Living alone as a woman is not generally accepted in Iraq because it is considered inappropriate behaviour. Women living on their own will often encounter negative attitudes from society and are at a particularly high risk of violence. Women from female-headed households in IDP camps, have been subjected to sexual violence, including rape and sexual exploitation. Women in IDP camps have also adopted negative coping strategies like survival sex and early marriage and withdrawing their daughters from school in order to protect them from sexual abuse and harassment. It is also difficult for a single person to rent housing in Iraq because Iraqi society does not accept single people living alone or with non-relative families, particularly women. In the KRI, single people, especially women, are unable for cultural reasons to rent properties on their own and in most hotels, women are not allowed to stay alone.
For women, there are many societal and family restrictions and any woman living outside a family community is at risk. In addition to that, to be a divorced woman in the Kurdish society is still considered to be tough and stigmatising. Erbil and Dohuk are both known as conservative regions with strict control of women. The USDOS annual human rights report, covering 2019, states that single women and widows in KRI but also in the rest of the country, often faced problems registering their children’s births, leading to problems accessing public services like food distribution, healthcare and education.
It is customary for divorced women to return to the care of their families; widowed women may be harboured by their own family or by their in-laws. In those circumstances, male relatives will act as their custodian. Women who have been repudiated by their family and lack a social support network, are considerably worse off. Additionally, the position of single women who are self-sufficient because they have a job differs from the position of unemployed and/or uneducated women.
Women experience economic discrimination in access to employment, credit and pay equality.
Women in female-headed households, divorced women and widows are in a vulnerable position economically and in terms of exposure to harassment, and have difficulty finding employment, especially if they lack the protection of a male relative and necessary connections to find employment and sustain dependent children. Furthermore, divorced women who return to live with their families may be subject to abuse and stigma due to their status.
The individual assessment of whether or not discrimination of single women and female heads of households could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures. Moreover, being a single woman or a female head of household further enhances the risk for such women to be exposed to acts, which would amount to persecution (e.g. rape and sexual exploitation).
Not all single women and female heads of households would face the level of risk required to establish a well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: personal status, area of origin and residence (e.g. IDP camps), perception of traditional gender roles in the family or community, economic situation, education, etc.
Nexus to a reason for persecution
Where well-founded fear of persecution is substantiated, available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group (e.g. divorced women or widows, due to their common background which cannot be changed and distinct identity in Iraq, in relation to stigmatisation by society).
See other topics concerning women:
2.16.7. Single women and female heads of households