Amal Saqar – Yalla l Baghdad

“If the law passes, does that mean, if I hit my wife or rough her up, she has the right to make a complaint against me?” asked an astonished Iraqi MP during a parliamentary committee debate considering revisions to domestic violence legislation.

Dr. Bushra al-Obeidi, a member of the High Commission for Human Rights in Baghdad, told Yalla, “I don’t understand how it is possible for a Member of Parliament to ask a question like this.

“I refuse to answer it directly, but prefer to answer with a question: why do you hit your wife in the first place?”

“The majority of men in Parliament voted against the new law, claiming that protecting women and awarding them rights goes against cultural traditions. The law is self-explanatory from its name, it is for all the members of the family including women, children and men.”

Obeidi says that the Domestic Violence Protection Law was previously revised by the State Consultative Council, then passed to the Iraqi Council of Ministers, which passed it and referred it to Parliament at the beginning of last year. The first reading went ahead, and it was subsequently listed on the sessional agenda and order of business for Parliament six times.

MP Risan Dler, head of the Women, Family and Children committee, said she was shocked by the nature of questions asked by some MPs belonging to religious parties. She told Yalla, “In the case of a disagreement between a married couple, part of the law suggests the man leave the couple’s home until they settle their differences and can be reconciled.

“[Conservative male MPs] ask how is it possible for a woman to stay on her own at home? This is not culturally acceptable, they claim, and raise many other strange points.

“They don’t understand the cultural aspects of many family issues and they fight the law using clerics, who have launched a campaign against it. They claim this law has been tabled to destroy the Iraqi family, but that is untrue.”

Local civil society organisations warn about the rise in domestic violence in Iraq, and insist the law be passed, and heavy punishments be put in place to deter violent offenders.

Baghdad Women’s Association studied levels of violence against women, focusing on  392 who had requested assistance from five of their advice centres, in the governorates of Baghdad, Diyala and Kirkuk.

The study revealed that 24.5% of the women were victims of recurrent beatings by their husbands, 31.5% were subjected to insults and verbal abuse, 30% threatened with divorce, 50% prevented from completing their education, and 18% were forced to have sexual intercourse or perform sex acts against their will.

The study also revealed that 11.5% had been sexually assaulted by close relatives, and indicates that the violence is not connected to the age, education or employment status of the women.

Domestic violence is not restricted to women. “Family courts dealing with domestic violence in Baghdad registered assault complaints brought by men attacked by their wives. The cases included attempted murder, threats, and severe beatings, and adultery,” Judicial authorities told Yalla. The courts didn’t reveal the exact number of complaints but records confirm at three complaints filed in January.

“We are sending a message to the men in Parliament and the religious clerics to address cases of domestic violence and how they are dealt with in religion,” said lawyer Iman Abdul-Rahman. “We have prepared a number of amendments that should be applied before passing the law. Parliamentarians should respect the amendments and pass the law if they wish to protect Iraqi families and Iraqi society in general.”

“How are murder, rape and the oppression of women dealt with in religion? And how is sexual assault by relatives against children dealt with, in addition to the various and complex forms of violence?” Obeidi asks. “We have worked as organisations, concerned with family issues and the domestic violence protection law since 2008, but regrettably even the suggested law, with all the objections, doesn’t meet our demands. It has set the punishment for offenders in the form of small fines, but hasn’t specified the types of violence. Suitable punishments should be specified according to the violence committed.”