Protection centres for victims of domestic abuse opened at Baghdad police stations

Iraqi interior ministry opens protection centres for victims of domestic abuse. Israeli defence minister says all Lebanon would be within bounds in case of Hezbollah confrontation. France declares war on al-Qaeda in northern Africa. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Patricia Rich
27 July 2010

The Iraqi interior ministry has opened two “family protection” centres in Baghdad to deal with domestic violence. These centres are the first of their kind in Iraq where until recently the government denied domestic abuse was a problem. Staffed by mainly female social workers, their opening has been hailed by the ministry for women’s affairs as a victory for the women of Iraq. However, their location at police stations has come under criticism as it is feared women will not want to officially report their husbands. A police lieutenant at the newly opened centre in Baghdad’s Qahira told Reuters “It is not going to work... because she (an abused woman) will consider herself coming to a police station... and that is socially unacceptable”. Kamil Ameen of the human rights ministry argues that though their location may not be perfect “we have to start somewhere, like any other country”

The openSecurity verdict: Under Saddam Hussein’s rule progress had begun to be made in relation to women’s rights. Most forms of employment were open to both men and women, benefiting from a national literacy campaign targeting both sexes, and the majority of women in urban areas attended secondary and some higher education. The Iran-Iraq war took many men to the battle field, leaving an employment vacuum which women stepped into, filing posts left vacant by their fighting male counterparts. Although this did not represent the emancipation of women in Iraq, the onset of change had begun. The 1980’s gave a generation of women in Iraq the chance to experience the beginnings of a change in their societal position – something the younger generation today have not been privy to.

The situation for women in Iraq has again deteriorated throughout the on-going war and occupation. Rumours circulated throughout the country that there was a severe increase in the number of rape and abductions which, whatever the truth of the matter, led to a situation where women became ever more fearful of leaving their homes alone and many more decided to cover themselves if they did choose to leave (see Victoria Fontan Voices from Post-Saddam Iraq, 2009). The coalition’s forces, without adequate cultural understanding, stoked the feelings of insecurity fostered by such rumours. Several incidents were reported of male soldiers entering houses of women whose husbands were not there, women were arrested and taken to detention centres which had become synonymous with abuse and sexual assault. As a result of the war any progresses which had been made for women previously, and in stark opposition to the emotive rhetoric of female liberation used by the coalition to justify its war, was reversed; women were repelled from the public sphere, pushed back into the realm of the home and further from emancipation.

In order to fully understand the importance of the above analysis we must comprehend the primacy of honour in Iraqi society – which Sana Al-Kayyat, in her 1990 book Honour and Shame: Women in Modern Iraq, clearly explains. Perhaps the most fundamental points to make with regard to honour is that, rather than individually, it is communally held. There are two main dimensions to honour that of the sharaf and the ird. While the sharaf refers to honour in a general sense the ird relates to sexual conduct and the safeguarding of women’s purity. While the ird is held by women it reflects upon males. Women’s honour is bound within that of their birth family – she retains their name after marriage, and it is to them she is to turn to for protection.

The opening of the new “protection centres” – which it is important to note, are not shelters instead only offering husbands the chance to “promise” not to be abusive again – can be understood as undermining the traditional notion that the natal family is responsible for affording protection to women in Iraq. Further their location in police stations allow for them to be perceived as being set in a legal framework. Anyone with any understanding of domestic abuse (in any cultural context) will know that getting women to prosecute abusive partners is extremely difficult, and while providing a safe and trustworthy place is an imperative step in the fight against domestic violence, attaching them to a police force installed by and perceived as akin to the occupying coalition forces renders these centres usefulness questionable at best. As G.M. an Iraqi woman interviewed by Reuters states “He (her husband) does not beat me. But even if he does, I would not go to a police station. This is not ethical”.

All of Lebanon punishable for Hezbollah actions, says Barak

The Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, has stated in an interview with the Washington Post that Israel will target all of Lebanon in any future confrontations with Hezbollah. Barak accuses the Lebanese military and Hezbollah of being divided by “porous” walls – “whatever you give the Lebanese armed forces might end up in the hands of Hezbollah”, he claims. Despite denying that he was making a threat, Barak said that if Hezbollah was to be held responsible for an attack on Israel “we will see it legitimate to hit any target that belongs to the Lebanese state” rather than targeting each “terrorist or launcher”.

Tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have been at a renewed high since Israeli President Shimon Peres claimed that the party had received long range SCUD missiles across the border with Syria. The Syrian government have strongly denied this claim and UN officials are yet to find proof of Peres’ claim. Barak’s latest inflammatory warning is likely to accentuate tensions in an already volatile environment.

France ‘at war’ with al-Qaeda

The French Prime Minister Francois Fillon stated yesterday that France is at war with al-Qaeda in north Africa. The statement comes a day after President Sarkozy announced that Michel Germaneu, 78, who had been kidnapped in Niger and held by al-Qaeda, had been killed following failed negotiations and rescue missions in Mali. Fillion went on to state that France would intensify its military support to governments in the region who continue to fight against al-Qaeda. While stating that France would not retaliate – “France does not practice revenge” – he said “the fight against terrorism will continue and be reinforced... France is at war with al-Qaeda”. Fillion went on to say that France is on a high security alert following the interruption of several attempted attacks on French soil and in neighbouring countries.

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