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By Suzanne Presto
Irbil, Iraq
28 May 2008

An Amnesty International report on worldwide human rights says violence against women is widespread in northern Iraq.  VOA's Suzanne Presto reports from the northern city of Irbil.

Kurdistan Assembly Members
Kurdistan Assembly Members
In its report, Amnesty International says women and girls throughout the world suffer disproportionately from violence - in times of both peace and conflict - at the hands of their governments, their communities and their families.

The report highlights the issue of violence against women as a major problem in northern Iraq.  That is an assessment that the Kurdistan regional government's human-rights minister, Yousif Aziz, has already reached. 

"We have come to the conclusion that violations against women are increasing and it is a dangerous thing," Aziz said. "A special committee has been formed, supervised by myself, the Minister of Human Rights, and all the members of others ministries are members of this committee, to solve this problem and to study it."

Amnesty cites government figures that show 27 women were killed in Kurdistan during the four-month period from July to October 2007. 

Minister Aziz provided official statistics to VOA showing that the number of women killed in the first four months of 2008 was even higher.  According to those figures, 31 women were killed in the cities of Irbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dohuk between January and May of this year.

According to official figures, the number of women killed doubled between 2005 and 2006,  from 59 to 118.

The Human Rights Ministry says there are several underlying causes of violence against women in Kurdistan.  These include poverty, lack of education, and also traditional customs that oppress women or grant men the authority to punish women if they do not abide by their families' wishes.  

But Aziz says the ministry is taking steps to address these root causes.  One law, which permitted so-called "honor killings," or the premeditated murder of women who had been seen as dishonorable to their families, has been changed.  

"Before there was the name of 'honor killing' in Kurdistan," Aziz said. "Now, we removed it.  It is a normal killing.  We are cooperating with parliament and with some female NGOs on how to make some laws which are related to women to improve equality between men and women."

And Aziz says the government is working to educate people by sensitizing religious figures to human rights issues.

"Every Friday, the mullah and the hatib in the mosque, they talk to the people," Aziz said. "They say that violation against women in not according to Islam.  There is nothing in Islam that says they need to make violations against women.  And this has really a very good effect on the people."

Women's rights activists in the region say the violence must be addressed, and progress must also be made in female empowerment and equality in social, professional, political and legal standing in Kurdistan.

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