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August 17, 2011

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Legalising prostitution in Iraq, Kurdistan

Kurdishaspect.com - By Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar

Prostitution is loosely defined as engaging in sexual activities in return for payment. Many people do not like talking about prostitution in Kurdistan, they often become agitated if their views are challenged and feel uncomfortable discussing the reality of prostitution. It is because of this vacuum in dialogue between those who want to legalise prostitution and those opposing it in Kurdistan that has made this topic more taboo. Women who want to legalise prostitution are often demonised, publicly attacked as cheap whores, and these women shy away from being assertive and arguing for their cause boldly due to public reprimand.

There is no doubt that prostitution as an occupation whether voluntarily or involuntarily degrades, demeans and objectifies women. In most cases women are forced, trafficked or financially pressured into prostitution. While in Europe, an increased number of prostitutes have published their memoirs, using feministic language to justify something that is inherently humiliating to women; it is nonetheless an occupation that thrives on humiliating and objectifying women as mere sex tools for men.   

In 1988 legislation was passed which made prostitution illegal. This law is still in effect throughout Iraq and the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan. Under this law women who sell themselves in return for payment are legally liable under the act. This law does not criminalise men who pay for sex. In other words, women who are already victims are further victimised legally and systematically while men are not affected. 

Prostitutes do not have any rights legally. And when they are raped, abused, beaten and defecated on, they have no entrenched rights within the Iraqi constitution that can protect them, or help them out of prostitution. If they file a compliant to the police for being abused, they are immediately imprisoned for having broken the ‘prostitutes act’. 

Legalising prostitution and criminalising men will give women who are either forced, trafficked or otherwise led to prostitution protection by closing the gates for it gradually. It will cut off the demand, which comes from men. This system of criminalising men and not the victims of prostitution is established in Sweden where it is legal for women to sell sex but illegal for men to pay for it. When the demand is cut off, the market will slow down. Until this happens, massage parlours, hotels and whorehouses will continue to exist throughout Kurdistan.

This black market of prostitution needs regulation, and in the absence of regulation more women will fall victim to a degrading market that continues to grow in demand, particularly in Erbil. A recent report has found that at least 400 houses, hotels and massage parlours were located in Silemani by government officials. This gives a solid case that making prostitution illegal does not stop the demand it merely makes it more undercover. 

MP Sorkol Qaradaghi recently made a statement about prostitution in Iraq, adding, “Iraqi law considers prostitution a crime... We have to stop it, to reduce it, not place it in a legal framework and allow it”. It is under the current law that prostitution exists, and that United States of America has placed Iraq under its tier 2 for human trafficking. The law as it stands now is sexist and has placed prostitution within an illegal setting that merely allows it thrive ‘undercover’. 

Other articles by Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar 

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