Monday, April 28, 2008

My interview about Honour Killings in Iraq and Kurdistan for The Independent

Barbaric 'honour killings' become the weapon to subjugate women in Iraq

Murder of a girl who became infatuated with a British soldier highlights a disturbing new trend

By Terri JuddMonday, 28 April 2008

At first glance Shawbo Ali Rauf appears to be slumbering on the grass, her pale brown curls framing her face, her summer skirt spread about her. But the awkward position of her limbs and the splattered blood reveal the true horror of the scene.
The 19-year-old Iraqi was, according to her father, murdered by her own in-laws, who took her to a picnic area in Dokan and shot her seven times. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone. Her "honour killing" is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where activists speak of a "genocide" against women in the name of religion.
In the latest such case, it was reported yesterday that a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death last month by her father for becoming infatuated with a British soldier serving in southern Iraq.
In Basra alone, police acknowledge that 15 women a month are murdered for breaching Islamic dress codes. Campaigners insist it is a conservative figure.
Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias. Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase.
Du'a Khalil Aswad, 17, from Nineveh, was executed by stoning in front of mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a boy outside her Yazidi tribe. Mobile phone images of her broken body transmitted on the internet led to sectarian violence, international outrage and calls for reform. Her father, Khalil Aswad, speaking one year after her death in April last year, has revealed that none of those responsible had been prosecuted and his family remained "outcasts" in their own tribe.
"My daughter did nothing wrong," he said. "She fell in love with a Muslim and there is nothing wrong with that. I couldn't protect her because I got threats from my brother, the whole tribe. They insisted they were gong to kill us all, not only Du'a, if she was not killed. She was mutilated, her body dumped like rubbish.
"I want those who committed this act to be punished but so far they have not, they are free. Honour killing is murder. This is a barbaric act."
Despite the outrage, recent calls by the Kurdish MP Narmin Osman to outlaw honour killings have been blocked by fundamentalists. "Honour killings are not actually a crime in the eyes of the government," said Houzan Mahmoud, who has had a fatwa on her head since raising a petition against the introduction of sharia law in Kurdistan. "If before there was one dictator persecuting people, now almost everyone is persecuting women.
"In the past five years it is has got [much] worse. It is difficult to described how terrible it is, how badly we have been pushed back to the dark ages. Women are being beheaded for taking their veil off. Self immolation is rising – women are left with no choice. There is no government body or institution to provide any sort of support. Sharia law is being used to underpin government rule, denying women their most basic human rights."
In August last year, the body of 11-year-old Sara Jaffar Nimat was found in Khanaqin, Kurdistan, after she had been stoned and burnt to death. Earlier this month, two brothers and a sister were kidnapped from their home near Kirkuk by gunmen in police uniforms. The brothers were beaten to death and the woman left in a critical condition after being informed that she must obey the rules of an "Islamic state". One week ago, a journalist, Begard Huseein, was murdered in her home in Arbil, northern Iraq. Her husband, Mohammed Mustafa, stabbed her because she was in love with another man, according to local reports.
The stoning death of Ms Aswad led to the establishment of an Internal Ministry unit in Kurdistan to combat violence against women. It reported that last year in Sulaymaniyah, a city of 1 million people, there were 407 reported offences, beheadings, beatings, deaths through "family problems", and threats of honour killings. Rape is not included as most women are too fearful to report it for fear of retribution. Nevertheless, police in Karbala recently revealed 25 reports of rape.
The new Iraqi constitution, according to Mrs Mahmoud, is a mass of confusing contradictions. While it states that men and women are equal under law it also decrees that sharia law – which considers one male witness worth two females – must be observed. The days when women could hold down key jobs or enjoy any freedom of movement are long gone. The fundamentalists have sent out too many chilling messages. In Mosul two years ago, eight women were beheaded in a terror campaign.
"It was really, really horrifying," said Mrs Mahmoud. "Honour killings and murder are widespread. Thousands [of people] ... have become victims of murder, violence and rape – all backed by laws, tribal customs and religious rules. We urge the international community, the government to condemn this barbaric practice, and help the women of Iraq."

Friday, April 25, 2008

My article for 8 March international Women's Day

8 March

A century of struggles for freedom and equality!

By Houzan Mahmoud

Here is also a link to it on Google Video:
This International Women’s Day will mark almost a century of struggle for freedom and equality. In certain parts of the world some rights have been achieved, yet true freedom and unconditional equality elude vast numbers of women.

In a world where we are defined and “identified” on the basis of nationality, ethnicity and religion (down to the smallest of sects) the category “woman” is increasingly relegated to a second class status. In countries where political systems are based on religious diktat women have no rights to live, think, act or decide for themselves. Their lives are valued at half that of a man. Rigid religious laws show no sign of allowing happiness, prosperity or the simplest of rights to women.

In Islamic countries women are suffocated, suppressed and tied to bigoted norms and values. In this environment women grow up deprived and segregated - thinking that there is only one way to live, that no other choice exists. They are right. In these countries women have no choice but to subjugate themselves to the male members of the family and follow the orders handed to them from “God”.

What we witness in our “countries of origin” is a tragedy without end. A tragedy where from an early age generations of women are told that their minds are not their own. Where their personalities are not shaped by individual will but moulded by the oppressive rules of society.

In my “country of origin”, Iraqi Kurdistan, religious law does not officially hold sway over local law. But Islamic ethics and morality form the norms of everyday life. Islamic law shapes the lives of millions of women from birth to death.

We are the actual survivors of Islamic cultural norms and traditions. No, we are not “victims” but strong activists who have survived some of the worst that religious rule has to throw at us, who have the guts and courage to speak out and be the voice of the silenced women of the region.

From Basra to Baghdad and through to Kurdistan women are being killed on a daily basis, terrorised in the name of “honour”, forced into arranged marriages.
More and more are choosing to be free. The price of freedom is very high – often costing life itself – but so many women are making this choice.

Dua Khalil Aswad, the Yazidi girl who was dragged out and publicly stoned to death by male family members was a victim of religious bigotry.

Nafisa, an Afghan woman whose husband recently cut off her nose and ears.

Zohreh and Azar Kabiri-niat, the two Iranian sisters who have been sentenced to stoning to death, accused of having “illicit relations”.

These women and many more in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic infected countries are being stoned to death in public and hanged. Every day, tens of such examples occur around the world. In Uganda, Sudan and elsewhere women have been and continue to be raped in retaliation during bloody wars. Abject poverty strikes women the hardest. Why all this brutality?

More than ever women are pushed into prostitution and trafficking as a means to survival. Women are being stripped of dignity and pride.

Lack of economic equality, a rigid patriarchy and religious misogyny are pillars of a capitalist system that keeps us divided on the basis of gender and class. This system creates a horrendous situation for women.

Cultural Relativism stands opposed to the universal rights that were only achieved after decades of campaigning. This post-modern view of the world is a direct attack on the status and rights of women around the world, it divides our movement. We must once again affirm that when we stand for the equality of women we stand for all women, in whatever part of the world, from whatever background.

Religious bigotry should be countered more vocally, wherever it raises its head. The Archbishop of Canterbury made the case for allowing the legal recognition of some aspects of Sharia law because more than anything he fears that without such ‘liberalisation’ bigoted Christian laws, values and opinion would be forced out.

We have all these battles to fight alongside the struggle of our class. It is my belief that all this religious fuss and cultural relativism are part and parcel of capitalism in this age. Capitalism cannot survive without keeping people divided along the lines of class, race, religion and gender. It cannot survive without keeping people in ignorance and poverty. Cultural relativism, Sharia Law and Christian ‘values’ all prolong the situation.

Therefore our struggle cannot be successful without the full and complete engagement of society as a whole. Our rights and freedoms, our class struggles and aspirations are universal. Women’s freedom does not mean freedom for some. Our freedom does not accept the idea that a religion, culture, border or nationality excludes the most oppressed. We are all human; we all deserve to live with dignity and to enjoy unconditional freedoms.
This was also my speech in 8 March event organised by Equal Rights Now, organisation for Women's Rights in Iran which was hosted in Conway hall.

Seminar in London on Kurdish women

Seminar on
The role of Kurdish women in dialogue, conflict resolution and reconstruction,
and in the struggle for democracy and peace

Saturday, 24 May 2008, 1.30-5pm
Garden Court Chambers, 57-60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2

Speakers and participants include:
-Leyla Zana, prominent Kurdish politician and former political prisoner is making her first visit to London since her release in 2004 to highlight the situation of Kurdish women and put the case for peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict in Turkey. She received the European Parliament Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the Rafto Prize & the Bruno Kreisky Award

-Dr Susan Breau, Reader in International Law and Assistant Associate Dean for Research at the School of Law at the University of Surrey

-Dr Catherine Barnes, Policy Analyst, Conciliation Resources

-Bairbre De Brun, Sinn Fein MEP

-Jean Lambert MEP

-Houzan Mahmoud: Spokesperson of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq OWFI

-Margaret Owen, Director, Widows for Peace and Democracy (WPD)
and Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS UK) and member of Bar Human Rights Committee

-Hannah Rought-Brooks, Barrister at Tooks Chambers Vice-Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers

The meeting is supported by the Bar Human Rights Committee, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Sebahat Tuncel MP, Democratic Society Party (DTP), Turkey, Kurdish Women’s Project, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, Roj Women’s Group, Kurdish Federation UK, OWFI - Abroad Representative

Please come and join us in this important debate!
For information contact Estella Tel 020 7586 5892

Monday, April 21, 2008

Report on the London conference to remember Du’a Khalil

Representative Abroad of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and the International Campaign Against Killings and Stoning of Women in Kurdistan held their first conference as part of a Week of Action initiative denouncing honor killings globally. The conference was dedicated to the memory of Du’a Khalil Aswad, a 17 year-old girl from a Yazidi faith in Kurdistan of Iraq, stoned to death on April 7, 2007

The conference was held in central London at the union of London University on April 12th. Many people attended in order to condemn ‘honor killings’ as well as to commemorate Du’a and other victims of such practices. The panel of speakers contained many women’s rights activists. These were:
-Dr. Sandra Phelps, Head of Sociology at Kurdistan University in Erbil, Iraq
-Heather Harvey, Campaign Manager for Violence against Women, Amnesty International
-Houzan Mahmoud, Abroad Representative of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
-Maryam Namazie, Equal Rights Now, a women’s organization in Iran
-Maria Hagberg, Network against Honor Killings in Sweden
-Azar Majedi, Head of the Women’s Liberation Organization in Iran
-Maria Exall, Executive Committee Member of the Communication Workers’ Union

Maria Exall chaired the conference and each speaker’s talk analyzed the issues of gender apartheid, suppression of women’s rights, honor killing and other horrific crimes. There was also discussion of political Islam and its hand in the religious op- pression of women. Everyone on the panel mentioned that governments, in the form of patriarchy, tribal custom or religious law, are responsible. There was a question and answer session in which the attendees actively participated.

At the end, the organizer, Houzan Mahmoud, thanked all the people who attended. She discussed the many letters of solidarity and support she has received from Kurdistan, Iraq, and worldwide, commemorating Du’a and expressing dismay at the brutal practice of honor killing. She added that this was the bright side of Kurdish society and showed that people—men and women—want to end this barbarity and have become active to end these crimes. She proposed that every April 7th be a day to remember Du’a Khalil, and an International Day against Honor Killing.

It is also worth mentioning that the Week of Action against ‘honor killings’ gained much media attention. As a result, Houzan Mahmoud held interviews with the following media outlets: BBC World Radio Outlook, which included an interview with Du’a’s father about her death, BBC Scotland at Ten, KPFA FM (an American radio station), REM FM (a Spanish radio station) and a Turkish paper, present at the conference (see the link below):
Questions centered on the reasons for and practice of ‘honor killing’ in general, the situation faced by women in Iraq and the rise of killings both there and in Kurdistan and the anniversary of Du’a’s death. Two members of Parliament and a representative from Amnesty International were also interviewed.

Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq-Abroad representative