June 24, 2014: Young men armed with assault rifles went door to door in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, taking "women who are not owned" for "Jihad Nikah" or sex Jihad. Between June 9th and June 12th, women’s rights activists documented 13 cases of women who were kidnapped and raped by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or DA’ESH, the Arabic shorthand for the group’s name. Of the 13 women, four of them committed suicide because they couldn’t stand the shame. One woman’s brother committed suicide because he could not bear the fact that he was unable to protect his sister.
This is just one account of the extreme violence in Iraq since the Sunni DA’ESH militants have seized control over large portions of the country over the past three weeks.
“Women are being taken in broad daylight,” said Yanar Mohammed, Co-Founder and President of Global Fund for Women grantee partner Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. "Men have the weapons to do whatever they want and their [DA’ESH] way of dealing with things is to kill."
Being a woman in Iraq was difficult before the conflict and now military leaders are handing guns to young untrained, undereducated and unemployed Shia men. These men are promised big salaries if they leave their homes to fight, according to an anonymous Global Fund ally in Baghdad.
"When we [women] commute to our office, walk in the street, or take the bus, we experience harassment,” said the Global Fund ally in Baghdad who remains anonymous due to security concerns. "But now, all of the men have weapons. I think maybe he will kidnap or shoot me if I don’t do what he wants. They will shoot and do anything, and because of the fatwa [urging able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Sunni extremists] no one asks questions."
Sectarian Violence Slows Women’s Rights Progress
With a death toll of 1,000 and rising in only three weeks, the sectarian conflict has forced most women’s rights organizations to scale back their programs. Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq was in the middle of a campaign against Article 79 of the Jaafari Personal Status Law, a law which, among other women’s rights violations, would grant custody over any child two years or older to the father in divorce cases, lower the marriage age to nine for girls and 15 for boys, and even open the door for girls younger than nine to be married with a parent’s approval. Now, it takes everything they have to keep their shelters open and women safe.
"We cannot speak of women’s rights now unless we are speaking of the livelihood of those who are totally jeopardized, such as women who lost families and young girls who are vulnerable to corrupt officials or clerics,” said Yanar. “We went from legal work and improving rights of women to working in a state of emergency and trying to find the lowest chain in society and get them to safety."
The Tangled Web the U.S. Wove
The extreme sectarian violence is a relatively new phenomenon in Iraq, taking up speed during the U.S. invasion in 2003, reflects Yanar, who is "sick and tired" of western pundits on TV saying there is no hope for Iraq.
"Mainstream media trashing Iraqi people is unbearable and is a total manipulation of the facts of America’s role in dividing Iraqi people,” said Yanar. “The political process that the US government put in place is a total failure and they [US] just left. The damage is not on them, it’s on us now."
The damage comes in the form of, among others, a generation that didn’t have access to education.
"This generation listens to whatever the clerics and politicians say," said Yanar. "They are ready to throw themselves in the fire and they do it in the name of their Imam...Both politicians and religious heads are pushing the country into a very sectarian divide and it’s frightening."
Refugees Flee to Kurdish Region
As the fighting intensifies in northern and western Iraq, over 300,000 have already fled to the Kurdish region for safety, where UNHCR and other relief organizations set up a refugee camp in the arid region of Khazer.
"It is very hot and there is no water; we were not prepared for this influx of refugees,” says a Global Fund ally in Erbil, a city in Kurdistan. “The situation is by no means sustainable. The majority has nowhere to go and is staying in parks. Entire families are left without the most basic of shelters, food and clothes.
"While these waves of displacement to Kurdistan includes Shias, Sunnis, and Christian families, the pressure on Iraqi Christians have been strongest due to DA’ESH’s infamous brutality.
"Christian women in the areas controlled by DA’ESH are forced to wear hijab or face death," said a Global Fund ally who lives in Baghdad. "They must pay a protection tax, or ‘jizyah’ to DA’ESH to stay safe."
If the violence is not seriously addressed, our ally in Erbil says Iraqi women know exactly what is going to happen next because they have endured it over and over again since the U.S. invasion in 2003, and during the first and second Gulf War.
"We know what has happened to women in Iraq – a lot of murders and violations – and we have already suffered to an unbearable extent," said Global Fund ally in Erbil. "There is nothing they haven’t done to us; which is why panic spreads among women as soon as we hear of another crisis. Women are used as a weapon for retaliation."
Mauritania - Death Threat Against Global Fund Advisor and Global Media Monitoring Project coordinator Ms Aminetou Mint El Moctar
Global Fund for Women and International Ambassadors of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) are greatly concerned about the safety of the Global Fund for Women adviser and Mauritanian GMMP national coordinator Ms. Aminetou Mint El Moctar.
According to information from the International Federation for Human Rights, the leader of a radical Muslim group “Ahbab Errassoul” (“Friends of the Prophet”) Mr Yadhih Ould Dahi issued a fatwa on June 6, 2014 calling for her death.
Global Fund board member, Ms. Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, President and CEO of Global Fund, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, and Ms. Jennifer Lee together with WACC General Secretary Dr Karin Achtelstetter call upon the GMMP network to express their solidarity in support of Aminetou Mint El Moctar.
Ms. Aminetou Mint El Moctar is a decorated human rights activist. She chairs the Association of female heads of household (l’Association des femmes chefs de famille), a non-governmental organisation that promotes human rights and defends the rights of women and children in Mauritania. She is the country coordinator of the Global Media Monitoring Project in Mauritania.
In 2009, Aminetou Mint Moctar spearheaded highly visible public campaigns to denounce trafficking of young Mauritanian girls to Gulf States and the exploitation of Mauritanian and West African women living in domestic servitude. Because of the work of Ms. Mint Moctar and others like her, the Government of Mauritania now recognizes the existence of these practices.
The threat called for the killing and gouging out the eyes of Moctar after she spoke to the mass media about the general situation of human rights in the country and the particular case of Mohamed Ould M’kheitir. M’kheitir has been in detention since December 2013 after being accused of apostasy. Moctar called for a fair trial for M’kheitir while making it very clear that she does not condone insults against the Prophet.
Dr. Kanyoro commenting on the situation underlines the hazards women human rights defenders encounter in the course of their work: “Women human rights defenders face additional risks because of the very nature of the problems they work to address, which require questioning and transforming social norms and taboos.”
GMMP ambassadors and the WACC General Secretary call on the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania:
1. To guarantee Ms. Aminetou Mint El Moctar’s physical safety and psychological wellbeing.
2. To carry out a prompt, thorough, impartial and transparent investigation be all those responsible for the threats and bring them to justice according to the law;
3. To put an end to all forms of harassment against Ms. Aminetou Mint El Moctar so that she can carry out her work freely and without hindrance;
4. To comply with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1998, and specifically:
- Article 1: Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.
- Article 9.1: In the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the promotion and protection of human rights as referred to in the present Declaration, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to benefit from an effective remedy and to be protected in the event of the violation of those rights.
- Article 12.2: The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.
- Article 12.3: In this connection, everyone is entitled, individually and in association with others, to be protected effectively under national law in reacting against or opposing, through peaceful means, activities and acts, including those by omission, attributable to States that result in violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as acts of violence perpetrated by groups or individuals that affect the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
- The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is based on human rights standards enshrined in other international instruments that are legally binding such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Mauritania is a member state.
5. To comply with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and regional and international instruments on human and women’s rights ratified by Mauritania.
Global Fund for Women, GMMP Ambassadors and the WACC General Secretary call on the members of the GMMP network to do whatever they can in their local contexts to raise awareness of the plight of Ms. Aminetou Mint El Moctar and to express their solidarity with her.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 29, 2014 — Nearly 70 leaders of U.S. and international organizations committed to human rights and the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls globally sent a letter today to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to “accelerate U.S. leadership in ensuring women and girls who are raped have access to post-rape care that is comprehensive and rights-based,” calling U.S. leadership for care that includes abortion access “critical.”
The letter, coordinated by the Global Fund for Women and the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), includes signers from 35 nations such as: AIDS Accountability International (South Africa); Amnesty International USA (United States); Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW, Malaysia); Association of Women’s Organizations in Jamaica (Jamaica); B.a.B.e. (Croatia); Human Rights Watch (United States); Red Nacional de Mujeres (Colombia); Synergie des Femmes pour les Victimes des Violences Sexuelles (SFVS, Democratic Republic of Congo); United Nations Foundation (United States); World YWCA (Switzerland).
In June, the U.S. is expected to take a leadership role in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted in London by U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague. “The London Summit will be an opportunity for the U.S. government to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to the prevention of and response to global sexual violence,” the letter stated.
“Where the United States chooses to direct its money and how it shapes its policies has a ripple effect throughout the world,” said Global Fund for Women President and CEO Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro. “Now, with the momentum of the summit propelling us forward, it is time to support comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare for women and girls, including access to safe abortion when required.”
“We applaud the U.S. for its leadership in addressing gender-based violence globally,” said CHANGE President Serra Sippel. “However, the conversation cannot stop at prevention. It is imperative that the response to rape in conflict and crisis is a pivotal part of the conversation at the summit and beyond. This letter shows that there is significant support to ensure access to comprehensive post-rape care, including abortion.”
“We…ask that leading up to – and during – the London Summit, the U.S. be bold in its call for a global response to sexual violence against women and girls that addresses both prevention and the response to sexual violence,” the letter stated. “Most urgently, we ask that the U.S. specifically endorse a complete medical response to sexual violence that includes access to safe abortion services, in addition to emergency contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy and post-exposure prophylactics to prevent HIV infection.”
The letter follows a larger effort to secure executive action from President Obama on the Helms amendment – a decades-old provision that forbids the U.S. to fund abortion services as a method of family planning but does not prohibit such funding in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Lack of clarity around the Helms amendment has resulted in its misapplication as a complete ban. It also comes on the heels of a letter to President Obama from more than 30 faith-based leaders urging the president to take executive action on Helms, calling access to abortion a “moral imperative.”
Attention Reporters and News Editors: For a copy of the letter to Secretary Kerry, and complete list of signers, click here.
Media Contact: Zoe Blumenfeld, Communications Manager, Global Fund for Women, 415-248-4854,
Media Contact: Joanna Kuebler, Communications Director, CHANGE, 202-910-6526
May 7, 2014: It took Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan 18 days to set up a rescue committee to find more than 270 girls who were kidnapped from their school. Let’s say that one more time, it took the Nigerian government the better part of a month to respond to the violent kidnapping of girls who were just trying to get an education. Girls who, despite incredible poverty and a widespread cultural belief that girls should not go to school, get up every morning and go to where they hope will be a safe space to learn.
"I am frustrated," said one Nigerian activist and Global Fund for Women ally who requested anonymity, as many of her fellow activists are being detained and questioned by police for speaking out about the horrific crime. "Response has been slow, too little, too late, or none at all. Citizens are demanding information – basic, accurate information that will reassure the public that something tangible is being done about the attacks."
As Nigeria hosts the World Economic Forum this week, 70 percent of the country’s predominantly Muslim population in the northeast lives on less than a dollar a day. To incentivize families to send their girls to school and keep them enrolled, women’s organizations and other NGOs pay families via conditional cash transfers that are used to pay school fees, according to our anonymous source. Women work hard to match girls with female role models who encourage them to continue their studies.
"This attack has come at a very fragile time when trust for the school as a safe space for girls was just being built," said the Nigerian activist. "Families who traditionally do not believe in girls going to school will be less likely to see any benefits in sending their girls to school because of the stigma attached to rape and sexual violence."
Reports of the kidnapped girls being forced to marry Boko Haram members are nothing new. Our source says Boko Haram, the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the kidnapping earlier this week, uses forced marriage, sexual violence and trafficking as a weapon of intimidation. In a recent threat, a man claiming to be the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau said they were going to "sell them in the marketplace."
"Terrorists have adopted a technique of dropping small sums of money on the floor and forcefully abducting young women from their homes," said the Nigerian activist. "The practice, which is interpreted by Boko Haram as a form of marriage in an attempt to legitimize their crimes, has been condemned by many Muslims."
Boko Haram has been fighting an insurgency in northern Nigeria for the past five years. Its agenda is political and has complex layers. Education is just one element of its aggression. Recently, the violence has escalated. Just a few months ago, the group killed 59 students at a boarding school, many of whom were burned to death. On the same day that the schoolgirls were kidnapped in Chibok, a bomb blast also claimed by Boko Haram killed 75 people in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Earlier this week, at least eight girls between the ages of 12-15 were also kidnapped, and details are still emerging around a deadly attack on Tuesday that left at least 200 people dead in another Nigerian village.
"Pure Islam is mostly protective of women and demands respect for women," said the Nigerian activist. "Boko Haram and other religious fundamentalists with violent ideologies bring in their own doctrine which is seen as an adulterated version of Islam by genuine adherents."
Nigeria has a rich herstory of women standing up against great odds for their rights, including the Aba Women’s Protest, when women peacefully organized only to be violently restrained by colonial leaders, and more recently in Plateau State where women marched topless to get the world’s attention and end violence. And now, the world is watching as women use their collective voice to demand their rights and a safe return of their girls. To support collective action, Global Fund for Women, in partnership with African Women’s Development Fund, is awarding an emergency grant to women’s groups in northern Nigeria and sending a letter advocating for government action to select Nigerian ambassadors in the United States and West Africa.
Social media has become a powerful force in this crisis. Women-led protests are being amplified worldwide via #bringbackourgirls. Our source sees social media as a tool to pressure corrupt governments and hopes that the pressure will shame the Nigerian government into being accountable to their citizens.
"It is crucial for the international community to keep up their support through demonstrations, sanctions and diplomatic pressure as a clear sign of condemnation of the inadequate government response to violence against women," said the Nigerian activist.
Read statements about the attacks by our partners FIDA Nigeria and Women Living Under Muslim Law.