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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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Read the full article in Arabic at Alesbuyia News

July 27, 2010

With the decline in sectarian violence, the Iraqi government has taken a new step to fight another kind of violence: domestic violence targeting women.  The Interior Ministry has opened two Family Centers inside two police stations in Baghdad, including one in Hay Al-Qahera, to handle this kind of violence.

Those staffing these centers are social workers and investigators.  We consider this an important step to alleviating the Iraqi culture of masculinity, and allowing women a greater degree of safely and security in reporting cases of domestic violence.

Because the centers are located inside police stations, and because domestic violence remains a taboo issue in this community, only a few women have taken advantage of these new services and asked for help.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs still considers the establishment of these centers at police stations a victory for Iraqi women who previously had no access to such resources.

Azahr Al Sha’rbaf, a legal expert at the Ministry of State Affairs called domestic violence “the untold crime.”  She added that this is a very serious issue and said that there were previously no resource centers available to women or judicial authority  over these cases.  Moreover, Iraqi politicians had denied the notion that women are exposed to violence and had turned a blind-eye to these issues.

In many situations, she said it is “very likely that we hear voices and crying from outside the houses and see the bruising on women, but these women never dare to report it or even ask for help because of the traditions of the community we live in.  It will be hard for women to go to a police station and report on her husband because she will risk the fact that her relatives will view her as bringing shame to her family. Because of this, many believe that having these centers inside police stations really will not address the issue.”

These centers will only serve to mitigate issues between husbands and wives. For example,  if a husband beats his wife, social workers can simply have him sign an agreement to not repeat the action instead of providing shelter for the wife.

One of the social workers said that in the four months since the opening of the center, they had received only one complaint from a woman being beaten by her husband.  The Ministry of Human Rights has tried to open these centers outside of police stations, but this proved to be ineffective. For now, shelters will remain in police stations, with possibilities for change in the future.

One of the women questioned said that even if her husband assaulted her verbally or physically, she would not report him because she found it unethical.

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