LONDON: Former Iraqi Member of Parliament Rizan Al-Sheikh Delir has addressed the issue of sexual harassment in an on-air interview, shedding light on the experiences faced by Iraqi women in various spheres, including the halls of parliament.
During an interview on popular Iraqi program “Game of Chair” this week, Delir expressed her concern over widespread sexual harassment, saying that even within the parliamentary setting female MPs were subjected to verbal abuse and inappropriate jokes.
She said that the situation had been escalating in many institutions in the country, with behaviors going unchecked due to the lack of deterrents.
“Our society suffers from violence and hatred. I come in second in such a society, who will listen to me?” she asked.
Delir said that the political viewpoint of women in Iraqi society was to regard them as “weaklings” who were not up to fulfilling their roles, and that women were treated as second-class citizens.
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The problem of sexual harassment in Iraq is widespread, as many women report facing incidents in markets, public transportation, streets and workplaces, both in the public and private sectors.
A 2021 report from the European Union Agency for Asylum revealed the deeply entrenched nature of violence against women and girls in Iraqi society, exacerbated by discriminatory attitudes within law enforcement and a lack of awareness of women’s rights.
Despite women legislators holding nearly 30 percent of parliamentary seats, an unprecedented milestone since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, there remains a disconcerting silence among women in positions of power.
Reports from 2018 indicated that women participating in elections faced intimidation, abuse and the publication of explicit material to dissuade them from entering politics.
High-profile cases of violence against women in the past two years have included the murder of 22-year-old YouTube vlogger Tiba Al-Ali, who was allegedly strangled by her father, reigniting the call for a domestic violence law.
However, attempts to pass legislation since 2015 have faced vehement opposition in parliament, with arguments citing violation of Islamic principles, divergence from “national values” and incompatibility with Iraqi culture.
In the media sector, a survey commissioned by the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq revealed that 41 percent of women journalists had experienced harassment.
Of these, 15 percent were compelled to leave their jobs, while 5 percent abandoned their profession altogether.
The association pointed out how, in most cases, the victims were “criminalized, extorted and blackmailed” by media outlet heads, a “phenomenon” that had led many successful women professionals in the media to quit.