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'Primary losers' in war, women must be part of peacemaking - Iraqi ex-ambassador

by Heba Kanso | @hebakanso | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 6 March 2019 22:31 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate in this August 11, 2014. REUTERS/Rodi Said

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Rend Al-Rahim says peace talks are "a matter of life and death", and nobody understands that more than women

By Heba Kanso

BEIRUT, March 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women are the "primary losers" in wars like those in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and need to be included in peace negotiations for them to be successful, Iraq's former ambassador to the United States said on Wednesday.

Rend Al-Rahim, who was the first woman ambassador from Iraq, said peace talks are "a matter of life and death", and nobody understands that more than women who often lead households alone and end up caring for their families because men are fighting.

"Very frequently women end up as heads of households with children and no means of survival. They have the responsibility for their survival, and for the survival of their families," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Women are abducted, they are raped, they are enslaved ... stories are horrifying. They are used and abused by the combatants on either side. Women also lose husbands, sons, brothers," said Al-Rahim.

She was speaking at a conference in Beirut on women's empowerment organised by a foundation led by May Chidiac, Lebanon's administrative development minister and one of four women appointed to cabinet jobs last month.

Thousands of women and girls of the Yazidi faith were abducted, tortured and sexually abused by Islamic State fighters who invaded their homeland in northwest Iraq, in 2014.

About half Syria's pre-war population fled after war broke out in 2011, 6.3 million of them as refugees abroad and 6 million lost or fled their homes in their own country. Many were forced to flee numerous times.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Then Iraqi Ambassador Rend Al-Rahim gestures after her country's embassy opened in Washington, June 30, 2004. REUTERS/Stringer

Over the past eight years, civilians have borne the brunt of fighting, including women and children, having been trapped in besieged areas, struggling to find water or food, and forced into overcrowded camps with limited medical services.

"Even when they are not raped and sold in the marketplace of human slavery - they are in fact enslaved or entrapped in situations that are virtually inhuman. No human being should have to endure that," she said.

Al-Rahim, who is also the executive director of the Iraq Foundation, a nonprofit that's work includes promoting women's rights, said it is "absurd" and "utterly counterproductive" to not involve more women at the grassroots and legislative level.

Iraq has a 25 percent quota for female parliamentarians but Al-Rahim said that is not enough - beyond parliament there should be more women in senior government jobs.

"(Women) understand the impact of conflict. They take into consideration the displaced. They take into consideration families. They take into consideration communities in which they live and which frequently have been destroyed by civil war."

(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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