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Need-to-Know: How to Stand with Iraqi Women and Families Confronting ISIS

The US recently announced a decision to deploy 200 more troops to Iraq. Not long after that news, another policy change came to light: a move to loosen even further the limits on civilian casualties in US airstrikes launched in the fight against ISIS.

US policymakers seem to have learned few lessons from years of failed military intervention in Iraq. They are still trying to resolve conflict with yet more violence. And Iraqi women and families pay the price. But there’s an alternative. 

Why is a military response the wrong approach?

The rise of ISIS in Iraq is a direct result of the US military invasion in 2003 and subsequent failed US policies that awarded government jobs and seats in parliament along religious and ethnic lines. These policies further divided the country and launched a sectarian war.

Through these years of bloody conflict, women have faced heightened violence and suffering, have been targeted with fundamentalist violence by US-backed sectarian militias, and have been stripped of their basic rights. What’s more, women’s bodies have become targets of ISIS’ extremist agenda, with women systematically enslaved and subjected to rape and torture.

New calls to confront ISIS with US boots on the ground and intensified airstrikes will only add to this violence, leading to further devastation and suffering for women and families. ISIS wants nothing more than to drag the US into war, feeding into their warped worldview of “clash of civilizations.” ISIS purports to be a protector of Muslims; US attacks that kill civilians give cover to those bogus claims.

The best way to defeat ISIS is to refuse to feed into their violent ideology. Instead, the US should advance policies that tackle the underlying sources of ISIS’ strength, like poverty and discrimination. And the US should support progressive, grassroots activists providing humanitarian aid and promoting human rights on the ground.

How are Iraqi women’s rights activists responding, and how should the US support them?

To promote a human rights-based response to the crisis, the US should look to local, progressive groups like MADRE’s partner, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI).

OWFI provides urgent humanitarian aid like food, medical care and shelter to women and families fleeing life-threatening violence. And unlike the government, they don’t discriminate on the basis of sect or religion. Since the ISIS invasion, this small women’s organization has even provided life-saving aid in areas that neither the government nor international aid agencies can reach.

OWFI also works to amplify the voices of progressive Iraqis through nation-wide radio programming calling for an end to violence and its root causes. They implement innovative, local anti-violence strategies, guiding women and families to safety through their underground escape and shelter network.

Just weeks ago, OWFI and a dozen other Iraqi women’s organizations came together for MADRE’s third Strategies for Change convening. At this gathering of grassroots women’s rights activists, the women developed concrete, actionable solutions to confront ISIS and to build peace in Iraq.

The road to peace is not paved with more violence, which will only exacerbate the current humanitarian crisis. Instead, the US should support the efforts of groups like OWFI working to rebuild a peaceful Iraq.

Our Feminist Foreign Policy Demands:

We call on the US to:

  • Cease military intervention in Iraq, which escalates violence and devastates women and families.
  • Contribute to the provision of urgent humanitarian aid, including food, medical care and lifesaving shelter.
  • Sustain the work of grassroots groups to gather evidence of rights violations against women, LGBT people, and all threatened by extremist violence. This is an important step to bring these cases to justice, before national and international courts.
  • Support the calls of progressive, non-sectarian Iraqi activists for rights-based policies, including an end to the current ban on shelters run by local women’s organizations.

Spread the word! Here’s how:

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  • Post on Facebook or Twitter: #ISupportFeministForeignPolicy! Read MADRE’s demands to stand with Iraqi women and families against ISIS: