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Community Centers offer support to survivors of sexual violence in Iraq

Many internally displaced women and children in Iraq experience daily threats of sexual and gender-based violence from their families or community members. Three newly opened community centers offers help for the survivors of such violence.

Three newly opened community centers in Iraq’s Kurdistan region offer support to Yezidie women that have survived abduction and sexual assault by ISIS.

Iraq’s humanitarian crisis

Violence between government forces, ISIL and other armed groups has caused more than 3,4 million Iraqis to flee their homes, many for the second or third time.

More than 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

7,9 million, including 250.000 Syrian refugees, are in need of protection assistance.

In the months ahead, as military operations in and around Mosul intensify, up to 2 million people might be forced to flee from their homes.

Source: UN OCHA

In the summer of 2014, the attack by ISIS on northern Iraq had a devastating impact on civilians, and especially on religious minorities. ISIS militia rampaged through villages demanding people either convert to Islam, pay a tax or they would be killed. For members of the Yezidie and Kakaye minority, the choices were even more limited – they would convert or die.

NPA partners estimate that around 3,000-4,000 women and children from the Yezidie minority were captured and taken to areas under ISIS’ control, where they would be sold as slaves, sexually abused and forced to marry. Up to date around 900 Yezidie women and girls have returned from ISIS captivity.

“Women abducted by ISIS, most of them from the Yezidie minority, have suffered horrific sexual violence on a daily basis while captured. When they are freed, there is very limited service for them. This is a very serious issue where, if it is mismanaged, you might do more harm than good”, said Barbara Mali, Program Manager for Norwegian People’s Aid in Iraq.

Daily threats

In conflict situations with a lot of people being displaced, the occurrence of sexual and gender-based violence increases dramatically. In Iraq, not only Yezidie women but all displaced women and girls continue to experience daily threats of sexual and gender-based violence from their families or community members. The survivors of such violence are suffering from severe trauma and depression, and suicides have risen sharply, particularly among women and girls.

“The community in Iraq is very insensitive to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The services they are offered is inadequate and the service workers are often taking the side of the perpetrators”, said Mali.

Providing a range of services

The community center in Khanke is run by NPA partner organization PDO.

To meet the needs of these women and girls, Norwegian People’s Aid together with local partner organisations has opened three community centers offering help and support for women and children affected by sexual violence, and their families. The project, funded by The Norwegian and Dutch governments and the Norwegian Humanist Association, especially targets displaced Yezidies, although services are available to all vulnerable displaced people in the area.

The centers, located in Shekhan, Duhok and Khanke in the Kurdistan region, are set up as family spaces, offering service for men and children as well as women. Survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are offered a range of services to address their needs: Psychological and medical aid, rehabilitation, life skill training and vocational training as well as legal assistance.

The community center in Shekhan is run by NPA partner organization AFSL.

 “We are trying to provide as much help as possible, while the survivor all the time has one person following their case, and who they can trust”, said Mali.

In addition to the centers, three mobile teams are offering services to women and children living outside of refugee camps, in host communities or temporary settlements. The partners are also preparing to send mobile teams to assist the hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to flee from Mosul in the near future, when Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga launch their military offensive to take the city back from ISIL.

“All local actors here in Kurdistan are preparing for the massive displacement from Mosul. We will do what we can to help in this very dire situation, but we can only keep up the service if we find additional funding. The humanitarian crisis in Iraq is above all a protection crisis – there are so many people who need these kinds of services”, said Mali.

The community center in Duhok is run by NPA partner organization Emma.

Preparing for surge of refugees from Mosul

In the course of the project, Norwegian People’s Aid has supported the civil society organisations running the centers, both economically and with capacity building and training. Thus, the partners EMMA, PDO and ASFL, all local women and minority organisations, are enhancing their ability to meet the needs of victims of sexual violence in the region on a permanent basis.

“The work with gender-based violence never ends, and it doesn’t matter who the victim is”, Mali said.

30.09.2016 | Julie Offerdal