A few months ago, we were contacted by the freelance journalist Anna Badkhen, who had traveled to Iraq multiple times to report from that war zone. In her travels to that region, she had found stories of women who had faced sexual abuse and rape, a growing trend in the spiraling war, and turned to MADRE for help in exposing the issue.
We put her in touch with Yanar Mohammed, a MADRE partner and the director of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). Confronted by exploding levels of gender-based violence, the organization runs a network of women’s shelters supported by MADRE to provide protection for women fleeing threats to their lives.
Once in contact with OWFI, Anna Badkhen traveled to Baghdad along with photojournalist Mimi Chakarova and visited one of the shelters. Below, Anna provides a snapshot of what human rights defenders confront in Iraq:
*This post was updated to remove a photo slideshow to protect an individual's identity.
According to Mohammed, who heads the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a nonprofit group that works directly with rape victims, “By the end of 2003, everyone had a story of five or ten women being kidnapped; some were raped and thrown by the side of the street, others were disappeared.”
Iraqi doctors told me that they also began to see a rise in rape cases one month after the war started. Lawlessness and sectarian violence quickly engulfed Iraq after the fall of Saddam, leaving women particularly vulnerable. In 2005 alone, Mohammed’s organization estimates that 2,000 girls were raped.