Shelters for Women in Iraq and Afghanistan

Jan 29, 2014

Shelter update from OWFI

MADRE’s sister organization in Iraq, OWFI, recently released their end of year newsletter with updates on their accomplishments in 2013. Included in the newsletter was an article on the expansion of OWFI’s shelter services, the very services you help to support. We’d like to share that article with you now:

Sheltering Victims of Violence and Trafficking is a Key Part of OWFI's Fight for Gender Justice

At the center of OWFI's work are the shelters we have created where women can escape from honour killing, trafficking and domestic/systemic abuse. We pour a great amount of energy and love into creating places where vulnerable women are nurtured and empowered to eventually become leaders in their communities. In response to growing need, we have opened a second shelter in Baghdad. Thus far in 2013, we have sheltered 30 women and LGBT men, and assisted many others.
OWFI's sheltering services are an integral part of our fight for justice. They save and improve women's lives by providing a strong supportive network with the primary goal of ensuring their permanent transition out of abuse and exploitation. They provide a concrete and tangible alternative to women who suffer from the everyday misogynist practices that are supported by Iraq's discriminatory laws and ruling cultural norms. Our safe spaces enable women to rebuild their lives away from the perils of daily abuse and threats of violence or death. This is by no means an easy feat and women often go through the sheltering process multiple times before they are able to build new lives for themselves.
Our sheltering work also creates strong allies in many of the women we serve, who become fervent advocates for women's rights and dedicated community organizers lending their voices, bodies and energy to the fight.
Our sheltering services have expanded to include the protection of persecuted LGBT people. We are standing up to the extremist religious elements (who make up a majority in the parliament) and tribal forces that target LGBT people in Iraq, as well as those who do not conform to their restrictive rules for gendered behavior. These groups are targeting LGBT people and some Iraqi youth, terrorizing and gruesomely killing them. OWFI is currently standing alone in the fight to defend Iraq's so-called "effeminate" men.
Our long-term goal is to develop an LGBT defense initiative to empower activists who seek to advocate for this group of people who are voiceless and have no rights in Iraq. Our most immediate concern, however, is to protect the persecuted youth and LGBT people by providing sheltering services, transportation, logistical and medical assistance as needed.  
Despite the trauma and abuse they have suffered, many shelter residents are able, with time, to rebuild their lives and "graduate" from the shelter, going on to their future work and families. However they always remain part of the OWFI family.

Oct 30, 2013

Al Mousawat Radio Reopens!

Since our last update OWFI has continued their tireless efforts in demanding equality and empowering women across Iraq. We are thrilled to announce that OWFI was able to reopen their radio station, Al Mousawat (Equality) Radio! The station was shut down in November 2012 after a car bomb exploded outside of the headquarters, in an attack not targeted at OWFI. The explosion caused structural damage to the building as well as damage to the generator.

But thanks to the support of people like you, Al Mousawat Radio is back on the air, broadcasting news updates and educational programs to over 9 million listeners in Baghdad and surrounding cities! OWFI uses the radio to strengthen women’s abilities to claim rights and play a positive role in rebuilding their country. Thank you for your continued support in this crucial and meaningful work in the struggle for equality!

Aug 1, 2013

Update from OWFI

Since our last update, OWFI has been hard at work maintaining the safe houses and providing a secure environment for the women who seek refuge from violent or stressful situations. The medical, counseling and legal services offered at the safe houses have been beneficial to the residents who have continuously expressed their gratitude towards OWFI and the support provided by the staff. When asked if they felt more secure at the safe houses, one resident answered “If I had known about OWFI before, my life would’ve been better; I feel better here.” Another woman living at the safe house responded, “It’s the first time someone gives me something without taking something in return.”

Furthermore, OWFI has expressed the desire to start skill-building classes with the women at the safe house. These classes will not only let the women develop and reinforce useful skills. They will also create a healing environment where the activities will help women overcome the trauma and violence they have faced.

Thank you for your support and we hope to continue to help OWFI maintain these important safe houses! 

May 3, 2013

Shelter to Care to Legal Assistance: OWFI's There

When women threatened with violence arrive at OWFI’s shelters, they know that they will receive comprehensive care. From providing shelter, to emergency health care, to legal assistance, OWFI and MADRE are working tirelessly to meet the needs of survivors of gender-based violence and empower Iraqi women to defend their rights.

We’d like to share updates with you now on our hard work in seeking justice for women threatened with violence:

Currently, OWFI is assisting two women in mounting legal cases against the men who abused them. One woman was severely beaten by her husband. The other was raped by her brother. With MADRE’s support and with OWFI’s assistance, these women filed complaints of these violations and saw their cases moved to trial. OWFI’s relationship with members of the social police, the department of the Iraqi police force tasked with dealing with social issues, ensured that police officers supported and cooperated with the women as they filed their claims, and were present to protect them when their cases went to trial.

What’s more, in the past few months alone, MADRE support allowed OWFI to provide seven women at their shelters with counseling to help them recover from the trauma of living in violence and fear, a first step to helping these women reclaim their lives. Additionally, OWFI helped six women at the shelters receive lifesaving medical care.

OWFI and MADRE continue to offer women threatened with violence the means and social support to escape danger and begin to build a new life. When asked if they felt safer at OWFI shelters, one resident stated, “I can breathe, no one is trying to kill me in this house. Yes, I’m safe.”

Thank you for supporting this crucial, lifesaving work!

Feb 5, 2013

Update from OWFI

We recently received news from Yanar Mohammad, director of our partner organization OWFI. Since our last update, she informed us that the shelters have been working quite well. They continue to provide essential services to many women who are at risk, fleeing violent situations at home or trying to escape a life of prostitution and trafficking.

OWFI’s staff members are working hard to provide a safe space for the women and to help them rebuild their lives. Medical and counseling services are essential to the shelter residents’ well-being. The shelter staff accompanies the residents to hospital visits, and maintains a 24-hour hotline to provide counseling and services to people in danger or crisis. The staff members go far and beyond to guarantee that they can provide emergency assistance when it is necessary. Medical care and counseling have contributed to an improved physical and emotional quality of life for many shelter residents.

Residents at the OWFI shelters have the opportunity to regularly engage and share their experiences with people who have lived through similar circumstances. Friendships, understanding, and acceptance develop amongst shelter residents, who come to love and protect one another, to build a coalition and to create an environment of tolerance around one another. Residents emerge from their time with OWFI as activists rather than victims.

There are many positive stories coming out of the OWFI shelters. Two former shelter residents who came to OWFI in 2007 to escape prostitution have returned to help OWFI gather information about women in need in Baghdad brothels. They have assumed new roles as outreach officers, creating a link between the women trapped in the sex-industry and OWFI. More recently, a woman who stayed at the shelter for more than a year has now found a job and is building a new, financially independent life for herself.

OWFI remains in regular contact with her, and other residents who transition out of their shelters, to make sure they are well.

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Yifat Susskind

New York, New York United States

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