I fought back... and survived | 24 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 a widow

Physically I may be alive, but I am dead on the inside. I felt more fulfilled and happier when my husband was still alive.

Since his death, I have tried to cope with this difficult life for the sake of my children. Despite all the pain and the simple life we lived in, I was much happier when my husband was alive. He loved me dearly and I loved him back, but fate was unfair to us. I got married at an early age, and my husband was nine years older than me. I didn’t pursue my studies. I got married, and just wanted to look pretty for him. He tried to make me happy despite our modest financial means. My father did not treat me kindly, so I saw a father figure in my husband. He died suffering from an illness, but his memory lives within me. I want nothing but to make my children happy, just as he made me happy, and to keep his memory alive.

A year after my husband’s death, I was at home doing the household chores. I made lunch and took a shower afterwards. I was home alone that day since my family was invited to a relative’s wedding. Since the day my husband passed away, I had decided not to attend any celebrations, so I stayed home. But the perpetrator was at work, and did not follow them.

I was waiting for my family to come back home, especially my kids, so we can play together. I didn’t expect anyone to be home so early, so I didn’t put my veil on. When I opened the bathroom door, I found my brother-in-law looking at me in an offensive and indecent way.

He suddenly became aggressive. He pulled me out of the bathroom and threw me on the ground. I tried to hold him off, but he wouldn’t listen. He sexually abused me in a disgusting way. I couldn’t protect myself. It was the most painful and unbearable moment. I did not tell my family members about what happened for fear of their judgement and reactions. They would blame me, since men are always right and women have no rights!

Do I deserve what happened to me? I wanted nothing but a stable and happy life. The criminal is free and living in my own home. I am forced to see him every day, but I can’t talk about my suffering to anyone. No one feels my pain. No-one else has experienced what I have suffered! I feel ashamed and hate myself. I cannot even accept my body. I didn’t dare to tell my family, my parents nor my siblings because they would not believe me. Even if I had told my sisters, they would have remained silent, because no-one protects women, not our families, not our society, not even the law. They would separate me from my children, and I cannot live without them. I lost my trust in everyone. I even thought of committing suicide several times. I thought of revenge, but what good would it do? The incident affected me mentally and physically. But, despite my sorrows, I am still standing, with a smile.

The abuse of women in our society is always blamed on the woman’s looks or behavior, but the real reasons behind the problem are ignorance, the lack of laws to protect women, and impunity for perpetrators. One day, will women have the chance to enjoy their rights like men do?

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