrows increase."
The violence of the past ten years has continued into this past year as well, say officials and activists.
According to the latest statistics from the Women's Legal Aid Organization, at least 22 women were killed in the first six months of 2022. This constituted a major increase over 2021, when 24 women were murdered over the course of the entire year.
Thirty-one other women committed suicide and 29 self-immolated during that same six-month period.
"At first, the aim of the administration was to eradicate violence. But the increasing number of cases of violence each day has led us to try to reduce violence," DCVAW Director Fenk Shafiq told Peregraf.
Shafiq believes the mental state of individuals in society, both men and women, is "completely unstable" due to a lack of public services, poor economic conditions, and the rapid exposure of the community to technology and social media.
The DCVAW director added that officials have stepped up their campaigns to reduce gender-based violence, but said that "all relevant parties in the interior ministry need to be with us, including the police and their investigators, and the courts should cooperate fully to punish criminals."
DCVAW receives dozens of complaints from women each day through the 119 hotline and at their offices, but many women continue to suffer without outside help.
Karim fears that her decision to stay with her controlling husband has affected her children.
"They don't mix easily with anyone and many normal things are a shame," she said.
Karim’s advice is for other women is to marry someone of the right age who is compatible right from the start, so that they will not suffer later.