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Domestic Violence in Conflict Zones

November 9, 2009

When I read this article about domestic violence shelters in Baghdad, I began thinking about domestic violence victims living in conflict zones. As an advocate for DV survivors, the question most people ask me is, “Why did she stay?” My favorite way to answer this question is to make a chart: reasons to stay and reasons to leave. Every time I do this, there are always more reasons to stay than to leave. (If this seems dubious, try it yourself. Imagine your spouse/partner/girl/boyfriend is abusive and you have to leave today. Make your own list.)

Of the many reasons to stay, safety is not usually one of them. In New York City, where I work, there are plenty of provisions to ensure a woman’s physical safety if she leaves her abusive partner. (I say woman because the majority of people with whom I work are women. I also work with men and would never deny that they can be victims as well.) No such promise can be made in a war zone, however, adding one more reason to stay and making the escape to freedom from violence even more elusive.

In March, the NY Times published an article about DV shelters in Afghanistan. Both articles mention that shelters are a rarity, and most women who are victims of domestic violence suffer in silence, commit suicide, or become prostitutes. Women who escape and are found by their families face the very real threat of death, and many are in fact killed. (There are no concrete statistics on these populations, but women’s rights activists in this area, as well as survivors themselves, generally express the same sentiment.)

“Simply put, this is a patriarchal society. Women are the property of men. This is tradition.”- Manizha Naderi, director of Women for Afghan Women.

Sadly these shelters are very rare in conflict zones, as resources are already spread very thin, much of the population is living in poverty, there are constant threats of violence from outside the home, and women’s rights are not always seen as important, or even effective, use of resources. The shelter in Baghdad, for example, is the only shelter for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or rape in Iraq outside of Kurdistan. (And as Iraqi Kurdistan is technically recognized as autonomous, you could say they it is the only shelter in Iraq.) As you can imagine, many women live in violence without any way to safely travel to these shelters.

There has been some progress in Afghanistan, where efforts to rebuild a stable government have (arguably) begun. In areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, violence against women as a weapon of war has been so prevalent that it is almost a rarity if a woman has not been a victim of violence. How, then, do victims of intimate partner or domestic violence seek services and a mean to escape? How do the millions of women living in refugee camps find a way to escape? My search was somewhat limited because I can’t read French, but I could not find any information about DV in the DRC, let alone resources for victims.

“There is a culture of silence,”- Mary Akrami, director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center.

If you would like to donate or find out more information, visit the website of Women for Afghan Women (one organization running shelters in Afghanistant), or Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and MADRE, both running the shelter in Baghdad.

  1. November 9, 2009 2:03 pm

    Domestic violence is a problem that spread across cultures and persists regardless of whther the environment is a war zone! Unfortuntely as stated in the article this without doubt comes down to resources.

  2. November 11, 2009 11:55 am

    I’m an Admin for a domestic violence board, and it truly breaks my heart when I hear the stories of how much those women suffer over there. It so overwhelming it just makes you sick to your stomach. When you can’t even be recognized as having basic human rights how much more awful can this issue effect you and your children.

    Thank you for the article. I will most definately pass it along.

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