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Iraqi Women's Education Threatened: Fallout from University Scandal

Iraqi Women's Education Threatened: Fallout from University Scandal

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بعد تسريب فيديو لعميد وطالبته في جامعة البصرة... عائلات تمنع بناتها من الدراسة الجامعية


Doha*, a 23-year-old university student in Basra, arrived home, dropped her bag in the hall, and rushed to help her mother in the kitchen prepare the Ramadan iftar. Her brother, who was scrolling through his phone in the other room, ran to the kitchen as soon as he heard his sister’s voice.

When speaking with Raseef22 earlier this month, Doha shares that her brother began to annoy her, deliberately washing his face in the sink used for washing vegetables. She ignored him entirely, in order to avoid conflict. Her facial expression was unable to hide her annoyance, leading him to remark, “What's wrong with this unhappy face? If it was the dean, you women would have gladly climbed onto the al-qunfah (couch).”

All female students pay the price for one man's actions 

Doha didn’t understand her brother’s words or his intentions. She stopped caring for her brother, seven years her junior, after his choice of language towards her became increasingly vulgar. When she reacted, glaring at him, her mother intervened, suppressing her for his sake as usual.

The young lady says she doesn't have time for social media, but that if she did, her brother would tell their parents, the same way he does each time she applies eyeliner, or when he spots her speaking with the driver who takes her to university.

After a viral video showed a university dean and a female student engaged in sexual intercourse, young women across the country have been forced to abandon their university education in order to prevent “damaging their reputation.”

That night, Doha’s family were hosting the entire family for dinner – her siblings, their spouses and her aunt. At the table, Doha’s brother showed their father a viral video of Doha’s university dean having sexual intercourse with one of his female students. Doha’s older brother grabbed her hair, and threatened, “By God, I swear by all faith and all oaths, if your foot steps out the front door, I'll cut it off.”

According to Doha, the family began to ask, “How do we know that our sister hasn’t already been molested?” Her brother responded that if that were the case, he would “slaughter her” along with the sheep in their garden.

After her aunt shared the video with her husband (absent from dinner), the husband called Doha’s father threatening that if he did not forbid his three daughters to attend their university, he would not allow his wife (Doha’s aunt) to visit them again.

She fell silent for a moment, then resumed her story, between sobs. Her father swore not to allow her to return to university, and tore up her lecture notes, sharing that “when he swears, he never goes back on his word.”

According to Doha, her fate is to marry a relative “who can't even read or write properly.” She feels that she is forced to suffer and pay for the mistakes of others.

Men are always right!

Raseef22 spoke with women’s rights advocate Sondos Ne’ma. She explained, “Of course, men always get away with their wrongdoings.”

According to Iraq’s Minister of Higher Education, earlier this month, video footage of a dean at the University of Basra engaged in sexual intercourse with a female student on his university office couch, went viral. The act is supposedly the result of blackmailing the female student: sex in exchange for a passing grade.

“It is impossible for a woman to file a complaint with the court without her family's knowledge, because it requires her address for the court to send notices to her, especially since we belong to a tribal society, and the case can be settled tribally.”

For Ne’ma, one of the most shocking elements of the story is that “this incident occurred during Ramadan, and this dean is known as a religious man who holds a monthly seminar at the college speaking on religion, the virtues of fasting, and the merits of the Prophet's family.”

She adds, “Of course, he will be punished socially and legally, but as always, the females at the university, whether they are students or employees, will be the first and last to feel the blame.”

According to Ne’ma, the viral video led to an onslaught of related violence, defamation and slander. “Female students were subjected to defamation and slander, regardless of whether or not they were affiliated to the University of Basra. Female employees were also attacked.”

Panic in the academic community

Ruba*, a 24-year-old student at the Faculty of Law at Wasit University, spoke to Raseef22, “The video spread panic and fear throughout the entire academic community.”

Ruba continued, “Two days ago, I found my father rummaging through my belongings, so I asked him if a piece of his clothing got mixed with mine during laundry. He answered me, in a tone I had never heard before, “I’ve worked hard my whole life for you all, and none of your sisters have lowered my head in shame. No more going to university for you after what happened”.”

She explained to Raseef22, “I spoke to my mother, who dodged my questions, claiming my father will blame her for my stubbornness. For them, my ambition is a failure and stubbornness. After many pleas, she finally told me, 'Your father was at your uncle's house today and saw a video clip of a teacher with a student'.”

She continues, “I asked my mother to tell me the truth, and her response was that my father was searching through my clothes to compare them with the girl's clothes on the video with the dean. He swore to kill me if he found any resemblance between them.”

She confirms that her father watched the video clip without knowing or checking which university the incident had occurred in, and without asking her about it. She adds, “Let's assume that this incident happened at my university, he should have asked me about any harassment by professors before ending all my dreams and ambitions on a whim.”

She concludes, “Do you now know why we don't speak up about harassment by professors or by anyone else? Because the heads of our families are our enemies, they can end our future. And because we are girls, we must comply and remain silent, but if anything happens to any of my brothers, my father's bullets and the tribe’s guns will be directed at whoever touched a single hair on his son's head.”

The truth belongs to the loudest!

Human rights advocate Sara Jassim tells Raseef22, “Complaints from female students and workers in various fields and institutions have recently multiplied, both privately and publicly. It is our responsibility to educate women and encourage them to confront aggressors. However, we are failing in the face of prevailing tribal customs that blame women, holding them responsible for tempting and enticing men into committing these actions.”

She adds, “It is the responsibility of the authorities to pursue those who run pages and websites that defame women's reputations, and to impose penalties. These despicable acts of defamation and accusations, if not addressed, will lead in the future to disasters and violations against women because it sets up an environment conducive to murder and intimidation."

Raseef22 spoke with a professor at an Iraqi university, who shared, “It is ironic that we resort to fake names out of fear of multiplied harassment and persecution from the government, tribe, and family.”

She added, “My fate in the workplace is controlled by a department head or a dean, and my promotion is decided based on whether I agree to a non-consensual relationship with him, despite having academic credentials.”

One professor admitted, “My fate in the workplace is controlled by a department head or a dean, and my promotion is decided based on whether I agree to a non-consensual relationship with him, despite having academic credentials.”

As for her decision to file a lawsuit, this will cost her financially, in addition to opening a front of societal confrontations and accusations that she cannot stand up to unless her family stands by her and supports her. She says, “Our families abandoning us is one of the main reasons behind increased harassment and abuse.”

She concludes, “The event we have witnessed targets women and their presence in the professional realm.”

Absent laws

Legal expert and political analyst Safaa Al-Lami agrees. He shared, “The repercussions and troubles in harassment cases are reaped by women in all fields, and the ideal solution for a woman in this situation is to resort to the law with the support of her family.”

He continued, “Few families break from their customs, and the most comfortable and convenient solution for them is to keep their daughters confined at home.”

“It is impossible for a woman to file a complaint with the court without her family's knowledge, because it requires her address for the court to send notices to her, especially since we belong to a tribal society, and the case can be settled tribally.”

Zahraa, 33, works as a lecturer at a private university in Najaf and is completing her doctoral studies. She spoke with Raseef22, “My fiancé refused to proceed with our wedding as agreed, and gave me the choice between my current job and ongoing degree, and between my love for him.”

After shutting his rhetoric down, he retorted that his mother had been right in her theories about choosing a partner: that a wife should be chaste, and not see men or be seen by men.

There is no law specifically on harassment in higher education institutions, but Iraqi law punishes sexual harassment under Article 398 of the Iraqi Penal Code. The penalties vary according to the severity of the crime and may include imprisonment and fines, at the discretion of the judge based on the circumstances of each case. Al-Lami stressed the importance of a specialized division in police centers with female staff, in addition to telephone hotlines to report harassment cases.


* To protect the privacy of certain individuals the names and identifying details have been changed.


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