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Signs of progress for women in Kurdistan
SUN, 4 MAR 2012 22:19
By Chris Bowers
Can any government reach its full potential without using its entire people? Of course not. That is why the UK worldwide considers the role of women to be so important. A society that holds back women, holds back half of its economic, social and cultural potential. That has got to be wrong. Imagine if a government told every other man that there was no need for them to be educated beyond a certain level, they were generally inferior and should content themselves with a lesser place in society. There would be outrage! So, why should any government or society give that message to the half of the population that happens to be female?
Governments that invest in the education of young girls see a big impact. As Lynne Featherstone, the UK Governments Minister responsible for promoting female rights says, “The benefits of investing in girls and women are transformational – for their own lives and for their families, communities, societies and economies. Empowering girls and women has multiplier effects for economic growth and security”.
As International Women’s Day comes round again, here in the Kurdistan Region, the government understands that. One third of the members of parliament have to be women and the parliament has recently passed some brave and ground-breaking laws to eliminate domestic violence and to make forced marriage, so-called honour crimes and female genital mutilation punishable by prison. Civil society groups are active on these issues in Kurdistan Region, too and that is good to see.
All this puts the KRG in the front rank of administrations in the wider region.
We in the UK were particularly pleased to see the KRG’s strong position on forced marriage. Forced marriage an appalling and indefensible practice recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights. There is no culture in which forced marriage should be acceptable. Victims can suffer physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse including being held unlawfully captive, assaulted and repeatedly raped.
The KRG and parliament has taken the lead. The challenge is to get all sections of society to follow.
We have been trying to do our bit to help. Over the last year the British Consulate General has been working with the Kurdistan Region Interior Ministry on a project to develop the Kurdish response to violence against women. With the police our aim has been to develop an effective Kurdish police response to violence against women. A consultation and research exercise established that such violence remains widespread in the Kurdish region and that the police response is not always as good as it could be.
We have worked with police and NGOs to identify the main problems and training needs and used this exercise to prepare a manual and training course. We are currently delivering this training to 20 police trainers who will soon be ready to go and provide three day training courses for other police throughout the Kurdistan Region.
The KR is one of the few places in the wider region that provides shelters for women who are at risk of severe violence or death, mostly from their own families. We are working with the Social Work Department of Salahaddin University, providing training on working in women’s shelters that will become incorporated into the degree course. Salahaddin University will become the first to offer training for working in shelters. We hope others will follow suit.
We are under no illusions. The work to redress the balance between men and women takes decades.
The KRG has a good record on women’s issues. It could get even better. We hope that as new Ministers take their seats over the coming weeks, this challenge will be near the top of their agenda. One thing is clear: government action needs to be coordinated across a number of ministries.
Chris Bowers is British consul general in Erbil
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