I fought back... and survived | 20 juli 2020 | by PAX

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I fought back... and survived

Many women and girls in Iraq face various forms of sexual and gender-based violence, which are worsened as a result of armed conflicts and political instability. PAX partners Al-Amal Association and the Al-Firdaws Society have been gathering stories from women and girls who dare to speak out, stories about fighting back against sexual and gender based violence. We are publishing some of these stories in this blog series. These stories are shocking, and are difficult to read.

The stories have been gathered and are being retold as part of an effort to break the 'culture of silence' around violence against women and lessen the stigma of being a victim. And, of course, to try to improve the government's and the security sector's response to such violence. The Dutch NGO Impunity Watch is also involved in this project.

Names and some details have been fabricated to protect the identities of the people involved.

I am Baydaa from Baghdad

My life was full of my smiling friends, my school activities, our family time, and the support my family gave my hobbies and talent in drawing.

I lived a colorful life until I was raped. In patriarchal societies, rape is sometimes considered as a woman’s destiny, no matter how hard she tries to escape it.

I was seventeen years old when the police officers found me abandoned in a dumpster. They quickly took me to the hospital fearing that I was dead.

I met my rapist on a street in the vicinity of my school, where he used to lurk around, until he convinced me to give him my phone number. Such a handsome young man, what harm can he do? Following our daily phone calls, I believed he loved me and wanted to marry me, despite my family’s objections. After a few months of being together, we ran away.

We went to an apartment, far away from my family, and I was surprised to find his friends there. He told me that they used to hang out at this apartment every day. I believed him, and I went to the bedroom to get some rest and change my clothes. Suddenly, they entered the room by force. I was terrified when I saw them coming closer to me, one after the other, and started shouting for my boyfriend.

He came into the room and forced himself on me.

I cried and cried, but my tears did not stop them from raping me and beating me repeatedly until I fainted. They thought I was dead, and dumped me in the middle of the road.

The doctors performed the necessary tests and confirmed what had happened to me. After I started recovering, my parents filed a complaint at the police station to prosecute the perpetrators, at the tribal level and through the legal system. The police found only two of the men that raped me, and the apartment owner was charged and sentenced to prison.

Despite some laws being amended in favor of women’s rights, the penalties against perpetrators are still subject to mitigating circumstances. For example, victim’s family can agree to a settlement that deprives the woman of authority over her own body, for fear of the shame she could bring on the family.

How can we continue to lead a normal life, and regain our identity as women with a right to live like everyone else?

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