Culture

Civil society groups in Iraq report a rise in sexual harassment and call for reform

Iraq

Civil society activists are raising awareness about the increase in harassment in Iraq, within society and in the workplace.

Harassment has been a long-running societal issue in many parts of Iraq, with numerous reports showing that a vast majority of Iraqi women have been subjected to harassment in their lives. the Organisation of Psychologists without Borders said that harassment cases have increased significantly recently. This report came during a recent meeting that included clerics, lawyers, the Interior Ministry, and the community police with the aim of devising a strategy to tackle this issue.

Cases of harassment were relatively low during the 1970s and  the early 1980s when women had a strong presence in social, political, cultural and professional life. However, during the 1990s, Saddam Hussein’s regime instigated the ‘Faith Campaign’, which brought about a revival of conservative and tribal attitudes towards women.

During this time, women in Iraq were increasingly marginalised at all levels of society in Iraq and interaction between males and females in schools and in the workplace was increasingly restricted. This in turn, led to the increased prevalence of harassment cases, which has soared ever since.

The issue of harassment is considered a taboo topic in public circles, and as a result is rarely discussed. The situation is made worse by the lack of accurate statistics showing the prevalence of this issue in Iraq today. According to a questionnaire conducted by the Iraqi Media Women Forum, 68% of 200 women journalists surveyed have been subject to sexual harassment, both verbal and/or physical. Only 42% of those journalists continued working in the same office after harassment, while 45% of them left their job, and 13% were fired after complaining to relevant authorities or managers about their experience.

Subsequently, most of the laws that touch upon harassment do not provide adequate protection for women and as a result perpetrators are rarely prosecuted. Furthermore, civil society activists have highlighted that the current legislation is outdated and does not address verbal and online harassment as issues. Online interactions have been subjected to minimal regulation by authorities and online abusers have rarely ever been prosecuted either.

As a result of this, civil society activists and lawmakers are working hard to raise awareness about this issue and lobby for up-to-date legislation surrounding harassment and women’s rights.