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06. May 2021

Northern Iraq: Support for women affected by violence as they seek refuge

As in many countries, violence against women in Iraq has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. The situation is particularly dramatic for thousands of women living in camps in northern Iraq after being displaced by the “IS” terror militia. The organisation EMMA – Organisation for Human Development offers them some hope for the future by means of courses and advice sessions.

How can those women be reached who do not know their rights? Women who do not even know they have a right to protection? Access to this advice is particularly difficult for refugees and internally displaced women. They are not familiar with the structures and often have very little contact to local women who would tell them about women's centres or pass on a useful telephone number.

Women’s rights organisation EMMA: Mobile advice for women in refugee/IDP accommodation

The staff at EMMA know they cannot afford to wait for the women to come to them. So the social workers, psychologists and legal advisors form mobile teams to visit the women in the houses, housing containers and tents of the camps or host communities where they live, taking the information directly to them.

Again and again, they see how this type of visit can literally change lives. Such as that of Nesrin M, who has now joined the women’s centre as an advisor herself, but only first heard of EMMA because two women knocked on the door one day. Her mother-in-law threw the brochure from EMMA in the bin, but Nesrin M. fished it back out. “I could not really read, but I found a telephone number and called it.”

During a crisis, education about women's rights is more important than ever

Violence against women is not a new problem in Iraq, but it has increased dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic – in the refugee camps, too. Furthermore, as often happens in times of crisis, the forced marriage of young girls also increased, which generally means they have to stop going to school. EMMA offers points of direct contact for women affected by violence. They learn to read and write, sew, and speak English or Arabic. There are also particular offers for survivors of sexualised violence. Women’s rights play a role in all of the courses. The women are told where they can find support and information about violence against women and girls, early marriage, divorce laws, the rights of internally displaced people, and Covid-19 preventive measures.

Education and vocational training offer new prospects to women affected by violence

During the pandemic, staff at EMMA made sure the course groups were kept small and hygiene measures put in place. After all, it was important – more important than ever – to keep contact points open somehow.

The practical training courses open up further possibilities for many women. For Nesrin M. it was a literacy course which formed her first step. Today she runs courses herself, and is in no doubt about the impact EMMA’s work had on her life: “Today I tell other women my story and encourage them not to marry off their daughters at an early age. I feel strong and am sure I can raise my daughter with the right values.”

Feminist action for political and structural change

In addition to providing direct assistance to women affected by violence, the staunch feminists at EMMA also work with political decision-makers. They want to influence new laws and change structures in their country, while their women’s centres provide the proof that change is possible.

 

 

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