In many parts of the world simply being a woman can be dangerous
The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Nadia Murad, one of two winners this year, for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and all forms of violence against women. In 2014, Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi, was captured, tortured and raped by Daesh militants. She became an activist for women’s rights after escaping.
She is the first Iraqi to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the second-youngest winner, after the activist Malala Yousafzai, who was honored in 2014 after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban in Pakistan.
At a time when each and every day it seems like we lose a little more hope for improvements to the situations of the many women who continue to suffer from violence worldwide, this news was a cause for optimism. However, it did not last long.
The terrible news of the death of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova, who was raped and killed last week, shocked the world once again. She was only 30 years old when she was killed after reporting on the possible misuse of EU funds in Bulgaria.
In many parts of the world simply being a woman can be dangerous. Female journalists face additional risks that go beyond war zones or conflict areas. Where you live, whether in Europe or anywhere else, matters little when it comes to the threat of violence against women. In the past year, three journalists have been killed in EU countries, of whom two were women. The third was killed along with his fiancee because he was investigating allegations of corruption in EU countries. Those responsible for these killings have not been identified. The statistics for murders of women in the past year paint a bleak picture for European nations, which rarely miss a chance to champion human rights in other countries around the world.
The other news that cast a shadow over the Nobel Prize announcement came from Murad’s home country, Iraq. Tara Fares, a 22-year-old Iraqi model, was murdered by extremists who share the same mentality as those who tortured Murad. Fares was the latest victim in a series of assassinations targeting high-profile women in Iraq in the past few months.
As the number of women daring to speak up in favor of change in Muslim-majority Iraq has increased, another horrific trend has emerged in the country: Silencing those women by assassination. Four women have been killed in two months and, as is the case in Europe, the police are yet to find those responsible.
The only glimmer of hope to come from all this is that the killings provoked a promising social response. People took to the streets in Iraq to strongly condemn the murders, and Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Haider Abadi ordered the country’s Interior Ministry and its intelligence service to investigate them.
Women continue to carry the burden of Iraq’s disastrous history and have long been its victims. The most extreme forms of gender-based violence still exist in Iraq. In recent years alone, female journalists have been tortured by extremists, who also enslaved thousands of Yazidi women, including Murad.
Where you live, whether in Europe or anywhere else, matters little when it comes to the threat of violence against women.
Undoubtedly, external support is necessary for rebuilding Iraqi society. However, Iraqis must face up to this grave situation regarding women’s rights and assume responsibility for taking steps forward to improve things. The current formation of a new government offers a good opportunity to accept this responsibility by reforming judicial institutions and improving the rule of law for the sake of the many women in serious need of better protection.
Not much was done by previous Iraqi governments to improve the status of women but in the wake of these latest horrific killings, rapes and other violent incidents, the next government has the chance to place women’s rights in the spotlight. This positive move would be an encouraging and hopeful sign for women in Iraq, and send a strong message that no cowardly acts can stop Iraqi women having a voice in society.
Every political power in every country should acknowledge that it has a serious responsibility to protect women’s rights, and act accordingly. This does not only apply to Iraq; when all the countries in the world take action to improve the lives of women, we will definitely have more prosperous countries worldwide.
Many of us are tired of saying this but the active inclusion of women in society, business, politics and the media not only makes countries more successful, but also more stable and peaceful. The key to development of many countries lies in investing more in women and respecting them, not violence or killing for the sake of ideology, beliefs or personal interests. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “If we are going to see real development in the world then our best investment is women.”
• Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.