People across Iraq have been horrified by an acid attack on a young woman who spurned a suitor's advances. A man broke into the home of 16-year-old fine arts student Maryam Rukabi on December 16 and covered her with acid, burning and disfiguring her face – all because the teenager had turned down his marriage proposal. After the report about Maryam’s story aired on television, donations poured in and she will now be able to travel abroad for treatment, including facial reconstruction surgery. Maryam, however, wants more than that – she wants justice.
The actual attack took place on June 10, 2021. Sixteen-year-old Maryam Rukabi was sleeping in her bed when a masked man entered her room and poured acid on her face. After spending months in hospital, Maryam and her parents gave an interview to Iraqi TV channel I News on December 16.
Maryam’s mother explained that her daughter met this man on social media and that he had asked her to marry him several times.
“Maryam said again and again that she didn’t want to get married and that she wanted to finish her studies,” Maryam’s mother said.
The reports about Maryam sparked an outpouring of support on social media. On Twitter, people called for donations to help cover her medical expenses under the hashtag “Save Princess Maryam”.
A GoFundMe page set up for Maryam raised more than $90,000 (nearly €80,000) for medical care in just a few days. Health Minister Hani Moussa and prominent businessman Saad al-Bazaa also pledged publicly to cover the cost of the teenager’s medical care abroad.
“I don’t just want care, I want justice,” said the victim.
Maryam’s parents have brought charges against the alleged attacker and a suspected accomplice, but there’s been little progress in the investigation.
“They were arrested but they deny the crime," said the investigating judge in a statement published on December 16. “The investigation continues with the aim of gathering the proof against the accused."
'A man who kills his wife, sister, mother or daughter can get away with a short prison sentence'
Abrar Wadi, an activist who works with the Women’s Association in Bassorah said that a climate of impunity encourages violence against women.
It’s the first time that we’ve seen an acid attack against a woman in Iraq [Editor’s note: acid attacks are common in countries such as Bangladesh and India]. I hope that it doesn’t become a trend.
Violence against women is, unfortunately, commonplace in Iraq, especially within families. And the worst part is that the law allows it. For example, article 41 of the penal code allows men to beat their wives to 'discipline them'. So domestic violence is common but most women don’t file complaints because it is seen as shameful.
Femicides are also common in the country because it is a patriarchal society, very attached to traditions. Last August, a young woman named Nouzan al-Chammari was killed by her own brother as she walked home from work.
In rural, tribal areas, femicides are common and often considered 'honour crimes'. A man who kills his wife, sister, mother or daughter can, in general, get away with a short prison sentence, no longer than three years. That’s laid out in article 409 of the penal code.
These women are ostracised even after their deaths because they are usually buried in a separate cemetery called a 'sinning woman’s hill'. They aren’t even given markers. There are several cemeteries of this kind in the provinces of al-Nassiriya and al-Sulaymaniyah.
>> Watch on FRANCE 24: The struggle for women’s rights in Iraq
The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior recorded 14,000 cases of domestic violence in 2021, while a report by the NGO Iron Women says that 89% of women in Iraq have been victims of physical or verbal violence.