Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence in Iraq


Project background

The stigma of sexual violence impacts individuals, families and communities at many different levels and in many different ways. Changing attitudes to survivors has to be a multi-disciplinary project that is long term and encompasses:

  • Changes to and enforcement of laws
  • Shifts in cultural and social norms that allow survivors to be heard
  • Sustained strategic communications efforts that make survivors visible and shifts perceptions of these crimes and their victims.


This shift in perception and support through access to justice must be coupled with the provision of long-term therapeutic support to achieve recovery. The objective of this workshop series is therefore to inform and engage a cross section of Iraqi professionals with the challenge of a survivor centred response to sexual violence and to produce the strategic communications and therapeutic plans needed to take work with survivors further.


The output from the programme six workshops will therefore be threefold:


  • A Policy and Legal Audit outlining the changes recommended to law and / or policy, including how to strengthen the implementation of existing policies to meet the targets of the National Action Plan. The audit will initiate an approach to mainstreaming an understanding of the Protocol by placing survivors at the centre of public policy and law.


  • Performance and testimony material related to the lived experience of stigma in all aspects of Iraq society as the basis for a media campaign delivered through governmental and cultural platforms.


  • Working network of policy makers, opinion leaders, religious figures and trainers to spread practice of the theatre of stigma and expressive writing approaches and measure the progress of government and the judicial in implementing change.


The workshops in this programme will be followed by a strategic communications campaign. The content for the media campaign, both creative and policy inputs, will be generated by the workshops. The team to support the dissemination of the messages will be brought together by the project’s networking elements and the messaging will link to the National Action Plan to ensure that the Government of Iraq (GOI) adopts key messages in their routine communications, especially when discussing reconciliation.

Analysis of Workshop Discussion and next steps


The first workshop in the series took place on October 17th 2016. It was planned to be a two day workshop but the security situation prevented the second day taking place as planned. There was a wide ranging but focussed discussion amongst an interdisciplinary team. The minutes of the whole team and break-out group discussions follow this brief analysis of the discussions in terms of the context of Sexual Violence in Iraq and the specific policy and communication responses suggested by the delegates.


The context begins from five inter-related and cross cutting areas raised by the delegates. The position of stigma attached to surviving sexual violence in Iraq needs to be approached from an analysis of the nature of the violence that permeates the on-going conflict. It is a complex situation and it involves some immediate and challenging issues. Delegates put different emphasis on different aspects but much of the discussion touched on these main areas. There were three areas which were broadly connected to a conflict analysis:


  • The particular violence of Daesh in relation to the history of sexual violence in Iraq – is this new to Iraq?
  • The particular dynamics of the conflict in Iraq in terms of geo-politics and specific crimes.
  • The priority of security and the nature of the current counter-insurgency operation.


There were two areas that were focussed more directly on the nature of sexual violence and the position of the survivors:


  • The definition of sexual violence and the roots of this violence in patriarchy vs. the particular manifestations of this violence in Arab or Islamic culture.
  • Challenges around access to justice and access to survivors with respect to the giving of voice but also of justice.


These two overarching themes came most closely together in discussions between the delegates on the place of sexual violence in the history of Iraq. Patriarchy permeates the current conflict but has a deep history in the conflicts in Iraq at least as far back as the Iran-Iraq war and genocide against the Kurds in which rape – male and female, abduction, displacement and sex trafficking all played a part. It also plays a role in the ability of survivors to seek help and in the way in which public policy sets out to protect potential victims and provide care for survivors. Many of the features of the Daesh campaign, which incorporated sexual violence into its modus operandi – have been present in Iraq since at least the 1980s. Arguably, within the context of patriarchy, they have been present for much longer than that.  What is striking is the similarity in approach taken by Daesh to the genocidal campaign launched against the Kurds by Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s, known as the Anfal. This speaks, of course, to the presence within Daesh of many ex-Baathists.[1] It was striking the extent to which a number of very vocal delegates wanted to keep the stress on the post 2014 situation and imply that this was in fact a new problem in Iraq.


There were two or three statements from delegates to the effect that sexual violence in conflict did not exist in Iraq before “Daesh”. This seems to be part of a broader narrative being constructed that is placing a line before and after Daesh: “We did not have this is Iraq before Daesh”, is a quote from a delegate although there was some push back from other delegates. But even in those acknowledging the existence of sexual violence pre-Daesh tended to place emphasis on the old regime – i.e. Daesh takes Iraq back to the use of violence as it was under Saddam.


The discussion highlights what a highly contentious issue in the context of current Iraqi politics and in broader debates, sexual violence is. Writing back in 2011, Katrina Lee-Koo, argued that the then prevalence of violence against women was linked directly to the invasion and was a consequence of it.[2] In contrast, Nadje Al-Ali has argued that from the 1980s “onwards, in the context of the Iran-Iraq war and the atrocities against the Kurdish population, women were increasingly used to demarcate the boundaries between communities and carry the heavy burden of honour in a society that became more and more militarised.”[3] Al-Ali does not ignore the impact of regime change, of course, but she argues, from an international feminist perspective, that it is important to look at the whole picture.


It will be important in later workshops to continue interrogating the issue in order to establish a better overall understanding of the position of survivors in Iraq. The stakeholders will need to consider them in the context of what sometimes feels like a competing hierarchy of “victims”. These hierarchies are defined by degrees of visibility and positions taken by speakers on the narrative of Iraqi history. Achieving a sense of equality in the position of survivors, removing any impunity before the law for the perpetrators and a fair and equal access to justice for any one who has experienced these crimes, is a high level outcome that faces significant political and cultural obstacles. It is important to stress that this is not intended to be a generic “Arab” or “Islamic” construction of obstacles to recognition, but rather a sense of realism about the barriers to looking at these issues that came from the discussion amongst the delegates and is reflected in the wider literature.


Even though sexual violence has been a feature of conflict in Iraq for a long time, the impact of Daesh has been immense and the delegates came back over and over again to the sheer scale of the violence perpetrated by Daesh against Shia and minority groups. As a non-state actor, Daesh, like Al Qaida before it, does not quite fit the militarised rape as a weapon of war category or indeed the state perpetrators category of the ICC. The absence of a framework creates challenges for international actors looking at these issues but the sense, especially from the Provincial Council members of the workshop, was that the first and foremost legal and judicial response to Daesh had to come from Iraq itself. There was an interesting discussion of the extent to which the answer must lie in Iraq and that justice and recovery could only come from within Iraq, but also a recognition that the capacity of the courts was limited.


The emphasis on a national solution does not mean that the geo-political context of the conflict in Iraq is not important, both in terms of the roles of other powers and in terms of the trafficking of victims of sexual violence. The local, regional and global nature of influences on this conflict, including the impact of the price of oil on the ability of the Iraqi health services to provide care and recovery to survivors, needs to be considered. The issue of resources came up time and again in the discussions, and was considered especially pertinent around mental health provision. Generally, much of the geo-political discussion tended to take place outside the formal sessions, whilst issues of resources were raised openly.


The particular context of this conflict produced a wide range of problems and challenges that the delegates felt that they faced. Some of which are particularly relevant in the context of Iraq and although not unique are importantly different in this context:


  • Genocidal project – there has been a strong case made by the KRG and international groups that the minority groups targeted by Daesh have been victims of genocide and that sexual violence has been central to this project on a number of different levels. The Yarzidi were mentioned most often by delegates.
  • The ability of the Iraqi state to operationally control the militias fighting against Daesh and more generally, the ability of the state to uphold and implement the laws that already exist to challenge impunity amongst perpetrators was questioned by some delegates. There was some reference to this issue but given the current events (the workshop took place on the day the Iraqi led coalition pushed to re-take Mosul) and the presence of government officials closed down this theme quite quickly.
  • The vulnerability of victims is exacerbated because of rapid advances and movements of perpetrator groups that can suddenly expose new locations to violence and where displaced people are housed in camps the difficulty of policing these and the sexual violence and trafficking that result.
  • The range of crimes within the general definition of sexual violence in conflict is wide in Iraq and the degree of focus and attention variable. The delegates touched on four areas that illustrate this but did not spend a great deal of time on definitions:
    1. Rape as weapon of war by state and non-state actors
    2. Intimate partner violence stemming from the disruption of war, the breakdown of law and order or more conventional roots of domestic violence within the conflict context
    3. Human trafficking as an instrument of social control in specific locations and against specific groups
    4. Poor professionalism and training amongst security, law enforcement and prison officers.


Resources are key to dealing with issues like access to justice and visibility of survivors. Access to justice related to the need to use national justice remedies where possible but also the pressure on the courts of the sheer number of cases that arise. Hence the suggestion that a new court be created; one delegate talked about 23,000 case files. Another important element raised was giving recognition and voice to survivors themselves and creating an environment in which they could come forward.


Some delegates wanted to stress that the tribal system in Iraq and the traditions within different communities could be significant obstacles to the identification and visibility of survivors. This issue was discussed with particular relevance to naming of shelters, safe havens and other places of refugee. In a sense the challenge is to provide places of safety in which survivors can become visible whilst at the same time they cannot be seen, ie places that they can gain the support they need anonymously and safely if they choose.  Some delegates argued that the problem is that the community does not want the implication that some of their members need protection from people within that community, they do not want association with victims of these crimes and they do not want to be seen as a place to which survivors can come.


Throughout these discussions there was frequent reference by the delegates to the nature of the Daesh conflict in Iraq. This was not only from a geo-political standpoint, but often focussed on defining it as a counter-insurgency operation. Therefore the emphasis was primarily on security and defeating the enemy. The workshop was taking place as the ground assault to liberate Mosul had begun and concerns around civilian causalities resulting from the operation were at the forefront of many delegates’ minds. The more difficult question of how to address the conduct of military groups was raised where the potential use of sexual violence by liberating forces that support the Iraqi central and devolved governments and are the enemy of Daesh proved a difficult discussion.


The dominant narrative of Daesh as the perpetrators of sexual violence may allow survivors to come forward more easily than if they were abused by government or peshmerga forces – this is particularly true in how other community members might react to a survivor voicing their experience. But clearly this needs to be considered in the overall scope of the ability of survivors to have voice. There was a general acceptance of agency on behalf of Daesh and their commanders for the wilful use of rape and other sexual violence as a weapon of war and how that might implicate Daesh leadership under the international mandate of the ICC if they are nationals of countries that are signatories to the Rome Statue. There was no discussion of whether the government and its allies have allowed or even ordered the use of sexual violence against Daesh, or those seen to collaborate with them as a dimension of warfare against them. This is not an uncommon route of retaliation in warfare, for example this dynamic has played out in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[4] In turn of course this addresses two central concerns of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) agenda  – the challenge to and elimination of immunity for perpetration of these crimes and the overall focus on military perpetrators.[5]


An issue that arose in discussion is the relationship between stigma and the more general Women, Peace and Security agenda on the one hand and the PSVI agenda on the other. The purpose of this workshop was to map the current situation in Iraq with respect to the stigma that survivors suffer in the aftermath of sexual violence. It was not primarily about mapping the extent and nature of that violence. However, the Iraqi delegates felt the need to stress that a real understanding of the nature of the sexual violence that remained prevalent in Iraq was vitally important. The general discussion highlighted a series of issues that need further consideration and should inform the construction of later elements of the project. It would be interesting to compare notes on these elements with other organisations implementing in this space like War Child and the UN Gender office. We will circulate this note on the report for comment and response.


These questions for further discussion included:

Legal Review

While most of the delegates did not favour additional legislation, all agreed on the need to review the legal position and suggest amendments or executive actions to recognise these kinds of crimes more clearly in the legal code.

Questions arising: which laws need to be reviewed and in what ways? What capacity in the judiciary needs to be developed, for example training for prosecutors, to empower the legal system to tackle these issues? How is the issue of impunity for some perpetrators to be dealt with?


Structural Stigma

Inherent in the discussion at the first workshop was that there is structural stigma attached to the survivors of sexual violence in Iraq. Structural stigma means that it is embedded in social institutions and practices and supported by norms that perpetuate the stigma in these institutions.[6] The delegates agreed that to address structural stigma we need to consider systemic interventions beginning in education systems. The only way in which these structural features can be challenged is from within, from the society itself being willing and able to change itself. The logical consequence of this is that if the victims of sexual violence are treated differently in Iraq than the victims of other kinds of violence then this is a problem of patriarchal rather Islamic culture. While the delegates agreed that the objective should be that all survivors of violence are treated equally and appropriately there was little agreement on the nature of patriarchy, on the question of why there is structural stigma. We need more time at the next workshop to really unpack this. The conversation moved quickly to raising awareness of these issues so that they were better understood and tended to skip over why they needed to be made more understandable.


Questions arising:  If patriarchy dominates the response to both male and female victims of sexual violence, then we need to construct our public policy responses in such a way that this patriarchy is challenged? How would we do this? What would these public policy interventions look like?


Public Health Issue

The alternative approach, and one that might be more realistic, is to shift the problem firmly into the health policy area. Then the challenge is to look at the evidence on a case by case basis for each individual who has survived sexual violence and design support and care which allows them to recover. This was felt by a number of delegates to be a better approach to the strategic communications challenges. There was general agreement and interest in the idea of using theatre, writing and television to explore these complex themes in informal discussions with the delegates.


Questions: How can this be made a subject of public health strategic campaigning and policy? What would this mean in practice? What would be the messaging in Strategic communications? How would care and provision for recovery be organised and paid for?



The workshop was cut short because of the security situation and the second day could not take place at which these questions would have been explored in more detail. However the agenda for that discussion was clearly laid out and can be returned too as soon as the delegates are brought together again.



Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence in Iraq


Cultural approaches to Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence in conflict and combatting stigma and related meetings



Babylon Hotel


Babylon Hotel, Baghdad, Iraq

11-13 December 2016


Project background


The stigma of sexual violence impacts individuals, families and communities at many different levels and in many different ways. Changing attitudes to survivors has to be a multi-disciplinary project that is long term and encompasses:


  • Changes to and enforcement of laws –advanced on this mission by meetings with key stakeholders
  • Shifts in cultural and social norms that allow survivors to be heard – advanced through delivery of a workshop and meetings with key faith leaders
  • Sustained strategic communications efforts that make survivors visible and shifts perceptions of these crimes and their victims – media engaged with substance of Culture workshop and with the overall message of supporting survivors


Iraqi professionals have been engaged through the first two set piece workshops and through a series of on-going and support building meetings. The challenge of a survivor centred response to sexual violence has now been debated with stakeholders representing government, civil society, education, media and parliament. The debates at the culture workshop significantly shifted the terms of the discussion on communications vehicles and techniques. There is now a much clearer plan for a proposed strategic communications campaign in terms of the vehicles to be used, the connections between different cultural approaches and the sights that need to be targeted.


The outputs from the overall programme of workshops will therefore be threefold:


  • A Policy and Legal Audit outlining the changes recommended to law and / or policy, including how to strengthen the implementation of existing policies to meet the targets of the National Action Plan. The audit will initiate an approach to mainstreaming an understanding of the Protocol by placing survivors at the centre of public policy and law this was significantly advanced with stakeholder meetings on the current trip.


  • Performance and testimony material related to the lived experience of stigma in all aspects of Iraq society as the basis for a media campaign delivered through governmental and cultural platforms.


  • Working network of policy makers, opinion leaders, religious figures and trainers to spread best practice of the theatre of stigma and expressive writing approaches and measure the progress of government and the judicial in implementing change.


Prior to the delivery of the third part of the Supporting Survivors Project, TSRN were invited to attend the “Preventing sexual violence initiative: shaping an action plan to tackle stigma” hosted by the FCO at Wilton Park in late November 2016. It was a hugely valuable meeting which brought together policy makers, activists and front line delivery staff in order to pool experience and draw together a set of Principles for Global Action. These actions intend to set out a road map to sustained impact for victims and survivors of sexual violence facing further challenges through stigmatisation through political lobbying, programming and advocacy. The discussions focused on sexual violence in the conflict, post-conflict and fragile states contexts.

Sharing and Collaboration

TSRN was able to share the approach to stigmatisation we are delivering in the series of workshops on ‘Supporting the Survivors of Sexual Violence in Iraq’ arranged with, and funded by, the British Embassy in Baghdad. We were also exposed to a range of other approaches and programmes aimed at tackling the stigma experienced by victims and survivors of sexual violence – this has been helpful in guiding our thinking on how to engage with specific stakeholders. The delegates agreed with the multidisciplinary approach we have chosen to take in empowering different stakeholder groups to tackle the stigma problem in Iraq. This approach resonated with other programme staff and advocates and will hopefully be reflected in the Principles for Global Action. It was also noted that the expressive writing innovation was an unusual technique that the legal attendees in particular were interested in. There was discussion about how to integrate the core five themes that the PSVI had identified:


  1. Judicial and legal
  2. Police, military and peacekeeping
  3. Health
  4. Media, education and advocacy
  5. Faith, community and cultural leaders.


By considering all these elements together and understanding their interactions, cross-overs and tensions, the Principle of Global Action would have a more holistic impact. The conference and attendees recognised the need for more discussion in this area.


National attendees (South Sudan, DRC, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Myanmar, Colombia to name but a few) generally belonged to frontline service provider organisations working to support victims and survivors of sexual violence in a number of ways. The stigma element was identified as an additional burden that re-traumatises and punishes individuals far beyond the initial violent event. Tackling stigmatisation has therefore become a significant priority in individual recovery and is beginning to be recognised as a priority tool in national post-conflict stabilisation agendas. Some regional programmes and interlocutors inspired very interesting discussion on collaboration and sharing of our individual approaches. We look forward to further follow up of these ideas with a newly established network and are already liaising with contacts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.


Of particular interest and relevance to TSRN’s Stigma project was the engagement with participants for the legal / justice sectors and the UN. It was informative to have sessions lead by leading figures in international law and advocacy specialists. The element of expressive writing that we have woven into the project was received with great interest and appeared to be quite innovative in both practitioner and legal approaches to addressing stigma.


These discussions informed and feed into the delivery of the workshop. They also influenced the discussions with key stakeholders.


Workshop First day 11th of December 2016.

In the period since the first workshops, the participants have been active in maintaining contact and continuing communications. The first team were involved in the discussion and shaping of the Culture Workshop and suggested the names of people to attend. The theatre company was contacted and asked to participant, with planning and discussion on the first day of the workshop and performance on the second.


The delivery team split into two groups.:

  • The first team did a series of bilateral meetings with faith leaders, governmental officials, decision makers, legal experts, civil society, and the media. These were designed to extend the network and inform the development of the project overall.
  • The second team meet with the theatre company and developed the performance, setting the show plan, the required message to be sent to the public and training the theatre company and rehearsing. The company had already prepared the script of the performance piece.




Workshop Second day 12th of December 2016.

The session was started by TSRN Director, Dr Brian Brivati. He welcomed the attendees, outlined the programme and explained how the project was working:


“Central to the challenge of combating the stigma attached to the survivors of sexual violence, is to link together different approaches to benefit the individual, challenge and perhaps changes norms of a community and society more broadly. There are therefore five dimensions to the current project, Policy, Law, Culture, Media and Health and the purpose of the workshops and individual meetings is to map out and understand the connections between each area so that policy responses and strategic communications can be aligned to maximize impact.”


In the preliminary discussions two issues came through as they had to an extent at the first seminar. Firstly, the claim was again made, and this time by a civil society actor, that sexual violence had not existed in Iraq before the advent of Daesh. When pushed on this point the argument was not that sexual violence had not existed but that it had not existed in the same violent form as it has under Daesh and that therefore it should be expected that Iraqi society and culture will have a challenging time tackling the issue. This lead into the second main discussion: what is the definition of sexual violence that is being used and how does it apply to the Iraqi case.


The debate was framed around the definition of sexual violence that encompasses the violence against an individual from someone unknown to that individual, violence in a relationship with a familial connection and violence perpetrated by state actors usually with impunity. There was a comfortable acceptance of the existence of stigma attached to survivors of the first category and the victims of Daesh were agreed to be placed here. There was much more resistance to the existence of the second and third categories and little agreement on the level or nature of the stigma attached to those who survive though an acceptance that it exists and that survivors need support to over come it.


These issues were not resolved but became focussed around a key underlying question. Is the priority in this kind of work to help the individual survivor find a route to recovery or is the priority to change the norms of society so that survivors can be accepted and can be given the help and support they need? It was agreed at the first workshop that awareness was key to both the individual and the collective challenges, and there was a general agreement that culture and media were central vehicles for addressing the needs of both the individual and the attitudes of a community. A number of delegates stressed that theatre played a particular part in Iraqi society and was, along with broadcast media, a potentially powerful tool in influencing attitudes and empowering change in individuals.

The focus for this workshop was on the use of Theatre, but this was intended to be as a starting point for a broader discussion of the use of media and communications in supporting survivors and challenging norms. Toby Gough, a director who has specialized in the delivery of workshop theatre in complex environments, see annex 1, worked with the actors on the first day to develop a piece of theatre that could demonstrate the power and effectiveness of this approach. He was introduced to the participants and gave them an idea of how using theatre in different areas of the world suffering from natural disasters, political, social and security problems was an effective way of increasing the awareness of these issues at individual and community levels.


His argument that theatre has been used in other places to increase local, national and international attention on issues such as the sexual abuse of women and children and other issues such as the prevalence of sexual violence amongst IDPs, resonated with the participants.



The participants were in their chairs for the discussions when the first actor entered the hall and the performance piece began. The sequence of the actors followed the explanation of the dimensions of the Holocaust suggested by Raul Hilberg as a triangle of Perpetrators, Bystanders and Victims. The first two actors represented the perpetrators. The first actor explored how the problem of radicalisation starts in the mind of the people, the way they allow negative ideas to start and establish a destructive mentality.  Terrorism, the director of the piece from the Omar company explained, starts in the mind of people for different motivations and different reasons. We must address how people think, what they believe, their faith, we we can change their behaviour. The second actors represented the force of indifference, boredom and exclusion – the bystanders who do nothing. They sat symbolically eating bread. The fourth character was a victim. The actor who played the victim is from Mosul and has witnessed sexual violence against women.  She performed from experience, representing a woman who had been raped by Daesh and was now pregnant. She insisted that dealing with survivors is important. She asked questions:  How will the society deal with her?  Who is going to support her? Who is going to support her child?



Responses to the performance

After the performance the participants came back into a plenary session to discuss what they had seen and share their responses. These responses were recorded, translated and transcribed:


First participant:


The theatre that was presented to the workshop was written in advance but only rehearsed for one day, as the director told me but I can say that this show is a true work. The most influential thing in the show is that the character itself is able to show himself and reflect the reality and the details of the character. Allow for a lot of questions to arise in this character…The performance piece shows the terrorist character with the suicide belt on. Then the disappointed guy, the person within with no hope. Then the passive audience. The most beautiful thing is that the work has shown all those characters as victims. More than that the show has created an interaction status which is emphasising the concept of participation and how the whole group can take part in it. The cost is small and has been used by the Director, they have shown the character of the woman as a victim at the end part of the show – this is very smart, which created a kind of emotional response.


Despite all this the dialogue was not that much among the actors but they have sent very strong messages through short sentences. Citizens, we know that it is a kind of a mistake in the procedures of the Iraqi security forces which led to these kinds of disasters. But, the clear fact that all of us should know is that all of us have participated in this terror attack, in this crime, through allowing the kind of extreme thinking to spread among the society. Our ignorance has become the monster who has eaten our sons, is killing our sons – an idea that might not be accepted by most of the attendees, but I have to put it on the table. We have to review the issue of terrorism as Iraqis. I don’t believe in the execution as a punishment because I believe that there is, inside each human a side that is full of goodness. Can we work with some parts of him to re-mix him and make re-join, bring him back to the society? In the future, after the military operations we will realise the only solution is to rehabilitate and to deal with those people to get them back to the normal life.


Second Participant:


What relates to the role of theatre in the changing process of the society? I do believe that theatre has a great role in the changing process. Regarding the subject of rehabilitating the terrorists – what is the difference between an aggressive terrorist person and a peaceful normal person? The idea. Using theatre and what relates to the rehabilitation of these people. This person who is a terrorist is not a terrorist by nature, he has been a terrorist not to gain money, but because he has a certain mind-set, he has a certain idea, a faith. Here is the role of theatre, which is changing the mind, changing the idea which is leading to a change in the aggressive culture to a creative culture, a peaceful culture.


Third Participant:


Although we are living this thing in our daily life, but nobody can neglect the size of influence which we have felt by interacting with the actors. With the aftermath of ISIS, at all our life stages we do need creation for our minds, I mean our ideas changing from negative to positive every generation. We have to work on the new generation by sending messages through theatre which is going to be an educational tool.


Fourth Participant:


One experience is better than reading a thousand books. The good thing in the theatre show is that transferring the audience from hearing, seeing, from the absence to be a presence, and alive in the show and as part of the reality, as part of this show.

If we made a comparison between the effect of theatre and the documentary films, theatre has more influence and a bigger influence. But I will be more focussed, one day, we had to deal with the issue of the woman prisoners and the arrested woman from Daesh. There was already an execution decision.  The Prime Minister saw a documentary about their story. That show had a shocking impact on the PM to the degree that he decided to give them a special amnesty and released them.


We should stick to the point, I mean, we have to make an impact on decision makers. There cannot be an alternative to TV, because that is where the audience is, but it depends on audience psychology, which is, you know, audiences having different moods. So their interaction with each show will be different. With respect to the impact of the theatre show, the character criminal, the terrorist, the traitor – it is not the decision of the punishment, whether it is execution or for life jail, that matters but to hear and understand the motivation for the roots of violence.


Fifth Participant:


Sometimes we focus on the personality of the criminal, sometimes they focus on the kind of crimes. When we take the personality of the criminal, so they’ve been different between the kinds of criminals. They said the execution penalty, it is not equal, or maybe it’s too tough to use it. The kind of crime, despite the personality of the criminal. He said if the penalty will not do accept the justice on the survivor, or the victim, that’s enough. What the theatre and the goals can do. They don’t know the survivors and what they face. The situation that the survivor passed during his surviving process. The decision makers or the policy makers and that’s a comment recommended from survivors, to remind them of the survivors’ situation and how we can rehabilitate them – maybe theatre can do that?


Sixth Participants:

The new challenge is the failure of TV as the official language of Iraq – there is a failure of the TV because of the message to reach out to the survivors or the people is very slow. Talking about the performance, the actors and their silence when they start to try and describe it gave the audience more options to describe or translate their performance according to what they understand from it. So some of them they understand it in a positive way, some of them in a negative way. A shocking play in this performance, is talking about the creative script is changes between the audience and the performers. Actor steps out of the scripts. He’s talking, responding out of the script. It seems there is a kind of overlap during the play, who is the speaker here? Who’s in charge for instance? It’s mixed now, on us, who is the audience and who is the actor?

theatre 3






Workshop discussion

After the plenary discussion of the performance piece, the workshop was divided into two teams to discuss how what they had seen could be translated into actions that could be addressed to individuals, individuals in relationships, communities and society. The breakout groups in the workshop concluded that there were six areas arising from the performance that could be explored as the vehicles for the strategic communications campaign to have an impact:


  • Creative Theatre – Theatre Clinic
  • Human Resource Training – to enhance administrative and creative competences
  • Mass Media – to promote and reinforce messages
  • Short films unique but also based on theatre pieces
  • Poetry and Writing through expressive writing and listening and other programmes
  • Art and Photography – through both art therapy and exhibitions


All these vehicles should be interlinked and reinforcing in the strategic communications campaign that will be developed as an output of this workshop programme. They must also be targeted at different sites of abuse and survival in different ways. As above there are four dimensions to the existence and continuation of sexual violence that create and underpin the discrimination against the survivors. The individual as both perpetrator and survivor needs to be reached with messages and or training that sexual violence is unacceptable and that the perpetration of acts of sexual violence cannot take place with impunity. Law enforcement and the military are an important target here and the acceptance that sexual violence is a “natural” product of conflict needs to be challenged and overturned. The victim/survivor needs both to be reached in ways that enable s/he to articulate what has happened to them, seek justice and therapeutic care but also to be persuaded that they are not to blame. The social norms and cultural constructions in which this process takes place are also determining of the way the individual thinks and feels.


In this respect, reaching communities and society with messages that challenge impunity and promote acceptance and recovery for survivors is vitally important. In terms of the cultural contribution to this process of awareness raising, consideration should be given to the part the mobilizing of “star power” can have in support of delivering messages – either stars of TV/Film and/or key cultural and sporting figures, for example footballers. These stars might need to be paid for their contributions so international donor support is essential for developing future stages of this work. Messages need to be differentiated both by the medium being used and the target effects that are desired to be achieved. The theatre clinic concept, developed by the delegates in break out discussion, is designed to support and extend the work of expressive writing and listening in reaching the individual. All these efforts are informed by and linked to both government policy and the projects and messages promoted by civil society.


The suggestion was made that Friday prayers might include parts to show and support the survivors and address the sexual violence against women, for all types of religious groups. There was some debate between the participants on the exact role that the clergy could play in being the means of delivering these kinds of messages to communities and societies. There was a degree of cynicism regarding the extent to which religious figures could play a constructive role, for example in partnership with theatres. On the other hand, some delegates argued that they are vital. There are three trusted brands that can communicate with the Iraqi people – clerics, opinion leaders/intellectual and tribal leaders. Both Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammed Al-Musawi Al-Kadhimi and participants at the main workshop quoted research showing that these three groups remained trusted in contemporary Iraq and that clerics were the most trusted.


The discussion of theatre as a vehicle for delivering messages was the most prominent at this workshop. The participants debated the most effective way of shaping messages. They suggested that a consultation of existing canonic texts in Iraq and world theatre to see if there are universally recognized acceptable texts from which key themes could be explored should be carried out.


The groups also considered who would be the partners in the delivering of the communications campaigns and theatre work. The creative industries and mass media were the key element but they needed to be linked to government, civil society and finally, the audience itself would be a partner and a participant in the process. The audience is also the window into social media through which messages can flow.








The break out groups suggested using theatre and other creative techniques in different forms, addressing different types of communities such as:


  1. After identifying the stakeholders, the theatre must be used in different ways – time, place, and people – such as addressing communities and using creative outputs in different ways to send the same message regarding supporting the survivors of sexual violence.
  2. Identifying places at which people were already gathered such as sports games to use this platform for a performance piece to raise/change awareness.
  3. Use cultural events and spaces when and where people are together to make theatre shows.
  4. Bring performance to universities and schools to mobilise the new generation.
  5. Creating a Theatre Clinic to take into different contexts:
    1. Theatre of the street.
    2. Theatre in IDP camps.
    3. Theatre in prisons and detention centres.
    4. Strolling theatre.


The work shop group suggested that the theatre should be connected with other activities and sectors such as music, drawing and painting according to each community group, place and culture. The attendees asked to support the Omar theatre company and to develop their capabilities by offering them training and helping them export their shows internationally and help them participate in international theatre festivals.


Also, it has been suggested to create different working groups to deal with different stakeholders such as:

  1. Council of Ministers (Women, human rights, IDP’s and youth committees).
  2. Department of Women.
  3. Department of Culture.
  4. Department of Youth.
  5. Parliamentary committees of youth, women, IDP’s and human rights.
  6. Religious leaders.
  7. Tribal leaders
  8. Civil society.
  9. Police and prison service.
  10. Donors and funders (local and International).


Roles and responsibilities:

  • MP’s to start lobbying for the legislations change process.
  • Executive authority representative, to support the project activities and present the needed facilitation and protection.
  • Media, to give more focus and develop enough space and time for it.
  • Civil society to start campaigns and encourage volunteering activities supporting the survivors.
  • Theatre Company and Topy to develop the theatre show and think how to use international theatre figures and connect them to the local culture to get a wider consent and spread.
  • Colleting more stories from real life.
  • Using other international examples and experiences.
  • Program staff to develop future workshops to include the new suggestions and notes.




Annex 1



During the three year siege of Sarajevo, I entered the city through a sewage tunnel and co -directed an opera ‘Europa’ with the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra and other members of the community.  This restored a sense of nobility and dignity, was broadcasted on the BBC and showed the world that the multi religious cultural life of Bosnia would not be destroyed. When one of the singers was asked by The BBC why theatre was important during the war, she replied ‘In a desert, you need water, Here it is theatre that gives us life’.


In Sri Lanka, I created a multi-lingual adaptation of Shakespeare’s Pericles, involving Buddhist and Tamil child survivors of the Tsunami. The project provided youth engagement opportunities, training in dance and theatre skills, a family structure, an opportunity for the children to take a proactive role in deciding the outcome of the play intended to transform the grief and conflict within their community. The child performers were responsible for deciding what the outcome and the message of the performance should be. By choosing a play written by Shakespeare, 500 years ago about a story 2000 years before him, it allowed the cast and the audience some distance from the immediate tragedy, yet by weaving personal stories within it, it provided an opportunity for them to be heard, and comedy was an important part of the healing process.  One of the Buddhist priests watching the show said it was the first time that the community had come together and laughed, since the disaster.


In front of a huge audience of survivors and international guests, Ruwani Sitara, a young Sinhalese child performer who had not spoken for two years, since the tragedy, found her voice. Providing an International Platform for the project at the Edinburgh Festival was a major factor for the reputation of the project within the country. The child performers became Ambassadors for their culture and spokespeople for the thousands of survivors still without homes. Suddenly the Sri Lankan Government had to sit up and listen.  Funds were released.


It is my belief that Forum Theatre Practise in Iraq will help raise awareness of the stigma attached to sexual violence in the community, and has the power to change the opinions of people living in a war torn society. The process of theatre can provide healing for victims of sexual abuse and be a route to recovery for individuals in this society.


On the invitation of Dr. Brian Brivati I travelled to Iraq with the inevitable fears for my own security despite being well briefed by Lauren of TSRN. However on arrival in Baghdad, Ghassan and Safar, provided an efficient welcome, a security briefing, and charming hospitality.


Before arriving I had asked Ghassan to source local actors to participate as practitioners, working with me for a day to perform at the workshop the next day. My first intention was to learn about his style of work, get to know the actors, and establish trust and respect between us. It was also important for me to understand what was permissible on stage, and what style of theatre would be effective in getting the message across. It seemed that comedy, and soap opera style drama was popular. It also seemed that the actors were very well versed in Western Drama, studying Shakespeare, Brecht, Meyerhold and Stanislavksy.


The choice of theatre group was perfect as they were already using participatory theatre practise with good results. Arkan was clearly an inspiring leader ready for collaboration.


I noted however that the women members of the group contributed much less to the conversation.


I was told women were abused in the following scenarios:


  1. Property for jihadist fighters
  2. Forced marriages.
  3. Trafficked and sold.
  4. Raped by boyfriends, family members.


Male on male rape was acknowledged as taking place but was not willing to be discussed. Once raped the victims are often rejected by community and family, which often resulted in being killed. Almost every member of the cast had direct experience of this taking place in their own immediate family or close network.


We discussed the importance of collecting these stories, at first hand to have as a database for future work. We discussed how theatre could be used with victims of sexual abuse to provide a safe space to talk, tell stories and become empowered, and change the attitudes of society.


I explained different techniques and methods of Forum Theatre, to be used for survivors, and for community audiences and my own personal experiences in areas of conflict.


I was told by Safar that by the end of the discussion, the cast seemed energised and inspired by the project, and importantly for me they had given me their trust and respect. The director thanked us for shedding light on their situation. The cast were excited by the idea and possibility of travelling to an international stage in Britain to showcase the work taking place in Iraq.


We then started the rehearsal. The aim was to create an improvised, interactive theatre piece to last about 30 minutes.


This performance featured 4 different characters.


The first was an inexperienced ISIS recruit, with little knowledge of explosives, who was eager to escape his situation and rid himself of the suicide jacket that he carried with him.


The second was an Iraqi who had given up hope and who carried with him a noose and a tank of fuel.


The third were two men who sit on two chairs doing nothing, but eating bread, a symbolic action for those who do nothing.


The fourth and final character was a pregnant girl, raped by an ISIS soldier. Her role was to ask the audience what she should do about the imminent birth of her child.


The actors spoke directly with the audience, asking them to help them with their individual dilemmas, jolting the audience into connecting with their own reality, for example asking if them if they were fathers, or had sisters, or daughters.


Arkan as the director was to be seated among the audience then became involved in the action, refusing to sit by and do nothing, and inviting the audience to respond, stand up, join him by putting hand in hand, join together and take responsibility for the attitudes and events in their country.


With just a few hours rehearsal, the cast adopted the characters and the spirit and intention of the performance very quickly.




I explained to the delegates, how Forum Theatre provides a safe space to perform scenarios in real life and give the audience a chance to consider how they would react, when these scenarios happened in real life. Forum theatre rehearses with the audience a real life situation to make the right situation when the time comes. I chose the Children of the Sea project as a case study that could be followed here in Iraq, a series of workshops and performances that could take place throughout the country.


The performance was very successful, and although the cast had only one day to rehearse, and digest the information, gave a very complex, poignant, and advanced performance that had everyone gripped from the beginning to the end. Initially the audience were reserved and suspicious but as the performance continued, they responded with profound emotion. The audience described how the long pauses during the acting gave them the chance to read their own thoughts into the situation.  Tears flowed, all stood to join hands, and after kissing the flag, pledging to take action to help change society, and singing the national anthem, there were long emotional embraces between actors and audience. The play had truly brought them together.


After the performance the audience acknowledged how theatre was more powerful than other medias to get a message across.


The delegates together with the actors then separated into round table discussion carried out in Arabic.




In the afternoon, I spoke further with the actors on how to develop this performance into a one hour drama. We discussed creating chapters in the lives of the characters to show how these characters arrived this desperate point in their own lives, retracing the decision making factors that forced them into this position. They told me of their lack of funding, and I offered to look for funds to allow the group to continue meeting and working together.  There was no shortage of enthusiasm.


We agreed to set up a writing group to stay in contact, possible names for this project. They requested a certificate of participation in the project for the individuals taking part. With the policy makers, we discussed how to take this project in the community, with government and security support. It was agreed by Ghassan that the workshop was the most successful and meaningful workshop/discussion that he had been involved in.


After the performance we met with a leader in Kurdistan, who pledged to assist us create a touring schedule in Kurdistan, and a General who had recently returned from Mosul, who was responsible for Media and marketing for the Iraqi Troops. He told us that he had a theatre company with 20 actors, which will definitely be worth investigating.





Work Shop Attendance Sheet


Date\ Monday 12th Dec. 2016

Place\ Babylon Hotel- Baghdad, Iraq

Position Name  
Project facilitator Brian Brivati 1
Project coordinator Ghassan Jawad Kadhim 2
Project Security Coordinator Safa Mahdi Ubeid 3
Youth affairs Supervisor- Ministry of youth Shahad Mohammed Younis 4
Director Assistant- Human rights Department- Ministry of Foreign affairs Uroba Mohammed Jabbar 5
Psychiatrist Dr. Nahla Ali Al Tamimi 6
Babylon University Teacher and expert of Media and Art Dr. Bader Nasir 7
Chief Of the National Center for religious dialogue Dr. Nuha Al Dirweesh 8
Women for peace organization Samraa Khalid Alwan 9
Media Specialist- Al Rasheed Media Channel Salah Abdulkareem 10
Advisor in the coexistence Committee Salih Hussein Al Ubeidi 11
Al Hurra Satalite Channel Manager Falah Al Thahabi 12






Mercy Core INGO Wa’ad Abdul Ameer Kamil  



Prime Minister office – Women Affairs section Supervisor Ali Abdulahh Mohammed  



Legal Advisor-13\25 Operations Manager Qassim Abdullah Al Zamili  



Council of Ministers Secretary\Operations Room of 13\25 Amir Bader Salim  



Civil Society Activist Siham Abbas Aboud  



National center for capacity building and innovation Mustafa Monthir Muslim  



Da’awa Political party representative and Party Media spokesman- Dhafer Rahim Hamza 19



Member of Baghdad Provincial Council Mahdiyah Abid Hassan  



Civil society activist Asaad Qassim Hassan  



Deputy Chief of Woman Committee- Baghdad P. Council Dr. Eman Jawad Al Barzanchi  



Director General- Women affairs department- Council of ministers Ibtisam Aziz Ali  



Art company ( Oma company)director and writer- Arkan Mohammed Kadhum  








Actor- Oma company Haider Abdul JabarAbdulmajeed  



Actor-Oma Company Murtadha Karhab Thamir  



Actress-Oma Company Sali Salah Ezat  



Actress-Oma Company Dalia Nabil Mohammed  



Actor-Oma Company Wael  Abdulkarim Abdulmajeed 29
Actor-Oma Company Amir Adil Mahdi 30
Media – Sound engineer Hussein Yousif Jawad 31
Photographer and filming specialist – Ali Alhdi Arkan 32





Workshop Participants


Phone No Position Name  
+447787241157 Project facilitator Brian Brivati 1


+9647901915481 Project coordinator Ghassan Jawad Kadhum 2


+9647829982233 Project assistant Safa Mahdi Ubeid 3


+9647809189955 UK Embassy- Political Section Natalie Atmore 4


+9647902230569 Lecturer Psychology- University of Baghdad May Hamodi Al Shamari 5


+9647717509628 Lecturer Psychology- University of Baghdad Dr. Nahla Ali Al Tamimi 6


+9647704435405 Parliament CS Committee Secretary General- Shihab Khider Muhsin 7


+9647712342823 CS’s Committee Advisor Israa Sabah Aziz 8


+9647901319655 SANAD Organization for Peace building Ahmed Abdul Karim Miti’eb 9


+9647704447528 Legislative  Advisor-Iraq Presidency Ameer Tahir Al Kinani 10


+9647704447528 Lecturer Psychology- University of Baghdad Dr. Jinan Al Sa’idi 11


+9647901939407 Al Hurra Satalite Channel Manager Falah Al Thahabi 12


+9647706812211 Human Rights Commission Dr.Fadhil Al Gharawi 13



Un complete Number

General Manager- Ministry of Foreign Affairs Human Rights section Ghanim Al Ghanim 14


+9647709450502 Legal Advisor-13\25 Operations Manager Qassim Abdullah Al Zamili 15


+9647706852041 Council of Ministers Secretary\Operations Room of 13\25 Amir Bader Salim 16


+9647719991338 Parliament CS’s Chief of Committee Dr. Tafga Ahmed Mirza 17


None Chief of Parliament IDP’s Committee Raad Al Dahlaki 18


+9647701246757 Chief of Health Committee- Baghdad Provincial Council Dr. Nahida Ali Hasson 19


+9647704441177 Member of Baghdad Provincial Council Mahdiyah Abid Hassan 20


+9647901583194 Council of Ministers Rep. Ghadeer Ja’afar Dawood 21


None Deputy Chief of Woman Committee- Baghdad P. Council Dr. Eman Jawad Al Barzanchi 22


None Baghdad- Provincial Council Adnan Abdul Adil 23


None General Manager- Ministry of Justice Kamil Ameen Hashim 24


None Employee-Juridical Institute Rua’a Mohammed Sa’eed 25


+9647704615184 MP Reizan Shaikh Duleir 26


+964782600021 CS’s Activist Raed Al Janabi 27


+9647801956700 Da’awa Political party representative and Party Media spokesman- Dhafer Rahim Hamza 28



[1] It is important to also stress that sexual violence did not stop with the invasion. The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq estimates that 2,000 women went missing in Iraq between 2003 and 2006, other groups provide higher estimates for the number trafficked. Quoted in Nadje Al-Ali, Sexual Violence in Iraq: Challenges for transitional feminist politics, European Journal of Women’s studies, 1-18, 2016

[2] Katrina Lee-Koo, Gender-Based Violence Against Civilian Women in Post invasion Iraq: (re) Politicizing George W. Bush’s Silence Legacy, Violence Against Women, 17(12), 1619-1634, 2011

[3] Nadje Al-Ali, Sexual Violence in Iraq: Challenges for transitional feminist politics, European Journal of Women’s studies, 1-18, 2016

[4] See for example Maria Holt, “Violence Against Women in the Context of War”, in Violence against women, 19 (3) pp316-337, 2013

[5] For an overall discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of PSVI approach which is weighted against on balance see Paul Kirby, “Ending Sexual violence in conflict: the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and its critics”, International Affairs, 91:3 (2015) 457-472

[6] See Mark L Hatzenbuehler et al, “Structural Stigma and all-cause mortality in sexual minority populations”, Social Science and Medicine, 103 )2014, 33-41