Yanar Mohammed

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Yanar Mohammed (born 1960) is a prominent Iraqi feminist who was born in Baghdad. She is a co-founder and the director of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, and serves as the editor of the newspaper Al-Mousawat (Equality). She received the Gruber Prize for Women's Rights in 2008 and Norway's Rafto Prize in 2016.


Yanar Mohammed was born in Baghdad, Iraq. She was raised and lived in the city within a strongly Muslim family where Yanar was first exposed to the Islamic customs that she would campaign against in later life. Her grandfather was a respectable man in the community who "definitely deserved the honorary title of Mullah", except that he married his ex-wife's fourteen-year-old younger sister, which first spurred Yanar Mohammed to take up the cause of women's rights.[1]

Yanar Mohammed graduated from the Baghdad University in Architecture with a bachelor's degree 1984,[2] and a Masters in 1993. Between her undergraduate and postgraduate studies, she was active in the Iraqi Communist Party.[3]

In 1993, her family moved from Iraq to Canada.[1] In 1998, Yanar Mohammed founded the Defense of Iraqi Women’s Rights (DIWR) organization, which later in 2003 became the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI).

After the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Yanar Mohammed returned to Baghdad, a return funded by other feminist and women's rights groups in the US and UK, notably the New York women's rights group, ‘Working Committee in support of Iraq’s women’.[4] Upon her return to Iraq, Yanar Mohammed founded several groups to promote the rights of women in post-Saddam Iraq, including the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq and the Committee for the Defence of Iraqi Women’s Rights (DIWR). She also edited the feminist newsletter Al-Mousawat.[5]

In 2003, Yanar Mohammed established the The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, a group active in supporting women's rights in the post US-led invasion since 2003. The organization set up women's shelters and safe houses to protect women threatened by domestic abuse and what are referred to as honor killings, led ongoing activities against trafficking of young women, ran classes to teach women activists how to confront intolerance, advocated equality for women on Iraqi radio and television. Yanar Mohammed also interviewed about 200 women held in prison. Following those interviews, one person was saved from a death sentence.[6] Following her work on this group, Yanar Mohammed was awarded the Gruber Foundation Women's Rights Prize in 2008[7] and Norway's Rafto Prize in 2016.[8]

Political Views[edit]

Yanar Mohammed (second from left) at the Die Linke conference in Berlin in 2013.

Yanar Mohammed campaigns for women's rights. She favors secularism and democracy, but she does not support the USA's involvement in Iraq as a democratizing force.

She has been strongly critical of the US invasion of Iraq, stating the «US occupation turned the streets of Iraq into a no-women zone», [9] and «the American occupation that is willing to do genocide, or... political Islam, that will make us live in a completely inhuman and unliberated way of life», thus preferring a third way to build freedom in Iraq.[10] Speaking in an interview in 2007, she stated «The US troops need to leave immediately, with no conditions.»[11] Yanar then believes that the US occupation of Iraq is fuelling the insurgency and violence prevalent in post-2003 Iraq, which is having a detrimental effect on women's rights.

Yanar Mohammed, whilst not being anti-religion, is a strong believer in secular government, arguing that women's equality can only be achieved through secular government because an Islamic government would hurt women’s rights and freedom.[12] Yanar highlights the contrast between the treatment of her grandmothers half a century ago and the regressing daily experience of women in Iraq nowadays.[1]

As a result of her work on women's rights that questions the extreme interpretations of Islam, Yanar Mohammed has been subjected to death threats and has been forced to receive personal security. Jaish al Sahaba, part of the Iraqi Islamist group the Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation, sent two death threats to Yanar Mohammed in 2004. These were quoted as being directly related to Yanar’s efforts to achieve gender equality in Iraqi law. As a result, she has now been provided with armed protection.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Yanar Mohammed (30 December 2003). "Letters home: Iraq". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  2. ^ The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire (London, 2004), p.302
  3. ^ The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire (London, 2004), p.301
  4. ^ The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a New Age of Empire (London, 2004), p.203
  5. ^ Al-Mousawat is described as "a platform of fearless feminism against Islamic fundamentalism and tribal patriarchal tendencies, and highlights among other violations atrocities against women resulting from the war" in an interview with Yanar Mohammed published in the Association for Women's Rights in Development (2006) [1]
  6. ^ Interview with Yanar Mohammed with CNN, 2007
  7. ^ "2008 Gruber Women's Rights Prize Press Release". Gruber.yale.edu. 8 July 2008. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  8. ^ "Defender of women's rights in war-torn Iraq". The Rafto Foundation. Retrieved 14 January 2019.
  9. ^ Ferguson and Marso (eds.),'W Stands for Women: How the George W. Bush Presidency Shaped a New Politics of Gender' (Cambridge, 2007) p.228
  10. ^ Ferguson and Marso (eds.),'W Stands for Women: How the George W. Bush Presidency Shaped a New Politics of Gender' (Cambridge, 2007) p.233
  11. ^ Interview with Yanar Mohammed published in Democracy Now (14th May 2007) [2]
  12. ^ 'Baghdad Burning:Girlblog from Iraq', by Riverbend (New York, 2005)
  13. ^ Stephen Morewitz, 'Death Threats and Violence: New Research and Clinical Perspectives' (New York, 2008) p.133

External links[edit]