May 11, 2018 / 11:31 AM / 17 days ago

Women standing in Iraq election battling abuse including sex tapes

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women standing for election in Iraq have faced an unprecedented deluge of abuse and intimidation - including the publication of sex tapes - to scare them away from politics, the United Nations, candidates and activists said ahead of Saturday’s vote.

Two sex tapes purporting to feature women MPs have been posted on social media, according to Alice Walpole, a senior official in the U.N.’s office in Iraq.

Both women said the tapes were fake but one of them, Intidhar Ahmed Jassim, withdrew from the election last month.

Another candidate came under fire for an outfit she wore after a video from her mobile phone was put on social media after it was stolen.

Posters of women candidates have also been vandalized, according to activists, with beards and moustaches drawn on their faces in some cases.

Rasha Al-Soltani, a candidate in Baghdad, said harassment of all women in public life had become a problem, but politicians were particularly at risk.

“I can’t count the number of cases of online abuse I’ve come across,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The United Nations has branded the harassment “alarming” with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq this week launching a campaign called #WhyNot or #Shakobeha to encourage women into politics which will run beyond the election.

The poll is the first in Iraq since the defeat of Islamic State militants who seized a swathe of the country in 2014.

Nearly 30 percent of more than 7,000 candidates are women. Under electoral law a quarter of parliament’s 329 seats must be held by women.

Women’s rights activist Hanaa Edwar said “electronic armies” were taking to social media to denigrate women candidates, using misogynist language, including calling them “whores”.

“People have been attacking their (campaign) posters and defaming them on social media. It has hurt their families’ honor and dignity,” she said by phone.

“The attacks are obviously to (make) women withdraw from political life. It’s disgusting. This is not our tradition in Iraq.”

She criticized political parties for failing to defend their own candidates.

Walpole, the Deputy U.N. Special Representative for Iraq, urged women to press on despite the intimidation.

She said there were some “fantastic role models” running for office but her office had received reports of around 10 attacks against female candidates.

“Women are moving in larger numbers into the political sphere. Most of the electorate is absolutely open to that ... but I think there are a few who are intimidated by it,” she said.

Additional reporting by Laura Creese, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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