Learning from Congo: First expert training on care for sexual violence survivors in Iraq

During the first training on specialized and quality care for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in July in Northern Iraq, Dr Denis Mukwege shared his experience from his work in Congo with local experts.

In a workshop facilitated by the Mukwege Foundation and supported by Stichting Vluchteling, he passed on his expertise to his Iraqi colleagues of Yazda who work with survivors of the “Islamic State”. They learned how to rehabilitate victims of sexual violence by providing a holistic approach which includes medical, psychological, legal and socio-economic support, all integrated in health services.

Replicate holistic care for sexual violence survivors in Iraq

This model of care has benefited more than 50,000 victims at Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which was founded by Dr Mukwege almost 20 years ago. We work to replicate the successful model in other conflict zones worldwide to ensure every survivor has access to the care they need.

In Northern Iraq, both in the camps for internally displaced people and in Sinjar area where the Yazidi genocide took place, there is a huge demand for specialized care, particularly for women and girls who experienced sexual violence in captivity of ISIS.

More than 6,400 women and girls of the Yazidi minority were captured and held as sex slaves, sometimes for weeks, months and years. Since the violence erupted in 2014, about half of them were rescued or escaped.

Sexual violence survivors in Iraq need same holistic care

The team of the Mukwege Foundation visited camps of displaced families near Dohuk, in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region. “The sexual violence takes place in different ways in war, but the goal in the same: it is about destruction of lives. What is more, the suffering is the same everywhere” Dr Mukwege said.

“Consequences range from sever medical injuries and psychological trauma to social isolation and stigmatization. Also the needs are the same: sexual violence survivors in Iraq urgently need access to quality care and support”.

End stigmatization of sexual violence survivors in Iraq

During his visit to Iraq,  Dr Mukwege highlighted the need to end and prevent the stigmatization of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. “In many communities, women are excluded – stigmatised just after being raped,” he explains.

In  Iraq, he met Khurto Hajji Ismail, the Yazidis’ Baba Sheikh or spiritual leader of the Yazidi people. At the Yazidi minority’s holiest site in Northern Iraq, Dr Mukwege payed homage to a spiritual leader who has decreed women raped by the Islamic State group should not be stigmatised.

Creating a sexual violence survivor network in Iraq

In addition to improving access to holistic care, the Mukwege Foundation is bringing survivors together. We support survivors in Iraq to create a network and raise their voice together. Farida Abbas Khalaf, a Yazidi survivor, activist and already a member of the Global Survivor Network, met our team and will support the expansion of the network in her home country.

 

Photo: Mukwege Foundation