Peregraf – Ghamgin Mohammed
Some activists are urging a rethink of how women’s rights advocacy organizations in the Kurdistan Region operate, arguing that they are failing in their primary missions.
Statistics show that violence against women in the Region is increasing. The Women's Legal Aid Organization reported on June 21 that 22 women were killed during the first six months of 2022 compared with 24 in all of 2021.
An additional 31 women committed suicide and 29 others were burned by another person in the first half of this year, the group said.
"Many of the women who have been killed or violated…earlier visited [women’s] organizations for help, but their problems were not solved," Nasik Rahim, a teacher, told Peregraf.
Rahim criticized the organizations as only being concerned with publicity.
"Their only job is to hold a press conference and condemn the killings and violence, as far as I've noticed. They haven't even tried…to make their work accepted by the majority of people," she said.
According to previous reporting by Peregraf, more than 80,000 incidents of violence against women were recorded between 2012 and 2021. During that period, at least 571 women committed suicide, at least 412 women were killed in the Kurdistan Region, 1,684 were burned by others, and 1,015 women self-immolated.
There were at least 1,400 sexual assaults, though this is almost certainly an undercount because sexual violence often goes unreported.
Others say that the focus of women’s organizations in the Kurdistan Region is too narrow.
"Women's organizations played a role after the uprising, both positive or negative. But some organizations clearly believe that their work is only about the trafficking of women and girls," activist Shno Abdullah told Peregraf.
In contrast, Shilan Hama-Nuri, a gender equality activist, argued that, "if it weren't for women's organizations, killings and violence against women would be much higher than the current statistics."
Hama-Nuri said that the role of the approximately 300 women’s groups in the Kurdistan Region was to raise awareness about the issues women and girls face and to promote solutions.
She added that they have faced resistance at every turn.
"Women are more aware and do not accept violence and slavery. So, the male gender stands against [this attitude] and opposes it and then violence arises," she said.
How are women’s groups organized?
Women’s rights advocacy organizations in the Kurdistan Region fall into three categories: government departments, independent NGOs, and organizations affiliated with political parties.
Groups like the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Directorate of Combating Violence against Women (DCVAW) and the KRG’s High Council for Women and Development were established to coordinate the government’s response to the issues women face.
Theoretically, the KRG’s Department of Non-Governmental Organizations also plays a role by providing funding for independent NGOs. This was the case until 2015, when funding was cut during the Kurdistan Region’s financial crisis. That money has not been restored.
The second category is independent NGOs, which rely on a mix of internal and external funding sources.
Two years ago, the KRG’s Department of Non-Governmental Organizations established special directorates to investigate the work and activities of the NGOs, but so far have not complied a comprehensive database.
Barzan Akram, head of the KRG Council of Ministers’ NGO office told Peregraf that, under Law No. 1 of 2011, all NGOs are required to submit an annual financial report, but many fail to do so. As a result, the government does not have a clear picture of what funding for NGOs in the Region looks like, including for women’s advocacy groups.
"We plan to force them [to submit financial reports] in the future and we will take legal action against any organization that does not report," he said.
The third category are party-affiliated groups, with those associated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) being the largest and best-funded.
"Women's party organizations have good budgets and, if they wanted to, they could do a lot of work," said Hama-Nuri.