Nearly three years after George Bush launched his illegal invasion of Iraq, more Iraqi women live in fear of violence than even during the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. The climate of fear is largely due to a sharp rise in gender-based violence, including abduction, rape, forced marriage, domestic battery, and "honor killings", in which a woman is murdered by a male relative for “shaming” her family. Women have been targeted for "honor killings" for daring to make their own choices about whether and whom to marry, for adultery, and for bringing shame on the family by having been abducted or raped. These killings are not even considered murder: if a killer can demonstrate “honor” as a motive, his sentence is usually less than one year; and many cases of "honor killings" are never even reported.
MADRE and our sister organization, the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), are responding to this crisis with Safe Houses for Iraqi Women. Since OWFI inaugurated Baghdad’s first battered women’s shelter, MADRE has helped OWFI to open four more shelters across the country, in Nasariyeh, Kirkuk, Erbil and, most recently, a second shelter in Baghdad. For the frightened women who knock on the doors in the middle of the night, these shelters are the difference between life and death. Reaching the Safe House ensures that they will survive to tell a new story.
Laila is a 24-year-old Iraqi woman who was a soldier in the Iraqi army. Two years ago, Laila was raped by a US soldier with whom she was stationed. Afterwards, Laila was afraid she would be raped by other soldiers too, because the man who attacked her was openly bragging about the assault. She knew she could not return to her family “disgraced," for fear of being killed, but she had nowhere else to turn. Fortunately, a close cousin of hers saw a flier for the OWFI women's shelter on the back of Equality, OWFI's main publication, which they distribute in communities wherever they can. Laila escaped to the shelter. She received medical care and peer counseling from other women who have survived violence.
Laila became part of a network of women who understand that their right to a life free of violence does not only mean the right to live free of rape and domestic abuse: it also means having the right to live free of war, religious coercion, and military occupation. With OWFI's support, Laila decided to pursue her interest in journalism. Today, she is a regular contributor to Equality, and as more women knock on the door of OWFI's Baghdad shelter each day, Laila is there to greet them and extend the circle of support that is made possible by MADRE's partnership with OWFI.
Stories like Laila’s are made possible by the support of MADRE members. Please join us in working together with women in Iraq who are struggling to secure a peaceful and just future for themselves and their daughters.