Advocating for Gender-Sensitive Negotiation in Northern Iraq

Speeches Shim

Thursday, January 21, 2021
Advocators from the Free Yezidi Foundation meet with Mrs. Mian Khatun (center), wife of Prince Hazem Tahseen Bey, as part of their community engagement efforts.
Free Yezidi Foundation

Iraq is a tribal society. When people face problems they often go to traditional tribal and religious leaders to find solutions. This is particularly challenging for women and girls: "Women face a lot of stigma if they decide to go to the police or authorities. People might talk about them, and sometimes they might think that the woman committed a crime. Many women choose to stay silent rather than seek solutions to their problems," said Zozan, a Supervisor with the Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF), a USAID partner. When problems involve violations of women’s and girls’ rights, leaders tend to use traditional solutions that favor men and may result in harmful outcomes for women, such as underage and forced marriages. In extreme cases, tribal leaders can issue decisions that could even lead to an honor killing. 

As part of the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Learning and Pilot, USAID is working with FYF to test a gender-sensitive negotiation pilot in Sheikhan, which brings together 20 women and men as new actors (known as "Advocators") into the customary justice space, while taking a client and survivor-centered approach to responding to gender based violence (GBV).

The pilot began by organizing meetings between newly-recruited Advocators and 33 community leaders in Sheikhan to build support for the program, identify and respond to adverse reactions, and start a dialogue about responding to GBV.  Discussions were held with religious leaders, tribal leaders, doctors, journalists, politicians, activists and government officials from the Directorate for Tracing Violence Against Women or (DTVAW).

The participating community leaders were selected to participate because of their role in customary justice as well as in identifying GBV cases in Sheikhan. As part of their community engagement, the “Advocators” succeeded in persuading  community leaders to refer women and girls to their office for negotiation and case management services instead of seeking more traditional methods.

FYF and the Advocators worked carefully to develop messaging in order to broach the sensitive topics of customary justice and GBV in Sheikhan with local leaders. In some cases, more explanation of GBV was needed, and FYF provided examples of how traditions and gender inequality could lead to early or forced marriage. By taking a respectful and inclusive approach, FYF garnered support from these important stakeholders, including a religious leader who offered to assist in responding to early marriage cases.  

The success of community-level engagement through this pilot, “gives us strength to tackle more challenges and help more women facing gender-based violence in our society,” said Dilsher, an Advocator from FYF.

“People in the community started to pay attention to women more than before," said a young female Advocator, "The project helped us to be respected in the community; we became more confident about ourselves and many important figures in the community started to pay attention to our presence even though we are young women.” 


Last updated: May 10, 2022

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