The past year has witnessed a series of dramatic events commencing with the ISIS invasion of large areas of Iraq. The most heinous crimes of ethnic and religious cleansing have been committed by ISIS terrorists, including the displacement of about 2.6 million civilians - mainly from minority groups such as Christians, Yaziis, Turkmen and Shebak.
Violence against women: the current situation
A large number of Yazidi women and girls have been abducted and harassed. Many are assaulted in atrocious practices including the sale of women into sexual slavery, rape, murder, and the forced conversion to Islam. The destiny of most of the abducted women and girls remains unknown.
Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are witnessing unrest and armed conflict. The rise in forces of extremism and terrorism have led to a decline in gender equality and women's rights. Sexual harassment and other violent acts against women are becoming common practice, even at work.
Women's Security Forum: May 2015
The current situation for women constitutes a serious setback to obligations of the states within the region. The Iraqi Al-Amal Association took the initiative to organise a MENA Women Security Forum in Erbil, Iraq on 10-11 May 2015. The forum was conducted with a number of governmental and non-governmental institutions, and regional and international NGOs. These included the International Civic Action Network (ICAN), the Kurdistan High Women Council, and the Kurdistan Ministry of Interior. The title of the Forum was: 'Women's Resistance to Extremism and Terrorism & their Struggle for Rights, Peace & Security'.
The main focus of the Forum was on UNSCR 1325. It sought to enhance mutual understanding, interactions and joint action amongst local, national and international organisations. It addressed the dangers and consequences of the ideology of extremism and terrorism in the MENA region for women's rights, security and peace. It aimed also to highlight the plight of the internally displaced and refugees, reflecting specifically on women's human rights activists in the MENA region. The Forum mobilised support and created a political will for adopting and implementing plans of action at the local level. It also mobilised international support to expose inhuman practices against women in MENA, leading to the drafting of a new resolution on the protection of women under conditions of terrorism and extremism.
The Forum promoted common understanding and joint action to counter the threat of extremism and strengthen the role of women in building peace and security. It also assisted in filling in the gaps of knowledge in terms of women's participation in areas which are less documented, such as conflict negotiation, mediation and national reconciliation. Ideally, it will lead to the creation of networks of solidarity among women across the public and private sectors and across countries in the MENA region.
Some recommendations of the Forum
The results of the Forum were a number of recommendations for future action, which include:
- Freeing the Yazidis and other components from ISIS prisons, and providing them with medical and psychological treatment services.
- Releasing the detainees and prisoners in Israeli prisons, as well as in Syria, Libya and Egypt.
- Ensuring the necessary protection of women and children from the dangers of military operations, and the use of excessive force by security forces and armed groups.
- Providing basic services for the internally displaced, such as housing, food, medical and psychological services and education.
- Empowering women to participate in decision-making positions, national reconciliation negotiations, peacebuilding operations and establishing security and a culture of nonviolence.
- Strengthening the role and status of civil society organisations in the monitoring and documentation of violations and providing legal, psychological and social services to victims of sexual violence.