Skip to main content

Last updated: June 2022

COI summary

[Targeting 2019, 3.5; Actors of protection, 8.2, 9.1; KSEI 2019, 10.5; Internal mobility, 4.3; Targeting 2022, 7]

Violence against women and girls is a pervasive problem in Iraq, which, since 2003, has been exacerbated by recurring armed conflicts. Information on sexual violence remains difficult to obtain as a result of stigma against the victims and fear of reprisals. Official national statistics on different forms of violence against women are not available, and in general, there is a lack in systematic collection of data on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Iraq. However, an increase in SGBV cases during the COVID-19 pandemic has been reported. The major forms of sexual and gender-based violence across the country are sexual violence, domestic violence, so-called honour crimes, child marriage, trafficking in women and girls, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

In particular, Iraq lacks comprehensive legislation to protect and punish violence against women; it allows for honour as a mitigating circumstance, and although it criminalises sexual assault, it allows charges to be dropped if the sexual assault perpetrator marries the victim. Several hundred women and girls are killed every year in honour crimes in Iraq, and such crimes are underreported to the authorities. See also 2.13 Individuals perceived to transgress moral codes.

Article 41 of the Penal Code gives a husband the legal right to resort to physical violence against his wife within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom. Sources report that around 1 000 women are killed every year in Iraq due to domestic violence.

Due to a reliance on traditional non-State justice mechanisms in areas of Iraq that are less developed, ‘justice systems can lead to poor outcomes for women’. Domestic violence and honour killings are rarely punished and spousal rape is not criminalised. (Suspected) rape is one of the reasons why honour crimes are perpetrated.

There are no effective shelters for women in Iraq, and women who leave their homes due to abuse, are vulnerable and may end up taking shelter in prisons or resort to prostitution. Shelters in Iraq are significantly lacking and are run by volunteers. As most of them are located in the cities, it is very difficult for rural women to access them. The women that reside there are in an especially vulnerable situation, often having no male support network.

In the absence of shelters, authorities often detained victims for their own protection. Communities often viewed shelters for victims of gender-based crimes as brothels and demanded their closure. To appease these concerns, the government regularly closed these shelters while allowing them to reopen later in another location. Shelters have also been attacked. Although the government stated to have set up family protection units at police stations across the country, these units prioritise family reconciliation over protection of the victims and most of them do not serve as shelters.

Women face particular difficulties accessing justice due to the discriminatory attitudes of police and government officials towards them, and a lack of awareness of their rights. Women face broad discriminatory treatment in society and under the law; marriage and divorce law tend to favour men. Legal protections for women against domestic violence in Iraq are insufficient and violence in the family has been underreported due to shame, fear of family or community reprisals, or harassment and abuse from police and security forces.

In addition, women cannot obtain civil status documentation without the consent of a male relative.

Unlike the rest of Iraq, in KRI, domestic violence is criminalised. This is under the Kurdistan Region Act (Act No. 8) of 2011 on domestic violence. A special police force has been set up in the KRI to implement the law and investigate cases of gender-based violence The frequent practice by the authorities is to mediate between the women and their families, so that women return to their home. Furthermore, women risk being harassed by some staff at the police stations and their intentions will be questioned. Moreover, a husband may threaten to take the children if the wife reports a violent act.

Other barriers for the implementation of the KRI law on domestic violence include the patriarchal mentality of the society, as well as the discriminatory mindset of the judges towards women. The rate of domestic violence has increased in the KRI and, especially in the tribal areas, domestic violence is common.

Shelter space is also insufficient in KRI and shelters are attacked because they are considered as places of immorality and the government has to close them and reopen them in a new secret place. Many women are reluctant to go to a shelter afraid of being seen as outcasts. Moreover, admission to shelters in KRI requires a judicial order, which is reportedly a deterrent for women to use them. There are four government shelters and two private shelters, which provided some protection to women victims of SGBV in the KRI. In the KRI, organisations are permitted to run shelters, although the authorities have reportedly denied licenses to establish them under accusations of fostering prostitution. Many hotels refuse to permit single women to stay alone.

Conflict-related sexual violence continued to be underreported in Iraq. Cases of sexual abuse by members of Iraqi security forces against women in camps have been reported, such as in Ninawa.

Risk analysis

Sexual assault and rape amount to persecution. In case of other forms of violence, the assessment should take into account the severity and repetitiveness of the violence.

Not all women and girls would face the level of risk required to establish a well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: perception of traditional gender roles in the family, poor socio-economic situation, area of origin, influence of the tribe, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group.

For example, honour-based violence experienced by women who have been victims of sexual abuse may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group, due to their common background which cannot be changed (past experience of sexual abuse) and distinct identity in Iraq in relation to stigmatisation by society.

Additionally, persecution of women who have left their violent marriage, may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group due to their common background which cannot be changed (having left the abusive relationship) and their distinct identity in Iraq (stigmatisation by society).