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29. April 2016

Iraq: Women’s centre in Halabja gives strength to displaced women – supported by medica mondiale

Fleeing from the war in Syria and attacks by the terrorist militia “Islamic State”, since 2014 more than 1.2 million refugees from Syria and internally displaced people from Iraq have found refuge in the autonomous region of Kurdistan. Many of the displaced women and girls have experienced sexualised violence and they are still at risk of further violence. In Halabja, near to the Iranian border, the organisation NWE (Organization for Environmental Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights) is working to help the displaced women. medica mondiale has been supporting this work since December 2015.

Protection, a quiet space and the opportunity to talk with other Syrian and Iraqi women fleeing violence

In Halabja, NWE runs a large women's centre, offering a place to meet, talk and spend the day together. This in itself is often a great help to women who would otherwise spend the whole day in their lodgings with their children. Additionally, at the women's centre they can benefit from medical treatment, psychosocial counselling, trauma therapy and education. In safe groups facilitated by a psychologist, women have the opportunity to talk about their experience of violence. Since sexualised violence is a taboo, women usually have no chance to confide in anyone on this issue. Educational offers such as sewing courses, English lessons and computer skills training boost the women's self-confidence and help them to gain some independence.

Empathy from own experience of displacement and violence

Some female specialists working in the women's centre in Halabja have their own experiences of displacement. On March 16, 1988, during the war between Iran and Iraq, their city was attacked with chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein's army. Between 3000 and 5000 people died, and more than 7000 were injured. Survivors fled to escape the toxic gas, and could not return to their city for several years. The women's centre in Halabja was set up at the beginning of the 1990s to provide long-term support for women returning to their city. The aim was to improve their social and economic situation and offer them improved educational opportunities. This provided the female residents of Halabja a chance to process their experiences and start building up a new life.

Now, the Kurdish organisation NWE can expand its operations, thanks to the support from medica mondiale. This will benefit the women residents and those who have returned to the city, as well as the women and girls who have fled there seeking refuge. The centre will be able to offer trauma therapy, gynaecological advice, self-help groups, sewing courses and awareness raising for women's rights. With its grant to NWE and other women's organisations, medica mondiale would like to strengthen and improve long-term, sustainable offers of support for women and girls in the region of Syria and Iraq.