Some good progress has been made. The Government of Iraq has identified the protection and empowerment of women as a priority in its National Development Plan. This is certainly a milestone that we need to underline.
Nonetheless, too many women across the country still face widespread instances of gender-based violence. One in five women aged between 15 and 49 has suffered physical violence at the hands of her husband. This needs to change. One single woman under the yoke of violence is already one too many.
Actions to eradicate violence against women need to be taken on the political level, but also on the personal level. This means taking sides with women when witnessing an abuse. This also means the education of men and women on human rights, equality and mutual respect.
There is much cause for hope. Across the country, young women are starting to speak out to have their fundamental rights respected. Ruqaya Abdul-Ali is one of them. This 19-year-old female student from Baghdad has launched a Facebook campaign called “Revolution against Patriarchal Society”. It aims to inform Iraqi women about their rights and fight sexual harassment. After a few months, she already has more than 10,000 supporters. By standing up for women’s rights, she is also giving a voice to those who have none.
Courageous girls like Ruqaya and Malala not only give hope to women victims of violence and intimidation around the world; they also give them a voice.
Fighting violence against women should be everyone’s responsibility. I hope that Ruqaya’s initiative can inspire other young Iraqi women - but also men - and that they will join their voices to say no to violence against women.
We all need to raise our voices and make sure that we do better to protect women and prevent human rights violations. Governments and leaders must lead by example; but the voice and the willingness of every citizen are just as crucial.