The Iraqi government is threatening to dissolve the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), our partner group. With their vital work under attack, MADRE stands with OWFI in defense of their more than 15 years of human rights advocacy and crucial support for women escaping violence.
This targeted attack, seeking to strip OWFI of their legal right to operate as an organization, threatens essential protections that they have provided, including through a nationwide network of shelters for women. The Iraqi government has never fully recognized this element of OWFI’s lifesaving work, choosing instead to harass and threaten them for years in retaliation for providing this much-needed service.
This need for shelters became even more devastatingly apparent in the time of the ISIS occupation, when fighters targeted women with rape and sexual slavery, and people in danger had few places to turn. OWFI stepped up in this time of desperate need, mobilizing to provide care, counseling, and shelter for survivors of ISIS violence. For this, they were recognized by local judges and authorities across the country for their essential work -- the same work that their government attacks today.
OWFI has also spoken out courageously, on the airwaves of their human rights radio station and most recently as part of the months-long popular uprising, for a more just society, for democracy and for an end to corruption. Because of their insistence on truth-telling, they now face a government crackdown that threatens their existence as an organization.
OWFI declared in a recent statement:
We call upon feminist women’s organizations to announce their solidarity with us in this critical point in our history. We also call upon human rights activists to defend us and advance the cause of women in Iraq.
From the earliest days of the US invasion, which unleashed years of war and sectarian violence, and until today, OWFI has been a brave and singular organization. They have spoken out as fundamentalist militias targeted women with campaigns of murder and violence, and OWFI activists have provided urgently needed escape and protection for women in danger. They have created vibrant spaces for young people to come together across sectarian lines and to reimagine a more peaceful Iraq.
I stand in solidarity with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and condemn any attempt by their government to dissolve or undermine their organization. OWFI is a vital champion of human rights and democracy, in Iraq and around the world. Their lifesaving work must continue.