‘We just keep silent’: Gender-based violence amongst Kurd refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan

Report by UN Women:

Refugees from West Kurdistan

Refugees from West Kurdistan; Photo – Shelter Box


Women and girl refugees all over the world suffer from all kinds of sexual and gender based violence.

It is therefore no surprise that Syrian refugees everywhere should become vulnerable to the predators who abuse the weak. Much discussion has already occurred about the situation of Syrian women in Jordan and Lebanon. Less attention has focused on refugees in Iraq. This is partly because most of the refugees in Iraq are Syrian Kurds who have taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and the population of the region have been extremely hospitable and open, permitting relative freedom of movement and access to employment, as well as providing a wide range of services for refugees especially those inside camps.

But even in a hospitable environment, life remains very tough for refugees and women and girls are particularly vulnerable. This report set out to identify what are the particular challenges for female refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan through a statistically relevant survey of camp and non-camp refugees.

Hard data on the prevalence of sexual violence is difficult in any circumstance given the potential shame involved in being a victim. Refugees are perhaps even more reticent to admit problems. The survey was therefore backed up by a series of focus group discussions. However circumstantial data sometimes appears, UNWomen stands by the rule that there is no smoke without fire. Women who are afraid to leave suffocating tents have good reason to be afraid. Women suffering silently the violence of their partners need support. All humanitarian actors, governmental and nongovernmental, need to find new ways to prevent the worst kinds of exploitation and help economically deprived women escape the need to sell their bodies against their will.

UNWomen thanks the Regional Government of Kurdistan for all the support it is giving to all the refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan; Iranians, Turks and Syrians and calls on the government and other humanitarian actors to do more to help prevent the sexual exploitation of women, to help end impunity for those carrying out crimes including trafficking and to offer specific services to victims.

Above all UNWomen calls on everyone who can help create the political circumstances that will allow Syrian refugees to return home to act now.

Dr. Sameera AI-Tuwaijri


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