Rethinking gender-based violence in Iraq

By Nadje Sadig Al-Ali
Submitted to Session P4882 (Gender struggles and interpretive frameworks: how far can they travel?, 2017 Annual Meeting
Gender/Women's Studies;
My proposed paper will intervene in feminist debates about how to approach and analyse sexual and wider gender-based violence in Iraq specifically and the Middle East more generally. Recognizing the significance of positionality, I argue against dichotomous positions and for the need to look at both macro structural configurations of power pertaining to imperialism, neo-liberalism and globalization on the one hand, and localised expressions of patriarchy, religious interpretations and practises and cultural norms on the other hand. Rather than contributing to the taboo and silencing of sexual and wider gender-based violence within domestic Iraqi politics on the one hand, and the sensationalising and essentialist culturalist discourses on the other, I will make the case that we need to find nuanced and truly intersectional ways to talk about it. Trying to avoid the straightjacket of location and positionality - however shifting that might be given people’s multiple roles, transnational involvements and contextual identities - calls for historicising to avoid essentialist notions of culture and identity. But it also requires attention to regional and local agencies, complicities, historically specific patriarchal articulations and practises, and, crucially, I would argue, a critical engagement with militarised and other newly emerging masculinities. In the Iraqi context today, this concretely translates into a recognition that US and UK actions and policies linked to the invasion and occupation have contributed to the deterioration of women’s rights and the increase in gender-based and sexual violence, while simultaneously paying attention to and recognizing that local manifestations of militarised and neo-liberal patriarchal gender norms and relations are also rooted in regional, (trans)national and local power dynamics and struggles as well as historically specific contestations over resources, cultures and identities. Crucially, gender-based and sexual violence did not simply emerge post-2003 but have a history linked to the Ba‘th regime, which came into power in 1968 and lasted until 2003, and even further back the formation of Iraq as a nation state. We also have to look carefully at the specific political and economic dynamics linked to the Kurdish Regional Government, particularly post -1991. My contribution is based on over 10 years of engaging in empirical qualitative research on gender-based violence in Iraq and tis diasporas.