I fought back... and survived | 10 augustus 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 Najat from Kirkuk

My struggle began when I got a job at a local organization in Kirkuk.

Two months later, while working enthusiastically for long hours, one of the more senior employees began giving me dirty looks and making obscene remarks. At first, I did not give much importance to his behavior, thinking perhaps he would stop.

But in fact, his harassment increased, and I grew more distressed by it. The situation got worse when he started sending me daring emails, and he even tried to catch me alone so he could touch me.

I resisted and did not allow him to carry on with his behaviour, despite continuously feeling stressed and anxious. What if someone finds out? Will they blame me and get me fired? Will my husband become suspicious of me? Five months passed, and the harassment persisted, and my silent stress tortured me. One day I was surprised to find one of my colleagues would be away for two days. I knew that my harasser would try to take advantage of this opportunity. He asked me to have a secret affair with him, even though he is married. He drew nearer to try and kiss me, so I screamed at him and pushed him away, threatening to tell everyone about his behaviour.

I fled the room as fast as I could, blaming myself, angry at my harasser, worrying that my husband would be suspicious. I went back home and kept feeling this way for a week. The lull did not last for long, and he went back to sending provocative emails. He threatened me, saying that if I continue to refuse his advances he would have to… Have to what? I opened up to my husband, though without sharing all the details, and I did not reveal the identity of the harasser to the organization’s director or even to my colleagues, out of fear for my reputation. I was worried I would be blamed or fired from for being a woman who only cares about her beauty and appearance.

Currently, the situation is unsettling. The harasser claims to offer his friendship and nothing more, but will his behavior start again? Is this the calm before the storm?

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