In Iraq, as elsewhere, the dominant social roles attributed to women and girls and stereotypes about ‘proper conduct’ are central to gender inequality. The primary duty of women and girls is seen to be carrying out domestic labour, having and looking after children or siblings, as well as taking care of elderly or sick relatives. Women are also expected to financially depend on male members of their families, who play a decisive role in shaping key decisions in their lives. In addition, women and girls’ value is tied up with their ‘modesty’ and ‘virginity’, which are perceived to be key to guarding the ‘honour’ and dignity of their families. Consequently, women and girls have a lower social status than men, and are forced to carry the burden of conforming to rigid ideas about how they should behave. As Cynthia Cockburn argues, while this may not always result in physical assault, it attests to the structures of power and the uneven distribution of resources, which justify violence and limit women’s potential. This gendered violence flows through periods of war and peace and the experiences of women during each period cannot be seen as totally distinct from each other.

This study draws on data collected from 34 interviews to examine access to justice for gender-based violence (GBV) in the family and criminal law systems of federal Iraq. It finds that it remains near impossible for women to access effective protection, with the government of Iraq (GoI) falling short of every one of the six components identified by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) as essential for women’s access to justice.

The study highlights the urgent need for the GoI to work with civil society to enact the draft anti-domestic violence law. It also recommends that the GoI take broader, longer-term holistic measures, including tackling high-level and petty corruption and providing gender-sensitivity training to all law enforcement professionals, highlighting the detrimental impact of gender stereotyping on the impartiality and independence of justice systems and the rule of law.