Women for a Stronger Iraq Written by Raber Y. Aziz, with contributions from Nima Tamaddon, Rawen Saed, Rafal Abdullateef, Sarah Ali.

Concerted efforts are needed to help Iraq recover from years of damage caused by the conflict with ISIL, particularly in regard to the economy, peace-building and social cohesion. The participation and involvement of women is critical for the recovery of the country, but they need to be empowered by society and government authorities to play this role.

This year, IOM in cooperation with the Government of Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government and other partners celebrated International Women’s Day #IWD2019 in Baghdad, Erbil, Duhok, Mosul, Karbala, Kirkuk, and Fallujah to raise awareness.

In Baghdad, on 9 March over 300 people came together to recognize the achievements and resilience of Iraqi women. The event was co-organized by IOM - UN Migration and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and was supported by the embassies of Australia and Canada, as well as the European Union Delegation in Iraq. The event was held at المحطة - The Station, and gave participants the opportunity to hear the voices of Iraqi women from diverse communities.

A panel of women discussed the importance of the role women can play for a better, stronger Iraq. Rafal Abdullateef/IOM Iraq, 2019
The event was accompanied by a photo exhibition, under the theme of “Safe Home” to highlight the importance of homes to families and communities. The exhibition showcased Iraqi women in action, their resilience in displacement, and recovery efforts after returning to their homes. Nima Tamaddon/IOM Iraq, 2019

“I suffered a lot during our time in displacement but I stood up, raised my children, and proved to society that women cannot be easily broken. On the occasion of IWD I congratulate every woman in the world and ask them to be strong,” said Zahra, a mother displaced from Telafar to Karbala – a participant in the panel discussion.

Dr. Joanne Loundes, Australian Ambassador to Iraq said: “I have a deep admiration for the resilience of Iraqi women, many of whom have suffered so much. I have not lived your experiences or had to demonstrate your bravery. But I can lend a loud voice and effective support to achieve change.”

“Women are half of the population and mothers to the other half. It is vital that each facet of Iraqi policy is able to recognize the needs and requirements of the women and girls of Iraq,” Dr. Joanne Loundes, Australian Ambassador to Iraq said in a speech during the #IWD2019 in Baghdad. Rafal Abdullateef/IOM Iraq, 2019
One of panellists during the #IWD2019 in Baghdad was First Lieutenant Abeer who was recently trained by IOM on the Community Policing model as a way of rebuilding trust between communities and law enforcement to promote peace and security. She is now training other law enforcement officers on this model. Alawj Media 2019.

Amira Abdulla, a school principal in Mosul, is an example of a strong Iraqi woman. In 2018, she pioneered the reopening of the first school in west Mosul, mostly through a grassroots campaign. She is also the head of the Al Zirae’e Community Policing Forum, which works with law enforcement to address safety and security issues at the community level. She was a panelist during the IWD2019 event organized by IOM and partners in Mosul.

“I have been a school principal for 13 years. The school was heavily damaged during the conflict and I felt hopeless to see my school in that state. I could vividly remember it being crowded with students. I felt the urge to fix things and bring the school back to life,” said Amira, in the panel discussion in Mosul.

Many women and men came together to celebrate the #IWD2019 event in Mosul that was held at the Community Resource Center (CrC).. Rawen Saed/IOM Iraq, 2019

“When many families showed up to enroll their children for the academic year, I asked them to volunteer in clearing the rubble and cleaning the classrooms. I was overwhelmed with the number of responses I received. So many people joined to help, despite their own dire situation. In those days, I was overseeing the cleaning process during the day, and reviewing the applications at night,"

“We managed to clear and clean the entire school, and registered 3,200 students! It was the first school to open in west Mosul. I consider this a great success story for myself and the community," said Amira. Rawen Saed/IOM Iraq, 2019

Shaima is a female artist who promotes peace and social cohesion through painting on walls in Mosul. She was panellist at the #IWD2019 in Mosul.

"We paint on the main landmarks of Mosul. We want to spread a message of revival to the world," says Shaima. Rawen Saeed/IOM Iraq, 2019

“After Mosul was retaken, I saw my city in rubble. I wondered how I, as a painter, could help my city. I got together with likeminded friends and we created a team called The Art Revolution. I wanted to paint on the walls, to put colour in my grey city. At the beginning, I was afraid of rejection. The situation was tense, and a girl painting on the streets was a strange sight. However, I was surprised by how people embraced us. We paint about women, peace and anti-sectarianism.”

In Erbil, the #IWD2019 event was co-organized by IOM and University of Kurdistan-Hawler (UKH) to promote the socioeconomic empowerment of women, in particularly through access to employment and livelihood generating opportunities, following the UN #IWD2019 theme : "Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change"

Experiences of Darya of Dali Designs, Huda of Lala Candles, Tava of Very Hollywood Boutique, and Tafan of Decorum, who delivered speeches during the event, prove that women can start their own business and succeed.

“Three other people now have jobs because of my business,” said Huda of Lala Candles. Raber Y. Aziz/IOM Iraq, 2019

The #IWD2019 in Erbil also featured a trade-show/bazaar that showcased artworks, handicrafts and other items from women-led businesses, in addition to a painting exhibition where female artists shared messages of women's empowerment, equality, and obstacles preventing women from achieving their goals.

Handcrafted products made by female led businesses were showcased at the event in Erbil. Raber Y. Aziz/IOM Iraq, 2019

“Women love a colourful and peaceful world, where they can have dreams, ideas and thoughts of their own, but there are always barriers hindering them, represented by the dark colours surrounding the woman in this painting. The barriers can be social, cultural or political,” said Helen Halkawt, a painter participating in the #IWD2019 in Erbil.

Helen Halkawt believes that women can do anything just like men, if given the chance. Raber Y. Aziz/IOM Iraq, 2019

In Khanke, Duhok, IOM and partners organized an #IWD2019 event with local and displaced Yazidi women, exhibiting handmade products including carpets, clothes and accessories at a trade show. During the event a panel with members of the community policing forum discussed the achievements of Yazidi women.

The Khanke Carpet Factory is an all-female facility where Yazidi women from the host and displaced communities produce carpets; the management of the facility, design and production of carpets and other products are all carried out by women. Herish Yaseen/IOM Iraq, 2019

“Yazidi women are the strongest in our community. Although they went through a lot, they are looking to the future and nothing will stop them from achieving success,” said Sheikh Shamoo, a former member of parliament of Kurdistan Region of Iraq, during the International Women's Day #IWD2019 event at Khanke Carpet Factory in Duhok.

Sheikh Shamoo checks out handmade products during the #IWD2019 in Khanke carpet Factory. Herish Yaseen/IOM Iraq, 2019
Created By
Raber Aziz