Forty years ago Iraqi women and men were equal under the law. Since the early 1990s however, women have seen their rights curtailed and their participation in areas of society and freedom of expression dramatically inhibited. There has been a sharp decline in female literacy, women are discriminated against in the law by giving men privileged status in divorce and inheritance matters, and ‘public morality’ campaigns have specifically targeted women. Women who take part in public roles and have a voice in civil society, such as politicians, civil servants and journalists, have been threatened, beaten and sexually assaulted. Women are finding it more and more difficult to go out alone and, in addition to that, many women suffer violence at the hands of their fathers, brothers and other relatives. For example, a survey by the UN found that 68% of young Iraqi men surveyed believe it’s acceptable to kill a girl for ‘profaning a family’s honour.’
Four women who are graduates of Women for Women International’s year-long holistic training programme, (which includes practical classes in life, business, and vocational skills), recently made a short documentary film to tell their stories and share their perspectives one year after the withdrawal of the troops.
“We wanted to make this film because we want our voices to be heard. Iraqi women are strong and they need to know that they have rights and that they can use them to make their lives and those of their families better," says Nihayet, a graduate of the Women for Women International programme, and assistant camera operator.
The film titled “Hands of Hope” explores how women are overcoming the challenges they face, to lead change in their families and communities.
“Our economic difficulties were the greatest challenge we faced,” says Zainab. “But I was able to overcome them because of what I learned during the Women for Women International programme.”
Zainab, an Iraqi mother of three was facing financial hardship as her husband’s low wages were barely enough to cover their family’s basic needs. The business training Zainab took part in allowed her to learn a vocational skill, earn an income from tailoring and have greater influence in family and community decision-making. Now Zainab has started her own sewing business and is able to regularly put money aside to save for the future.
Women for Women International hears all too often how women survivors of war feel they are forgotten, that their voices are not heard, and that their perspectives are not valued. Zainab, Nihayet and their fellow film makers challenge the stereotype of passive victim, to share their stories of survival with you directly. Watch and share their message now.
Women for Women International is launching an urgent appeal for donations to meet the demand for the year long vocational programme in Iraq and the seven other countries where we work. Between 25 November and 10 December all donations made to Women for Women International will be matched pound for pound by a generous group of supporters. This means that all gifts will go twice as far to support the many women who are rebuilding their lives after conflict and war. Go to www.womenforwomen.org.uk to find out more.