Meet Suaad Allami, Founder and Director of the Women for Progress Center in Sadr City, Baghdad. She is Vital Voices’ 2014 Fern Holland Awardee, and also a featured blogger for our participation in the 16 Days of Activism. On October 28th, Suaad presented at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace, and Security.
Photos by: UN Women
Shortly before I addressed the UN Security Council this year, fellow female human rights lawyer and activist, Samira Salih al-Nuaimi, was tortured and publically executed by ISIS fighters in Mosul, Iraq. On July 22, a female candidate in the Ninewa election was killed when armed militants stormed her house. A day later, on July 23, two female candidates, one in Sderat and another in Mosul, were killed in their homes. I remain deeply saddened that these fearless women are no longer with us. Yet, they left a legacy of their courageous work in improving the lives of women and their families in my country, which must continue.
Women in Iraq have faced violence for decades. Now, that violence has simply been exacerbated by conflict. While male family members are far away fighting ISIS, women are placed at a higher risk of gender-based violence. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 minority Yazidis have been captured by ISIS, thousands of them subject to forced marriages, repeated rapes, or sold into sexual slavery.
I have seen what past conflict has done for women in major cities such as Baghdad and in rural areas. Following the US operations and invasion in Iraq in 2003, over 10% of households were led by widowed or divorced women, and an astounding 46% of married women were in danger of physical, emotional, or sexual violence by their spouses.
I felt compelled to help women, and I had the tools to do so, with my expertise in law, women’s issues and civil society development. In 2007, I founded Women for Progress in Sadr City. We provide legal support, health services, economic empowerment opportunities and holistic support to domestic violence victims.
At the UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace, and Security, held on October 28, 2014, I called upon Iraqi and international organizations to work towards fulfilling the immediate needs displaced women and to lay the groundwork for recovery. A survivor centered approach must be adopted by law enforcement and international responders to address health needs, documenting human rights abuses, and taking proper steps to hold perpetrators accountable under international law.
Post-conflict, women can and should be engaged in the processes of peace building, conflict-prevention, and demilitarization. Here and now, women can be involved in dispensing humanitarian aid, policing and staffing security in camps, and participating in informal and formal justice systems. An indispensible element to this agenda is the inclusion of women in reforming the Iraqi legal system in order to protect domestic violence victims, abolish child marriage, and encourage full participation of women in economic, political, and civic life.
This year’s 16 Days of Activism theme to challenge militarism and end violence against women has no greater example than Iraq. We need more women like Samira and the female politicians to take a stand against human rights violations and violence against women. That is how Iraq will move forward. Now is the time to act.