Despite an ongoing economic boom
that has lured back many exiled Kurds, evidence suggests that the status of women in Iraq's northern Kurdish autonomous region has not witnessed similar improvements.
Reports of rape, domestic violence
, honor killings
, female genital mutilation
, and self-immolation are still widespread throughout the traditionally conservative region.
A number of initiatives have been launched in the region in an effort to raise awareness of these problems.
In the governorate of Duhok, the Campaign to Combat Violence Against Women is bringing the message to the masses by displaying 29 paintings by 22 Duhok artists, not in a stuffy art gallery but in Duhok city's busy bazaar.
The paintings depict women in a variety of roles and situations -- as objects of subjugation, as human beings whose voices are muffled, as nurturers, caregivers, and providers of hope.
“We wanted to use this event -- the first of its kind in Duhok Governorate -- to raise the awareness of the general public of the effects of violence being perpetrated against women," says organizer Hamdi Abdul Baqi.
"Our aim in exhibiting these paintings in the middle of the marketplace is to give the largest number of people the chance to see them and stop to look at them so that they can grasp the message each painting conveys.”
In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq, Hiba Yunis, one of the artists taking part in the exhibit, called the show a new and interesting experiment and said she was delighted to be taking part.
Yunis said she believed more open-air exhibits might help lead to a change in people’s attitudes and bring art and society closer together.
WATCH: A stroll through Duhok's marketplace art exhibition
Another artist, Ahmad Khalil, said he was pleased to see how quickly shoppers accepted the idea of exhibiting art in a marketplace.
“There were many people standing there contemplating the paintings. Some of them asked us to explain the meaning and symbolism of the works," Khalil said. "One elderly man stopped me to express his encouragement for holding such exhibits for the public.”
The exhibition, which runs through December 10, is part of an annual campaign for the prevention of violence against women in Iraq's Kurdish region, consisting of numerous artistic and cultural events.
The city of Irbil, for example, recently concluded the 3rd No To Violence Film Festival
. The event
, which featured 51 films from seven countries, was part of the Kurdistan regional government’s campaign called "From Peace Within the Family to Peace Within Society."
The judges’ panel for the four-day festival was led by the respected Iranian Kurdish director Shahram Alidi
, best known for 2009's haunting "Whisper with the Wind,"
which visits the ghosts of the Kurdish region's bloody history.
As for the winners
, "In Darkness" by Kamaran Jamal took home the prize for best documentary, while Husain Hassan won best director for "Power." "Silent" by L. Rezan Yesilbas was named best short film. Iranian actor Allah Morad Rashtiani, known for his roles in "Half Moon" and "Marooned in Iraq," was given a lifetime achievement award.
Actress Talar Hirani also described the festival as a "good step," while director Rafiq Hanna noted that the common language that unites the arts should be spoken loudly and against all forms of violence against women.
Actress Dalzuz Mawti, however, expressed her disappointment at the absence of women at the festival, despite the fact that it was dedicated to airing their suffering.
-- Abdel Khaleq Sultan and Abdul Hameed Zibari