- 65% increase in reports of gender-based violence since the lockdowns began in March and April
- 123 suicide attempts among women and girls recorded across Iraq this year to date
- Reports of child marriage increased from 8% to 42% between August and October
Baghdad, Iraq, December 22, 2020 — As reports of gender-based violence (GBV) rise across Iraq, the IRC warns that a shadow pandemic is spreading across the country and is calling for support to women and girls to be rapidly scaled-up.
Reports of domestic violence and child marriage in particular have begun to increase, and the IRC is deeply concerned for the safety and wellbeing not only of the women and girls who have been able to report these types of incidents, but also for the many more who may be suffering in silence.
As a result of the pandemic, the IRC and other GBV service providers were forced to scale back in-person programming from March to July, and began instead to provide support for those experiencing GBV over the phone. In July, when the IRC was able to provide in-person support to women and girls once again, reports of gender-based violence began to rise - a strong indication that women and girls faced significant barriers to accessing support during the first wave of the pandemic.
When a recent assessment by organisations - including the IRC - who provide support to those experiencing gender-based violence asked participants about the impact that COVID-19 was having on women and girls, 65% of respondents reported that GBV had increased since the lockdowns began in March and April. Those reporting an increase in GBV attributed it to multiple causes:
- 94% cited increased tension in the family home due to loss of income
- 92% reported an increase in GBV due to stress caused by confinement at home
- 73% reported that it was due to the loss of social interactions outside the household.
Violence against women and girls is having a significant impact on their mental health. 123 suicide attempts among women and girls have been recorded across Iraq this year to date - largely attributed to intimate partner violence. With suicide being so rarely reported, it is likely that the true figure is far higher, but with suicide also being so highly stigmatised in the region, the fact that these cases have been reported at all is of deep significance, and is a clear indication that far more needs to be done to ensure that all those in distress receive the support they are so desperately in need of.
A further impact of the pandemic has been a sharp increase in reports of child marriage. Surveys conducted by UNHCR between August and October 2020 showed that reports of child marriage increased from 8% to 42% over that three-month period specifically because their families’ financial situations had deteriorated so much as a result of the lockdowns that they felt it was their only means of generating an income to pay for food and reduce other household costs.
The IRC is calling for the impact of the pandemic on women and girls not to be overlooked and for GBV services to be rapidly scaled-up.
Christine Petrie, Country Director for the IRC in Iraq, said:
“In Iraq, the situation is routinely complex for women and girls, and the pandemic has only served to make matters worse for them. Many endured the brutal rule of ISIS and already needed support to help them overcome what they had witnessed and experienced. On top of this, they also faced violence in their own homes and then, when the lockdowns and curfews were imposed, they became trapped there, unable to get any respite from their abusers. We usually provide in-person support at our facilities so that women and girls have a safe space to come to for support and counselling, but in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we had to adapt our programming and, although we continued providing support to some of our clients over the phone, getting help to the most at-risk and isolated women and girls has been more difficult. Remote response services for those experiencing domestic and other types of gender-based violence - whilst key and important - cannot be a substitute for women and girls accessing in-person support. As COVID cases continue to rise across Iraq - and if lockdowns and curfews are reimposed - the issues we face in being able to provide support for those who cannot be reached remotely will be further exacerbated. Gender-based violence response and prevention services are an essential and life-saving component of the humanitarian response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Iraq and globally, and they must be put front and center.”
As countries continue to focus efforts on bringing outbreaks of the disease under control, the IRC is calling for funding for GBV services to be prioritised and rapidly scaled-up. This funding should be spearheaded with support that is directed towards local feminist women’s rights organisations. Mental health and psychosocial support services that understand the specific needs and concerns of women and girls in particular must be expanded, and it is vital that donors not only protect existing funds, but that they also provide additional flexible and long-term funding for the protection and empowerment of women and girls well into the future.
About the IRC in Iraq
The IRC first began working in Iraq in 2003, providing humanitarian relief and recovery assistance to the most vulnerable and crisis-affected Iraqis. Currently the IRC works in four governorates in Iraq, where our programming focuses on legal case management, protection monitoring, women’s and child protection, education, early childhood development, cash transfers and income-boosting livelihoods activities. We support internally displaced people and vulnerable Iraqis and work both in camps and community settings.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.