Community Perceptions of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: A baseline report conducted in Anbar and Diyala Governorates, Iraq

Originally published
View original


Executive Summary

During July, August, and September 2020, Oxfam in Iraq collected data in Diyala and Anbar to further understand the overall situation on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and the perceptions of local communities as well as provide base information against which to monitor and measure the progress and effectiveness of the project titled “Naseej Connecting Voices and Action to End Violence Against Women and Girls in the MENA Region.” The methodology comprised secondary data analysis and primary data collection. Quantitative data were collected using a household survey questionnaire administered to 774 individuals. Qualitative data were gathered through 16 key informant interviews (KIIs) and 8 focus group discussions (FGDs). Validation workshops were organized with the Oxfam in Iraq staff members and partners to further analyze the findings.

A long history of colonial rule, foreign interventions, successive conflicts (most recently with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS]), and a volatile socio-economic context have fostered the pronounced gender disparities and social norms that perpetrate SGBV in Iraq. This study found that SGBV is widespread in the Diyala and Anbar Governorates and that communities perceive it to be mostly perpetrated by men.

Evidence suggests not all women and girls are perceived to be at the same risk of SGBV. Rural areas, female-headed households (HHs), ISIS-affected zones, and unemployment intersect, creating overlapping vulnerabilities.

The baseline study found that girls in the target locations were almost three times more likely to be married at or even before reaching 17. Findings suggest early marriage is imposed on girls as a way to ‘preserve’ their honor, while also relieving the family from the burden to provide for them.

Across governorates, the most prevalent perception is that when men practice violence, they do it with confidence that they will not be punished. This is largely due to limited intervention, or lack thereof, when SGBV takes place, reinforcing a culture of impunity. Moreover, these interventions of informal “justice” seem to be male dominated, as Sheikhs, heads of HH, and tribe leaders (those who usually intervene) are likely to be men. Other main factors are the (in)existence of laws punishing men who commit SGBV (there is to date no anti-domestic violence law at the federal level) and, most importantly, the limited access to justice women have in the target locations.

Despite the overall perception of men and women having unequal rights in the target communities, men were more likely to believe that gender equality has been achieved compared to their female counterparts. In terms of decision-making power, this study suggests that the space wherein women can make their own decisions within the HH is largely limited to the upbringing of the children, with women in Anbar reporting more restrictions than those in Diyala.

Sexual gender-based violence is still justified within the target communities. In Diyala, more people believe there is no justification compared to Anbar. Moreover, there seems to be an overall lack of/ accessibility to services for SGBV survivors in both governorates, with Anbar scoring the poorest in this regard. The data presented in this report show that men are likely to use SGBV as a coping mechanism when struggling to meet their gender expectations of being the “bread winners.”

This study also found that the majority of SGBV survivors do not seek assistance from women’s rights organizations (WROs) and that accessibility to services is extremely challenging. This is due to a combination of societal barriers that limit SGBV to being dealt with within the family while shaming survivors for seeking support alongside a lack of capacity of the system to guarantee the safety of the survivors of violence reaching out to WROs. Another major influencing element is the lack of awareness that such organizations or services exist.

The data explained suggest high interest in and needs rates for awareness-raising sessions, which could be a great entry point in communities through which to tackle SGBV, especially within the male population.

Finally, it was found that most respondents believed that ending SGBV is a priority and a shared responsibility of the government, WROs, men, women and girls, and the extended family.