Historic royal visit underscores the UK and Iraq's partnership to promote and protect women's rights
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Mark Bryson Richardson
It was a real honor to welcome Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Edinburgh to Iraq last week. This visit comes just two weeks after the coronation of His Majesty King Charles III and is the first royal visit to Baghdad and the Kurdistan region of Iraq, and it reflects the strength and importance of the modern partnership.
between the United Kingdom and Iraq.
Her Royal Highness is an advocate for women's rights and equality in the workplace and throughout society. We know that countries can only realize their full potential if women are able to play their full role in the economy, politics and society at large. There is strong evidence of women's inclusion in improving corporate business outcomes, making the political and peace process more sustainable and impactful, as well as significant contributions to development indicators, as well as ensuring respect for basic human rights, these are all other reasons why women's inclusion is a key priority for the British government.
within the United Kingdom.
The UK introduced the Domestic Violence Act two years ago and has undertaken a comprehensive review of violence against women and girls. We have made progress but there is still a lot to be done and we are still far from the target we would like to reach. Recognizing that in the updated UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security for the period
2023 - 2027, there is a much greater focus on where domestic policy needs to move forward, including recognition of the role women peacebuilders in Northern Ireland have played and continue to play globally, with significant efforts by the Home Office and the Department of Justice and Northern Ireland Office.
As we advance our local agenda, we are keen to share our experience, learn from others, and join forces with international partners who strive to promote women's inclusion and reduce violence against women and girls. Iraq is one of our priority partners, as is the UK's Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative. Unfortunately, decades of conflict caused by ISIL have recently seen an increase in conflict-related sexual violence as well as common issues for the UK, such as high rates of online sexual assault.
Since 2019, Her Royal Highness has championed the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and the UK Government's Prevention of Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, with a focus on promoting and protecting women peacebuilders and supporting all survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, including children born of rape.
During her visit to Iraq, the Duchess had the opportunity to discuss these issues at length with the governments of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and with women and men across the country, as well as with leaders in a range of fields, peacebuilders, survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and advocates who are shedding light on this issue. .
This included hearing the harrowing testimonies of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence from minority communities of Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen who are incredibly brave, still dealing with the repercussions of conflict six years after the territorial defeat of ISIS, including separation from their children.
born from rape.
The Government of Iraq has launched its National Strategy for Women and is moving forward with the implementation of the Yazidi Survivors Law.
In both Baghdad and Erbil, there is a clear and positive commitment to addressing difficult issues related to women, peace and security, and to supporting survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and their children born as a result of rape. The UK government supports these efforts.
The UK is proud to support the implementation of the Yazidi Survivors Act, including the launch of the Mental Health and Mental Referral Mechanism.
Through the UK-funded Women’s Voices First programme, we have supported 22 women’s rights organizations to deliver 29 projects focusing on women, peace and security across Iraq including the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, reaching over 21,000 direct beneficiaries.
The activities of these projects are designed and implemented by communities to fulfill their priorities, whether supporting survivors of gender-based violence through access to mental health counseling and legal advice, skills training or peacebuilding.
The program also included male participants, for example through workshops that highlight the effects of gender-based violence and the importance and benefits of including women fully, equally and meaningfully in decision-making processes.
We stand ready to do more, including supporting partners to adopt the Murad Code, developed in partnership with Yazidi survivor Nadia Murad and the Institute for International Criminal Investigation, which provides a valuable survivor-centered code of conduct to collect evidence to improve opportunities for justice and reduce trauma, and a platform Work on children born of sexual violence in conflict.
Globally, the UK continues to advocate for the rights and well-being of survivors, launching the International Coalition to Prevent Sexual Violence in Conflict to bring together states, civil society and survivors to develop more comprehensive and coordinated action on this agenda.
It was my pleasure to convey to the Government of Iraq an invitation to Lord Ahmed, Secretary of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the United Nations in the UK Foreign and Development Office and the UK Prime Minister's Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Issues, to participate in the coalition. This historic royal visit has highlighted the growing strength of the relationship between the United Kingdom and Iraq, and I am delighted that cooperation on women, peace and security will be another element of our broad and modern partnership. There is a lot we can learn from each other and achieve together.
* British Ambassador to Iraq
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