2020: Intisar Al-Amyal
“We have to address both men and women in order to promote women’s rights. If we can be partners instead of opponents in this effort, we have taken the first step towards closing the gap between us. We can change, and we will change!”
Intisar Al-Amyal fights for women’s rights in Iraq – a country where patriarchy, traditions, and sectarianism lead to discrimination and violence against women. Despite threats, she has documented human rights abuses for 20 years. She shines a light on domestic violence, child marriages, and honour killings. She raises awareness of the pressing needs of women and girls victimized by the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
Today, Intisar Al-Amyal is a leading figure in the Iraqi women’s rights organisation “Iraqi Women’s League” (IWL). By way of a range of educational programmes, she works to ensure access to education for all children and youth, and champions the right of rural women to learn to read and write. She stresses that women and youth must participate in political life in order for equality, democracy and peace to become a reality in a future Iraq.
Interview with Intisar Al-Amyal
What does it mean to be a woman working for human rights in Iraq?
– It affects my overall situation. There is a patronising view of women who work for human rights and in trades such as journalism – a stereotypical view of what we should do for a living. It is present even in school books and among other women. A part of society thinks we are violating traditions and norms, especially in those regions at are under the control of armed extremist groups, or in parts of cities with an extreme religious make-up.
What would it take to improve women’s rights and equality in Iraq?
– We need an assurance from the Iraqi government, both on the federal and regional level, that it will follow the international agreements and conventions that Iraq is party to. This can be achieved by unifying laws and closing the legal gaps that allow discrimination. Simultaneously, we must work to stop human rights abuses.
The international community most also monitor and remind a state of its obligations. It is not enough top provide aid and solidarity. There is also a strong imperative for holding to account those countries that violate human rights. Countries where people witness conflict, fighting, and genocide, as well as horrific abuses.
How are you generating change today?
– I prioritise three things. The first is to confront discrimination and defend equality. The second is to insist that education is a right that all children and youth should have access to, since it is the prerequisite for improving your own economic circumstances as well as your family’s quality of life, and for contributing to the development of the country’s economy. The third is to inform women and youngsters that they must participate in political life in order to take part in building peace and security, and to renounce violence and extremism.
What keeps you going in spite of the threats you receive?
– I defend what I believe in and love working with, regardless of the fear and worry that the threats leave behind. The suffering of women, children, and youth increase my resolve to continue working to improve something in their situation.
What would you like to tell today’s generation of young Iraqis?
– I would tell them that they are the ones who are paying the price for war and fighting, and that both women and men must stand together against injustices and effect change. It is the young who will be able to root out the corruption that has destroyed our lives, stolen our dreams, and sabotaged our homeland. It would be wonderful if they could shape their own lives and build their own futures. They deserve a better life in our country.
What does the Per Anger Prize mean for your struggle for democracy and human rights?
– It is like a dose of medicine that gives us strength to continue the fight. It inspires us in the midst of our present circumstances, especially us women but also young people, and this will have a clear positive effect on everybody who works to defend human rights in Iraq and throughout the region.