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Women's Legal Assistance Organization (WOLA Org.)


Legal Aid | Court Watch | Legal Training | Documentation

Women's Legal Assistance Organization (WOLA Org.) is none political and independent local NGO, which is linked to a region-wide campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), to Women Centers in Suleymaniah and the surrounding areas, to a court watch program of the local civil rights organization DHRD, and to the local bar association. The WOLA shall provide legal sources for a broad network of women’s groups who fight gender-discrimination and lobby for a comprehensive equality of treatment and rights.

Legal situation

Though, equality before the law is provided by constitution, women face a variety of discrimination - partly based on the existing legislation (most of which is rooted in a totalitarian past), partly based on the absence of specific gender-mainstreaming regulations.

Other reasons are a common deviation of jurisdiction from written law, as well as ignorance and non-investigation into cases of crimes against women and girls, and the great importance still given to traditional ways of »conflict regulation« out of court. Law enforcement agencies tend to protect traditional (tribal) structures and ignore cases of domestic violence. Authorities hesitate to interfere into what they regard as »family affairs«. Courts are headed by male judges most of whom stem from one of the ruling Kurdish parties. Third-party interferences into court decisions are reported from several cases.

Other aspects of discrimination arise from the economical inequality. Women usually have no access to financial resources and are thus regularly without any counsel when conflict comes before a court. Due to their traditional role, women hesitate to answer back when being accused in trials and many silently accept any false and discriminating judgement.

The general objectives of the organization are:

- support of legal reform towards gender-equality;

- practical legal aid for local women;

- legal support for women’s groups and organizations;

- exchange between female legal experts with the aim to develop legislative initiatives;

- collecting information on the legal and de facto situation of women in the region;

- protecting the rights of women;

- empowerment of female legal professionals;

- education and awareness towards women’s rights;

- training of judicial practitioners and law enforcement agencies.

In detail, the organization shall include 4 projects:

1. Legal Aid Program

2. Documentation Center

3. Training Project

4. Women make Law project.

1. Legal Aid

As already stated, the majority of women who come before the courts do not dispose over a legal counsel. This affects cases of criminal procedure as well as cases where civil and family law is involved. Long before entering a court, women lack legal aid and advice. Many crimes are never dealt with before a court. Women usually do not enforce legitimate claims by legal action only because they don’t know about their rights or lack a professional support.


At the core, women need legal advice when:

- being accused for committing a crime

- being a victim of crime

- when it comes to a marriage that is not brokered by families

- when it comes to other conflicts with family

- when it comes to divorce/when they want to get divorced

- when it comes to inheritance

- when child custody is denied to them.

The organization's legal aid project is designed to offer legal advice to women. Legal advice is generally offered for free since most women do not dispose over an income or property.

Legal Aid will be provided by female lawyers – who are expert for criminal proceeding, civil and personal status law -- at the organization. The lawyers will be present at the court to supervise process and -- if needed -- offer legal advice for women without counsel.

Outside the organization, one female lawyer visits women centers in rural areas or takes part in Mobile Teams (visiting towns and villages in remote areas).

The organization cooperates with a women shelter and local authorities. Cases where women are at risk can be transferred to a safe place.

2. Documentation

2.1 Court Watch

The lawyers will monitor as »court watchers« in trials, collecting the cases and following the decision-finding process at court. The monitoring is focused on the following topics:

- Does the court meet procedural rights and standards?

- Are the decisions based on appropriate legal provisions?

- Is the decision finding process fair and free from interferences by third parties?

- Is the case handled in an appropriate time?

- Are the involved judges and assumptive members of the trial sufficiently skilled?

- Does the court treat all charges equally unaware of the status, affiliation, sex, personal orientation or ancestry of the involved persons?

The court watchers collect their information by:

- Taking part in trials and studying the respective files.

- Following and monitoring specific cases in which breaches of law, undue delay or violation of rights are being reported by human rights groups, lawyers or others.

2.2 Collection of Court Decisions

There is no legal debate in Iraqi Kurdistan. Court decisions are not systematically collected, judges themselves are not obliged to refer to other court decisions; no legal journal or gazette exists in Iraqi Kurdistan. Interpretation of law and construction of decision is singularly in the hands of the male judges. Thus, court decisions generally suffer from a distinct lack of transparency.

The organization collects court decisions in which gender-specific cases were decided upon through the local bar association, the lawyers of the organization and the cooperating DHRD. There is, up to now, no collection of court decisions in Kurdistan. The collection aims on:

- more transparency in court decisions

- initiating a legal debate

- stimulating a better judicial practice through referring to other court decisions in similar cases.

The collection shall -- on long terms -- be published and discussed on an internet-platform.

3. Training

The training section addresses two kinds of professionals:

1. Womens groups, activists, and social workers with little or no legal knowledge

2. Legal professionals

3.1. Training of non-jurists

Women’s centers are present in many towns of the region. The centers offer a place to meet, workshops and social advice. Many women who come to ask for support in the centers face problems of domestic violence, divorce, or forced marriage. The personal at place usually is only insufficiently skilled in the legal aspects of these problems. Women’s groups, centers and grass root organizations regularly don’t know about their rights and duties.

The lawyers of the organization will offer training courses for social workers and practitioners in the field as well as for organizations.

In regular sessions, easy-to-understand lectures on basic women’s rights according to Iraq’s law will be held women at the women’s centers in Halabja and Kifri.

3.2. Training of legal professionals

(a) Expert training of lawyers, judges and state attorneys

Some of the legal professionals are only insufficiently skilled in legal questions. Especially when it comes to women’s rights, judges tend to refer to the moral codex of tribal and traditional rules or Sharia laws, even if there are contradicting legal provisions. Others have no knowledge about the specific situation and hardships women -- esp. from rural areas -- face in their families. The expert training program aims on skilling those who already work as legal professionals. It will provide judges and state attorneys as well as lawyers with detailed material on the causes and consequences of domestic violence, forced marriage and other forms of violence against women, and gives recommendations for an adequate trial procedure that protects the women’s rights. Skilled practitioners from women’s centers and shelters will let the legal professionals share their experiences.

(b) Training of law enforcement agencies

The training of law enforcement agencies, i.e. police agents and prison personal, aims on (a) rising the awareness towards the problems and rights of women, (b) training them in legal questions concerning female suspects and victims of violence, and (c) giving them an idea about the reality women who get into conflict face.


Still, many policy agents restrain from investigating into cases of domestic violence or »honour crimes«. Women who became subject to male violence are regularly regarded as »shameful« or guilty. The training brings professionals from women centers and police officers together and lets them share their experiences. Police officers and prison personal will be trained on the rights of women and informed on whom to contact if a women is in acute danger. Social workers from the women’s centers will show ways for conflict resolution in cases of family crisis and domestic violence.

4. Expert exchange/networking

The organization shall serve as an information pool and platform for an already existing network of women’s and civil rights groups, as well as for legal experts. Documentations of court decisions (see above) and single cases shall provide a starting point for researches. As stated, there is no legal debate in Iraqi-Kurdistan today. Thus, any initiative to reform discriminating laws must start from the beginning. The experiences with the abolition of § 111 IPC (legalization of »honour killings«) and recently the debate over a new legislation on a legal ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) show, that a steady exchange between women’s groups and legal professionals is needed.

4.1 Women make law project

Iraq’s constitution provides that the autonomous region of Kurdish disposes over a apecific law making competence. In principal, articles and regulations from the totalitarian past that clearly discriminate women due to gender can be changed. But until now, neither women’s groups nor legal professionals discussed the matter in public. The »women make law« project aims on the initiation of (a) a public debate and an (b) exchange between experts to bring the reform of discriminating laws forward.

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