Some of the events of the murder of 15-year old Dunya remain unclear. However, the fact that she was killed, and probably by her husband is, certain. We know that the murder was brutal and savage: that her breasts were cut off, her eyes gouged out, that she was dragged behind a vehicle before being pumped with nine bullets from an AK-47. And that prior to her death, her life was a circuit of misery. Before her marriage to her murderer, she had already been married once – through direct exchange at 13 or 14 – and divorced within a year. Dunya had not even completed primary school, but had been divorced at an age where most girls are doing their exams. It is likely that her family were willing to marry her off to, her second husband, Sleman Zyad Yunis, a 45-year-old man, thirty years older than herself, due to the poor position of divorcees in a region like Kurdistan, where the state of the hymen is considered an aspect of family ‘honour.’
Her parents accepted the offer that she become a second wife to a middle aged man, himself the father of six children, earning themselves a brideprice of £3,500 or £3,000. As is often the case, the second wife became a servant to the first wife, her children, and the father, suffering violent beatings from every single member of the family, and apparently complained of anal rape.
Dunya repeatedly pleaded with her mother to help her end this ceaseless abuse. It was during a phonecall to her mother that her husband dragged her off and killed her.
Kurds across the world have been outraged by this behaviour, and by the police’s failure to capture the murderer as yet. The Kurdistan Islamic Scholar’s Union, in particular has provided a statement distancing themselves from this crime. However, it must be acknowledged that the circumstances that left poor Dunya, and many other girls and women, in such a vulnerable position include the acceptance of underage marriage and polygyny by many Muslims and imams , often justified with reference to religion. Yunis’s family make predictable recourses to the language of Islam and ‘honour’ to defend their relatives supposed rights over the body of this child, to rape, abuse, mutilate and murder.
Dunya’s death occurred at a time when the extent and scale of violence against women became painfully evident: when Farzana Bibi was beaten to death with sticks and stones outside the courthouse by her relatives who felt ‘dishonoured’ by her choice to marry for love. Violence against women, we can never forget, occurs across the world, and as human beings we need to stand together to condemn the neverending brutalities to women and girls.
But Dunya’s death also occurred in a region with a particularly poor reputation for dealing with violence against women. It was in Duhok where the killers of Pela Atroshi received a suspended sentences, despite witnessses to the murder seeing them shoot her in the head, because they claimed an ‘honourable motivation.’ It was in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq that Du’a Khalil Aswad was stoned to death in front of a crowd of men baying and shrieking for her blood, where justice appears to be permanently denied to her memory. It is in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq that hundreds of women and girls commit suicide, often by self-immolation.
Thus Kurdistan needs to act, to take steps against a rising tide of violence against women in the region, and to establish clearly that violence against women is not acceptable. There have been demonstrations in Duhok, Arbil (including a candlelight vigil) and London to protest this gruesome death. Action is called for.
IKWRO call for a substantive response to this horrendous crime:
- The capture and prosecution of the alleged murderer/s, and all parties to the underage marriages of Dunya, including her father and the attending mullah as accessories to the rape of a child, and all of her in-laws who abused her while she was alive;
- No tribal mediation ‘sulha’ to be considered in this case, or indeed in other cases of violence against women;
- An end of the acceptance for child marriage in the region. No parent, and no cleric, of any religion, should be able to marry off a minor without serious legal repercussions;
- A complete ban on polygyny, in recognition of the unhealthy dynamics that this family form;
- Girls should be monitored in schools to ensure they are not being removed from education to be forced into early marriage;
- Programmes of support, protection and empowerment for child brides and divorcees so that they are able to take charge of their own lives.