Shelters for Women in Iraq

by MADRE, An International Women's Human Rights Org.
Shelters for Women in Iraq

As MADRE’s partnership with OWFI continues through the Safe Shelters project, we are grateful to share just some of the meaningful activism you uplifted in 2022. 

  • During the first six months of the year, OWFI welcomed 29 survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence into their shelters. Since then, OWFI has continued to enhance physical safety and access to support and reintegration services for survivors and those at risk of gender-based violence. 
  • OWFI focused on redressing discrimination experienced by Iraq’s Black community by raising anti-racist awareness among women, men, and youth and supporting leadership and advancement opportunities for Afro-Iraqis, particularly women. OWFI held a conference at its headquarters in March, bringing together academics, activists, and civil society leaders within the Black community. For many in attendance, the conferences were their first opportunity to learn about and discuss racial discrimination. OWFI facilitated discussion and debate among Afro-Iraqis to identify shared priorities and demands for policy change.

OWFI continued its successful efforts to receive survivors of gender-based violence in their shelters, meeting immediate needs and reintegrating survivors into their communities. This vital work was life-sustaining for many women and girls in 2022 and will be for years to come.

Thank you for your generosity and for being part of a global network of feminist activists coming together across distance and difference for a world that promises justice for all people; including women and girls in Iraq. We appreciate you for being an essential part of this movement. 

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MADRE’s longtime partner, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), provides lifesaving assistance by offering protection to women and girls facing gender-based violence, both short-term with safe house shelters and long-term with tools to rebuild their lives. Thanks to your support of MADRE and OWFI, we are grateful to share the below story about three sisters who found peace again.

OWFI welcomed three sisters aged 12, 18, and 24 into their shelter in Iraq after escaping their father’s beatings and sexual assault. When OWFI heard their story, they immediately provided services for them in their shelter. Soon after, their mother informed their father of the girls’ location, so he filed a report in court claiming OWFI had kidnapped his three daughters. He came to OWFI’s headquarters, demanding to get his daughters back and threatening the staff members. OWFI called the community police and asked for a lawyer to join them in a private session with the father. After a two-hour session, where OWFI spoke with the family about the rights of women and girls, the father agreed and signed a pledge to revoke the court’s kidnapping case, let his daughters stay in OWFI’s shelter, and give the girls their documents so they could move freely, and even return to school.

Since their move to the shelter, the sisters have been taking a recovery journey with the help of OWFI. OWFI provides them with medical, psychological, and legal services. They are engaged in the organization’s activities, including participating in recreational events and taking English language classes. According to OWFI’s staff members, the girls’ mental health is improving, but they still have a long way ahead before they can fully recover from their trauma.

With your generous support, OWFI continues to work with women and girls in Iraq, including these three sisters, to fully heal from their past traumas and build a new life – free of violence. Thank you for helping OWFI continue to support survivors of gender-based crimes and create immediate and long-term healing spaces.

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MADRE partner, Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), protects women facing gender-based and domestic violence by providing safe houses for immediate shelter and healing. Alma’s story, like many other women, is hope for a future filled with peace. 

Alma’s husband was killed by ISIL four years ago, leaving Alma and her child to move in with her brother and his wife. Shortly after moving in, Alma was beaten by her brother and held captive in his house because she refused to marry a man much older than her. Thanks to your support, OWFI was able to offer Alma and her child space at a safe house for two weeks where they received food, clothing, medical attention, and psychosocial support. During Alma’s two-week stay, her brother reached out to OWFI, expressing regret about his behavior and asking his sister for her forgiveness. Following the mediation process put in place by OWFI, including in-person meetings, Alma voluntarily agreed to return to her brother’s home. He was required to sign a pledge, in the presence of two witnesses, stating that he will care for as well as support his sister and protect her from any violence she might face in the future. Alma expressed deep gratitude towards OWFI for providing her and her child with shelter, food, and health services. She said, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me and my child a place to stay and providing us with everything we needed. I felt like home here - the care and love you showed us is something that I had not received from the people closest to me.”

Pledges, like the one Alma’s brother committed to, have proven to be effective in holding families accountable. Since OWFI launched this process, no incidents have been reported by families who have signed the pledge. 

Your ongoing generosity helps sustain OWFI’s safe houses throughout Iraq and remain in contact with Alma and other families to ensure they are safe. Alma has shared that she feels her sense of physical and emotional security improved thanks to her time at the safe house, and the systems set in place by OWFI. Thank you for making this critical work possible! 

 

*Name has been changed to respect the privacy of the individual. 

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In Iraq, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)’s network of shelters and safehouses are the only refuge of their kind for women and girl survivors of ISIS violence, and have proved critical in helping survivors and their children integrate back into communities and build a better future.

Sadiya* is one of these survivors, who now wants to share her story with the world to call for justice.

Sadiya is from a town in northern Iraq, where she lived peacefully for many years with her husband, an Iraqi security forces agent. When ISIS took control of her town in 2016, Sadiya’s husband was forced to flee for his safety. ISIS later interrogated Sadiya about his whereabouts, but she protected him and refused to reveal his location. Displeased with her response, the ISIS members detained Sadiya for nearly two weeks, where she was subjected to continuous sexual and violent assault. Following Sadiya’s release, her husband returned home – but was unable to accept Sadiya’s experience at the hands of ISIS. He accused Sadiya of inflicting shame upon their family by “giving herself” away and began frequently beating her. Her husband later remarried but enslaved Sadiya as the new couple’s servant by stealing her legal documents, leaving her with little hope of escape.

OWFI was alerted to Sadiya’s case last year and coordinated a rescue effort to bring her to their safehouse. After a year of holistic support from OWFI–including shelter and psychosocial counseling–Sadiya has healed from some of her trauma and improved her physical and mental well-being. She stated, “Without OWFI I would have been dead because of my husband’s abuse and the shame I experienced from my family for something I didn’t have any control over.” Sadiya reports that she is now a stronger person, and thinks of herself as a survivor, not a victim.

In fact, Sadiya leveraged this strength to provide a testimony of her experience at MADRE’s and OWFI’s newly-launched truth and accountability hearings, which are a series of community-led gatherings designed to bring together survivors, along with Iraqi judges, United Nations accountability mechanisms, and civil society groups, to acknowledge the experiences of survivors of ISIS violence and promote healing and community acceptance. Upon learning of the hearings, Sadiya was overjoyed at the possibilities of redress and bravely suggested taking part in order to bring international and local attention to survivors’ stories, like hers.

Thank you for supporting MADRE’s and OWFI’s efforts to protect and heal survivors of ISIS violence, such as Sadiya, and advocate for justice! We couldn’t do this vital work without you.

*Name has been changed to respect the privacy of the individual.

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Since the death of her husband at the hands of ISIS four years ago, Hayat* and her child have lived with her brother and his wife in Western Iraq. When Hayat’s brother began physically abusing her after she refused to marry a 65-year-old man, a local leader reached out to the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) to request their intervention. Thanks to your generous support, OWFI was able to welcome Hayat and her child into their safe house for two weeks where they received food, clothing, medical attention, and psychosocial support. 

During Hayat’s stay at the safe house, her brother reached out to OWFI, expressing regrets about his behavior and asking for his sister’s forgiveness. Following OWFI’s mediation, Hayat voluntarily agreed to return to her brother, who was required to sign a pledge, in the presence of witnesses, stating that he will care for and support his sister, as well as protect her from any violence. Hayat extended her deep gratitude for OWFI before she rejoined her brother’s household, sharing, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me and my child a place to stay and providing us with everything we needed. I felt like home here - the care and love [OWFI] showed us is something that I had not received from the people closest to me.”

We are proud to share that pledges such as the one OWFI facilitated between Hayat and her brother have proven effective in holding families accountable: not a single incident has been reported within families who have signed the pledge. With your ongoing support, OWFI can continue to improve the lives of women, like Hayat, and their families! 

*Name has been changed to respect the privacy of the individual.

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Organization Information

MADRE, An International Women's Human Rights Org.

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @madrespeaks
Project Leader:
Yifat Susskind
New York, NY United States
$16,031 raised of $20,000 goal
 
348 donations
$3,969 to go
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