Iraqi women: Life under ISIS control

Under ISIS control, Iraqi women live in fear of forced marriages to militants.
Under ISIS control, Iraqi women live in fear of forced marriages to militants.

Women are an important part of a nation’s stabilization, economic standing and societal change. The women in Iraq are dealing with violations that are stripping away their rights and drastically changing their way of life. In Mosul, a city charter, issued by ISIS, outlines the rules and punishments for all citizens, with women being targeted by several of the new mandates.

In the beginning of July 2014, the Iraqi Ministry of Rights said it had recorded a number of violations against women by ISIS. These abuses range from murder to kidnappings and have affected all Iraqi women, regardless of age, religion or ethnicity.

Life for women in the current security crisis

The city charter introduced in Mosul includes directives that keep women in at home except for emergency cases. When they do leave, all women must wear the niqab. A wife and husband were whipped, in Mosul,  because she donned only a headscarf and not the niqab. This is also evident in other cities that ISIS has taken. For example, billboards in Rakka, Syria state that women must dress modestly. Mosul has also seen the banning of stores that sell modern clothing and closing of salons, both of which are considered blasphemous by the militants.

United Nations Women’s Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, released a statement, earlier this month, indicating that UN Women is outraged by the deliberate targeting of women and girls in Iraq and reports of kidnapping, rape and forced marriages by militants.

Marriage has been an instrument used by militants to target women. In captured towns, leaflets are passed out informing all that ”women, virgin or not, must join jihad and cleanse themselves by sleeping with militants”. Last month a Saudi-based cleric issued a fatwa, a religious order, that allows militants to rape women in those captive towns, such as, Mosul or Fallujah. In Baiji, another occupied town, where citizens are living in fear because of the door-to-door checks for unmarried women, one resident said that “many of their mujahedin, guerrila fighters, were unmarried and wanted a wife. They insisted on coming into my house to look at the women’s ID cards (which in Iraq shows marital status)”. ISIS has claimed that its members have been asked not to bother anyone in captured towns, but the reality on the ground is completely different.

A jihad marriage, or sexual jihad, refers to when a woman volunteers to offer sexual comfort to fighters to assist the cause of establishing Islamic rule. This is not the case in ISIS-controlled towns, where women are kidnapped and forced into marrying militants. That is not the case in ISIS-controlled towns as women are being torn from their families and forced into marriage or raped. Salama al Khafajy of the Iraqi Human Rights Commission points out that the fatwas used “have no basis in Islam and are rejected by Iraqi social customs and traditions, whereby every ISIS recruit is forced to bring in a female relative to have intercourse with a member of the group”. Media outlets have reported that four women committed suicide because of rape, as well as, reports of men committing suicide after being forced to watch or unable to stop  their wives, daughters or sisters from being raped. These acts are a grave violation of human rights and leave devastating consequences for women, girls, families and societies.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that 20,000 women and girls in Iraq could face an increased risk of sexual violence. The reality is that rape is a common weapon used by militias worldwide to create a submissive and controlled public. UNFPA’s Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin said “We must not wait for cases to be counted comprehensively and documented in detail before we act. We must act immediately to ensure that women and girls are protected from sexual violence”.

Militants have also brutally targeted minority women who reside in captive towns and villages. The Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights has forensic medial reports confirming an incident in Basheer where four Turkmen women were murdered. The report states that the women were mutilated and one was hung from an electricity pole for a few days.

Reports of violations against women in the Shabaki and Yazidi communities have been characterized as crimes of racial cleansing have also reached the Ministry. As well as, confirmations of recent kidnappings of two nuns and three orphans from a monastery in Mosul.

Organizations aiding women in Iraq 

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), located in Baghdad, assists women who have been hurt and driven away from their homes. The organization is reaching out to cities with the largest numbers of women displaced by the fighting. Yanar Mohammed, OWFI’s President, said “Kerbala is our target place to go because this is a city where a big population of displaced have gone and where there are families without men, which are very vulnerable”. OWFI provides shelter to women who are being threatened by gender-based violence and in 2008, created a network of safe houses for women who were fleeing such violence.

Along with providing shelter, OWFI is rallying with international allies to supply medical care and humanitarian aid to women who have survived rape or have fled ISIS-controlled areas.  OWFI has also distributed food to  women and by doing so the organization has been able to also assist two of the most vulnerable displaced populations: children and the elderly. This plays into the fact that many women are becoming the heads-of-households and taking on the responsibilities of providing for their families and communities. 

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) notes that the Erbil Maternity Hospital has had an increase in caseloads since the beginning of the crisis, with 20 Caesarean and more than 50 normal deliveries each day. To assist the hospital, UNFPA has provided 1,200 reproductive health and delivery kits, but without additional resources, the kits will only last a few weeks. About 250,000 women and girls, including 60,000 pregnant women, are in need of urgent care and the overwhelmed health facilities can lead to the possibility of a rise in unassisted childbirths. Approximately 1,000 pregnant women each month may encounter life-threatening complications.

The organization has also provided more than 2,000 women and girls in the Dohuk Governorate with women dignity kits which contain underwear, soap, sanitary pads and other necessary items.

While the number of internally displaced women is unknown, they do make up almost 50% of the total population.  Organizations are working to support and protect them but with the continuation of the crisis it is imperative that more assistance is given to provide relative safety and aid to Iraq’s women.

The following organizations are either located in Iraq or working to fund support for Iraqi women:


Weekly Links

Happy Friday!

To promote peace and empower young people in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, EPIC believes the best practice in advocacy is informed discussion amongst the public. In pursuing a goal we will be launching a Weekly Links section in our blog.

The weekly blog post will highlight articles, Infographics, videos and more on Iraq!

Here are some of the links  we’ve enjoyed in the past several weeks:

ISW Event: ISIS vs. the Iraqi Security Forces

ISW's  ISIS vs. ISF  July 11 event now on YouTube. - - EPIC Mail (1)
Jessica Lewis presents on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s capabilities and grand strategy.

On Friday, July 11, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) held a discussion on security developments in Iraq. The presentation ISIS vs. the Iraqi Security Forces: Can the State of Iraq Survive?” focused on the capabilities and strategy of ISIS and the potential military actions of the United States and Iraqi state. With Ahmed Ali moderating, panelists Jessica Lewis and LTG James M. Dubik gave presentations before answering questions.

While footage of the event can be found online, we wanted to highlight a few points made during the presentation.

Jessica Lewis, a former intelligence officer in the U.S. army and current research director of ISW, noted that:

  • The success of ISIS in Mosul and the Nineveh province was not a flash, but part of a controlled campaign based on the group’s grand strategy.
  • The group is capable of combined arms and hybridized warfare. In the past two years the group has used terrorist, conventional, and unconventional tactics in pursuing its objectives.
  • ISIS is capable and likely to launch a planned assault on Baghdad before the end of Ramadan. Its current control of territory, past presence in places like Abu Ghraib and the existence of uncommitted forces point to the group’s potential to take such action.
  • In spite of the group’s capabilities, the United States can identify key vulnerabilities of the group, for example,  interior and exterior lines of communication, potential leadership cleavages, etc.
  • The ambition of ISIS is not locally bound and poses a threat across the region and the international community.

LTG James M. Dubik, offered his analysis of the Iraqi Security Forces and the potential US response to the crisis. The Lieutenant General noted that:

  • The United States has three interests in the current crisis; preventing ISIS from solidifying, preventing Iraq from becoming a client state of Iran and helping Iraq create a stable political arrangement.
  • The Iraqi military has been undermined in two ways. First, Maliki’s policies  eroded the chain of command, undermined ministerial development,  and established a system based on loyalty over proficiency.  Secondly, through bombings, assassinations and infiltration  ISIS has also played a role in undermining the military.
  • In addition to robust diplomatic action, the United States should provide  special operation forces, planning cells, intelligence assistance, a join marine-ground task force, support for unconventional warfare entities and a task force to expedite equipment delivery to the minister of defense and minister of the interior.
  • Recovery of the Iraqi military can only come with a sustained commitment and improved leadership.

The presentation concluded with a Q&A session, including a question from our own Erik Gustafson! Be sure to check out ISW’s video of the event and its blog covering Iraq security developments!

TentEd Extends Aid to Two More Elementary Schools

** UPDATE: The TentEd Project Update reviews the impact TentEd had in Erbil and the Domiz Refugee Camp in five weeks. **

It’s been a busy few days for EPIC and TentEd in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Besides supporting the Garanawa Elementary School as highlighted in our previous update, earlier this week we also provided targeted support to two more schools in the Domiz Refugee Camp.

The new additions to the library with two Afreen Elementary School teachers.
The new additions to the library with two Afreen Elementary School teachers.

Afreen Elementary School When I met with Azad, the English teacher, he asked for books for the Arabic section of the newly setup library room. Within a week, we purchased and delivered 300 science, history, literature and geography books. We also picked up the tab for Azad to systematically catalog the books for ease of use.

Derek Secondary School Ahmed, the charming principal, asked for everything under the sun. I could not blame him. But we studied his list and prioritized his requests.  A week later, I informed him that we could meet most of his needs. But there was a catch. He had to go shopping with me, which he did. Given the scorching heat, it was true “sweat equity.”

By day’s end Derek School received 2 storage lockers, a metallic cabinet, 2 boxes of A4 paper, 300 white board markers, 3 rolls of tape, 4 outdoor trash cans, and 205 boxes of pencils and a security light for the front gate, exactly what Ahmed wanted, even though he looked awfully serious at the end of our shopping spree.

These supplies will assist educators, at the two schools, to provide students with the power to learn in an unstable situation. There will be more updates about the students and teachers in the future, until then follow EPIC on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Tumblr. Also, make sure you checkout our TentEd page for new on-the-ground pictures!

TentEd Supports 200 Urban Displaced Syrian Students in Erbil

** UPDATE: The TentEd Project Update reviews the impact TentEd had in Erbil and the Domiz Refugee Camp in five weeks. **

Greetings from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq! No doubt you’ve heard reports of the lightening-pace developments that are tearing the region, especially Iraq, at the seams. Despite this mayhem, I am pleased to report positive developments regarding TentEd, EPIC’s ongoing initiative to support the education of displaced Syrian children, which I hope will give you a reason for optimism.

Students on the bus to Catch up School
Students on the bus to Catch up School

Not long after I landed, EPIC connected me with Sheelan, a long-time colleague, who is currently working with two other incredible educators Risa and Lydia at the International Volunteers of Yamagata, an organization that helps Syrian refugee children in the Erbil area adjust to going back to school. Risa is a Japanese national with excellent facility in Arabic. Sheelan is Assyrian Iraqi with a tireless work ethic. And Lydia moved to Erbil with her husband to escape the fighting in Syria.

Through these exceptional women I learned that one of the biggest inhibitors of consistent school attendance is the prohibitive cost of bus transportation. At an average cost of $60 per child, this monthly bill is simply beyond the reach of the refugee families. Other key needs are school uniforms, which are mandatory here, and simple school supplies.

Based on what we learned from the people on the ground, TentEd will improve the education environment for children attending the Garanawa Elementary School with the following support:

1. Bus transportation for all children attending “Catch-up School” for the entire month of July and part of August.

2. School uniforms for 200 girls and boys this fall.

3. Two hundred school stationery kits that we have already purchased and prepared for distribution in a few weeks.

Students waiting in line for their new pair of shoes. Photo courtesy of Younes Mohammad.
Students waiting in line for their new pair of shoes. Photo courtesy of Younes Mohammad.

In addition to the above support, TentEd was able to supply 97 first and second graders with a new pair of shoes to kick their summer off right!

This support will create an easier transition for the displaced Syrian students to continue their education which has been disrupted. In the upcoming weeks we will have more updates about the project and its influence, until then check out new photos on the TentEd page!