As Iraqi forces continue to battle the so called Islamic State for control of Mosul, the danger and threats to the lives of Iraqi civilians is increasing from airstrikes, snipers and door to door fighting. Women's rights campaigners say girls and women in Mosul and Iraq's conflict areas are at risk by virtue of the fact they are girls and women.
The so-called Islamic State's main weapon of war has been enslaving, raping, sexually exploiting, and trading the bodies of girls and women. For those that survive this - their ordeal does not end there. In fact for most their ordeal will never end, as the stigma of rape will never leave their bodies, their families and communities. Survivors exist with a death sentence hanging over their heads knowing they could be subjected to further violence or killed when they return to their families in the name of protecting 'honour.'
Miriam Puttick, civilian rights officer at Minority Rights Group International, recently returned from Iraq where she was carrying out research into the human rights situation of vulnerable civilians. "Violence against women is everywhere - it is in the home and outside the home, and the perpetrators go beyond Isis and security forces. Isis has become more and more monstrous - but while everyone's minds are preoccupied with defeating Isis, there is very little attention on this wider phenomenon of violence against women" explains Puttick.
"Since the 2003 invasion and war on Iraq, violence against women has always been viewed through a narrow military lens. It is however important to examine and challenge the ways in which war has provided an enabling environment for a much broader deterioration in the rights of women. There has been a complete breakdown of families. Women face greater restrictions inside their homes, their movements, and education and employment opportunities are restricted. Their lives are at greater risk as their rights are curtailed" says Puttick.
Huda, an Iraqi women's right campaigner from Baghdad travels between Iraq's main cities at great risk to her life. She says there is an urgent need to provide support to women at risk of violence in their homes and to ensure that violence is not normalised "Every part of our lives has changed in the years of war. When a woman is treated with violence - she is expected by her family and society to stay in the same house as the man who has carried out the violence, if it is her husband or father or brother, she will never escape him. It is impossible."
Miriam and Huda and women's rights defenders like them continue to gather the testimonies of Iraqi women of all ages and backgrounds across the country. It is by hearing the stories of individual women that we can start to understand the magnitude of abuses women are experiencing and how these abuses will go on to impact generations of women and girls, forced out of education and forced into marriages - their lives constrained and destroyed by codes of shame and honour.
Zaynab, 38, is from Baghdad. Her husband was killed in a terrorist attack. After her husband's death, her father-in-law forced her to choose between marrying her husband's brother, or leaving her children with their family and returning to her own family. After pressure from her family, and to keep her children, Zaynab reluctantly agreed to marry her brother in law. From day one of her forced marriage, Zaybab has suffered from abuse from her husband's first wife towards her and her children, and her constant pressure to make the children leave their studies. Now her husband is forcing her daughters to leave school and get married to his children.
Women who are displaced because of the war are even more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Noor, has been living in a camp for the displaced in Kirkuk. A much older man who is wealthy asked for Noor's hand in marriage. Her family agreed to the marriage so that Noor could move from the camp and be protected. However, two months after her marriage Noor's husband
accused her of not being a virgin when she married him so he can prevent her from obtaining her rights.
In Yahyawa Camp, Kirkuk, 26 years old Maha is struggling to raise her children alone. Her husband is missing as a result of the conflict in Tel Afar, and she cannot prove her children's parentage. Maha is unable to obtain the government allowance for displaced persons due to the fact that her husband is missing, and his fingerprint is needed for the smart card for receiving government benefits.
Seher, 25, fled from Nasiriya after people found out she had been in a relationship with a man in the area. Seher was at risk of being killed in the name of 'honour; she escaped to Baghdad three years ago. She met a woman who befriended her and allowed her to move in with her. The woman forced Seher into prostitution. She managed to escape the rapes and sexual degradation by running away and is now receiving assistance from an Iraqi woman's group.
Huda says women telling their stories to each other - is the first step to addressing what has happened to them: "When the women I work speak about the rape and abuse they have faced - they do it because they have nothing left to lose. Nothing. I tell them that by speaking out they are rejecting a life without dignity and this means they have fight left in them."
Miriam Puttick says the onus is on the government of Iraq to safeguard the lives of women and the war must not be used as smokescreen to save the lives of women "Progress on women's rights cannot continue to be postponed indefinitely, as has been the pattern for years. The specific needs of women must be a central consideration as Iraq begins to rebuild and recover from the most recent conflict. This means addressing weak or nonexistent legislation, holding perpetrators of violence to account, and ensuring that support structures are in place for women for whom the family has ceased to be a source of protection."
The name of women interviewed in Iraq have been changed.