Jenan al-Jaberi: Advisor on social policies and the role of civil society organisations in Iraq. PhD in Social Policy from Bath University, UK.

This article specifically addresses the issue of violence against women, and the economic costs to the country of dealing with the consequences, not only for the abused women, the family and children, but also for wider society and the country’s budget. Laws have been enacted to stop the crime of violence against women in many countries around the world. One of the reasons cited by women’s organizations for putting pressure on their governments to pass a law to criminalize violence against women is the economic cost which these crimes add to the country’s budget if the problem is left unresolved.

The Canadian government estimates that the cost of violence against women requires the country to allocate one billion Canadian dollars a year to cover the costs of services including police, the judicial system, psychotherapy and the training of specialists[1](UNICEF, 2000). A 2003 US census estimated that the cost of domestic violence perpetrated by husbands against their wives or (intimate)partners to be approximately $8.3 billion a year. This figure takes into account the costs of medical assistance to victims, including such matters as the number of work days lost due to injury caused by violence, and the cost of police and court intervention[2](OECD, 2013). For the year 2017, the cost of domestic violence for victims of this type of crime in Britain and Wales was estimated at £66 billion ($70 billion) (Oliver et al., 2019)[3], of which £47 billion was allocated to fund the treatment of the symptoms of psychological trauma, such as the fear, depression and anxiety resulting from the violence (ibid.).

In their report on Africa, a continent far removed  from the developed countries, the authors Claudia Garcia-Moreno and Charlotte Watts of the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that “domestic violence costs in Uganda were estimated at $2.5 million in 2007”[4](Claudia García-Moreno and Charlotte Watts, 2011). The researchers also concluded that estimates of the costs of non-lethal domestic violence against women and children are even greater than for suicide rates, terrorist attacks and war, combined(Anke Hoeffler, 2017)[5].

The broader social costs, according to the researchers Moreno and Watts, are “profound but difficult to quantify. Violence against women is likely to constrain poverty reduction efforts by reducing women’s participation in productive employment. Violence also undermines efforts to improve women’s access to education, with violence and the fear of violence contributing to lower school enrolment for girls. Domestic violence has also been shown to affect the welfare and education of children in the family.” (ibid.).

In light of this theoretical framework, the question which legitimately poses itself is if these are indeed the economic costs of violence against women in countries where laws have been enacted to criminalise this form of crime; then what is the situation likely to be in countries where such acts have not been criminalized – such as Iraq– which have not yet recognized this type of violence as a crime punishable by law? And to put in place procedures to protect the victims? Law makers in Iraq have so far failed to pass any law against domestic violence, despite the fact that eight years have passed since they had the opportunity to lay the first draft before parliament.

It cannot be said that Iraq has not recognized the existence of domestic violence. The re-establishment of the “community policing” department is in itself an acknowledgment of the existence of this type of crime. The community policing department have recognized this in their goals, which aim at: “Activating the role of society and social control institutions in the prevention of crime by providing early warning mechanisms for timely intervention and for addressing social issues and problems, and resolving them in a conciliatory manner that promotes tolerance among conflicting parties, especially in cases of domestic violence.” Elsewhere, there is recognition for the need to “instigate national awareness and cultural outreach services and shelter services for children and women who require the provision of temporary protection.” These aims also placed emphasis on “the provision of community cohesion services such as: family conflict, domestic violence, rape cases, sexual molestation and statutory rape and suicidal ideation”[6](Ministry of the Interior – community policing page).

Previous governments have dealt with domestic violence in their strategies for tackling violence against women. The most recent one was the Violence against Women Strategy launched in December 2018 in conjunction with the United Nations. The strategy stated that “to take concrete measures aimed at preventing violence against women and girls, and the protection of survivors of violence”[7](UNFPA, 2018).

However, although these strategies are aimed at “preventing” violence, they are nevertheless still not legally binding on the government, moreover, the measures have never been carried into law nor been enforced or required the state to comply with them. Otherwise, we would have to ask ourselves the following question: if the state produced strategies to prevent violence against women, then why has it not carried them into law, despite being seized of a draft law since 2012? It is therefore necessary to emphasise the need for decision-makers to begin in-depth studies into the economic costs of violence against women, especially if we know, from my own experience, observations and interviews with women’s organizations in the UK, that one of the most important reasons that convinced British policymakers to consider domestic violence as a “national” and “community wide” issue and not just an internal family affair, were the economic statistics provided by these organizations on the financial costs of violence against women. Hence, because there is no law criminalizing domestic violence in Iraq, it is necessary to provide the country’s officials with material for debate and with which to help them make their decisions.

Recommendations for decision-makers for dealing with domestic violence:

First:Passing the Domestic Violence Law in the current parliamentary session  of 2018-2022, and not postponing it to future sessions, especially since the draft law has lain dormant long enough in parliament. It is common knowledge that following the formation of the new government, the office of the prime minister is committed to submitting either the old draft before parliament or introducing a new one. In order to avoid having to re-invent the wheel all over again, and so that the efforts of the women’s organizations of the past eight years together with those of a number of Ministries (such as the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health) are not in vain; it would be more efficacious to resubmit the existing draft law for debate.

Secondly:A number of academic papers, such as the one by the academic Shatha Najah Balash of the University of Qadisiya (2017)[8]on violence against women, have emphasised the need to amend laws that allow violence against women, such as Law No. 111 of 1969, as well as Article 41 of the Penal Code, neither of which criminalises the violence used by a man against a woman, being categorised as an “inherent right” (interview conducted with legal expert Bushra al-Obeidi in March 2019). Therefore, the revision of all provisions allowing violence is a necessary step if the strategies against violence are to be put into practice.

Thirdly:It is necessary to provide statistics and evidence on the economic costs of violence against women or domestic violence to help decision-makers make informed decisions; as well as providing them with evidence from field studies, which include surveys of institutions targeted by women exposed to violence and which belong to ministries such as the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice. It is also necessary to encourage civil society organizations to provide such reports and information.

Fourthly:Strengthening the role of the community police and publicising their role and enlisting amongst their ranks a specially trained cadre of women, particularly graduates of the faculties of sociology and psychology and other related specialtisms. Furthermore,  to publicise the role of this section of the police as widely as possible and thereby make the most of the opportunities available to support women or other family members.

Fifthly:Using official media to raise the public’s awareness about the harm done to women, the family and society in general. Utilising the various mediums of art, drama, cinema theatre, graphic fairs, and such other means to raise awareness and to educate the public about the seriousness of these crimes and to deter individuals from raising their hands when dealing with violence. It would thus behove every individual to remember well that both the state and the law of the land consider domestic violence a crime both inside the home and outside it.