Shelters for Women in Iraq

by MADRE, An International Women's Human Rights Org.
(c) OWFI
(c) OWFI

In October, the military assault began to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS. It's estimated that up to one million Iraqis could be forced to flee their homes due to the violence.

The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), our on-the-ground partner, has told us of families running from Mosul with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It's a journey rife with danger. Women and families face vicious snipers and deadly landmines planted by ISIS along the way. Some of those who make it out of ISIS territory have walked for more than 20 hours. They are weak with exhaustion, traumatized, dehydrated and hungry.

But thanks to the support of MADRE members like you, we're reaching these women and families with lifesaving care. That's because weeks ago, OWFI activated their emergency response network to help Iraqis escaping Mosul. Once families flee, OWFI activists are there, providing desperately needed food, water, medical care and other vital aid.

Now our activist partners are hard at work, negotiating with local authorities for permission to set up new shelters for women who remain at risk of deadly violence - even after they've managed to escape ISIS.

We know that ISIS regularly targets women with sexual violence. Women who have been raped by ISIS, or even suspected as having been, are at serious risk of so-called "honor killings" by their families. Rape survivors fleeing Mosul are in desperate need of safety and shelter from harm. And thanks to your support, OWFI is ready to provide it to them.

There's no national law that allows local organizations like OWFI to run shelters. But through grassroots advocacy, we're working to convince authorities to make an exception in this time of crisis and allow OWFI to run shelters for women and families fleeing Mosul. And when this happens, we build the momentum for the sweeping policy change that Iraqi human rights organizations demand - to allow local groups to run shelters across the country.

When you support MADRE, you reach women and families in even the hardest of places with lifesaving aid. Thank you for making this possible.

I can’t thank you enough. That’s because in just the space of three months, your support brought safe haven and security to 119 young women and girls who have escaped sexual slavery by ISIS. Thank you!

At the shelter and rape crisis center in Kurdistan that your support helped to open earlier this year, these survivors receive lifesaving support, including medical care, food and shelter. Our local partners have also arranged for counseling services to help the girls heal after the unimaginable traumas they’ve endured.

Here’s a photo from the shelter. It shows some of the young residents participating in a literacy course led by our local activist partner, Awaz. Many of these girls have never attended school before. With your support, they are now learning to read for the first time ever — a powerful and healing skill that helps them to transform their experiences into words.

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In addition to literacy courses, girls and women at the shelter can also participate in sewing and handicraft classes. Not only do these activities offer a healing outlet, but eventually these skills can help these young women find work in their new community.

Thank you for helping us to create this safe space. It’s hard for many of the young women and girls there to imagine now, but the programs that you make possible at the shelter are helping them to rebuild their lives.

Photo credit (c) OWFI

Fairoz (left) and Awaz (right)
Fairoz (left) and Awaz (right)

In the nearly two years since ISIS invaded Iraq, we’ve heard countless stories of despair. Of entire families killed, of girls and women raped and sold into sexual slavery. It’s easy to feel helpless after hearing such horrific stories.

But never forget: even amid these horrors, there are glimmers of hope. And those glimmers shine brightly at the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), our activist partners on the ground.

Take Awaz and Fairoz, for example. Thanks to the support of MADRE members like you, they work with OWFI to run our brand new shelter and rape crisis center for Yazidi girls who have survived ISIS sexual slavery. Both young and vibrant, it’s nearly impossible to meet them and not become filled with hope for what they bring to the future of Iraq.

Pictured here are Fairoz (left) and Awaz (right) at a recent MADRE human rights training in Iraq. Want to learn more about them?

Meet Fairoz

“My greatest goal is to support to the Yazidi women who have survived ISIS. How can we give them a better life?”

Click here to read her story

Meet Awaz

“Let me tell you something. Women and girls can achieve a lot when we support each other.”

Click here to read her story

Awaz, Fairoz and our partners at OWFI usher women and girls fleeing ISIS to the safety of our shelters, and so much more. Through human rights education at our shelters, they also are imagining – and rebuilding – a peaceful Iraq. And they do it with your support. Thank you.

When an Iraqi woman is threatened with deadly violence in her home, where can she find shelter?

For many, the answer was Al Mousawaat (Equality) radio, the human rights radio station run by MADRE’s partner group, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. With a diverse range of programming, including skits, interviews and call-in sessions, the station was a critical voice for Iraqis whose rights were violated or who were facing life-threatening violence.

The radio station was the only one of its kind. It provided lifesaving information for women in danger on how to access OWFI’s shelters, counseling support and other vital services -- like the ones you support through this project. And it educated Iraqi communities on the human rights of women, LGBT people and other marginalized people. With every broadcast, it helped to transform harmful attitudes and practices that instigate violence and stigmatize survivors.

But in 2014, the government shut down Al Mousawaat radio as well as over 20 other social justice-oriented stations. For the past two years, MADRE and OWFI have been advocating relentlessly at the national and international levels to get Al Mousawaat’s lifesaving messages for peace, tolerance and human rights back on the air.

And we have great news! OWFI has found a space on a new frequency that reaches 98% of the country, to air Al Mousawaat radio programs. And we resumed broadcasts last month!

Al Mousawaat now reaches over 10 million people throughout Iraq and Kurdistan every week. Now, women in desperate need of save haven will know where to find OWFI’s women’s shelters. And lives will be saved. 

Eight years ago, Samira* was a young college student in Iraq, excited for what the future had to offer.

But her life changed when a trusted family friend raped her. Instead of love and support from her parents, they rejected her and told her that she should be killed for the shame she brought on her family.

Like all too many rape survivors in Iraq, Samira faced an unthinkable choice: run away or be murdered to restore her family’s “honor.”

But thanks to you, Samira was not alone.

With your support, MADRE and the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) help women and girls threatened with deadly violence find safety. We offer emergency transportation to our shelters, food, clothing, counseling and community.

When Samira escaped to the OWFI shelter in Baghdad, she found safe haven and the support she needed to heal from her trauma. She received trainings about her human rights. Slowly but surely, she felt her power growing.

At OWFI, Samira gained the confidence to rebuild her life. Now an OWFI leader, she reaches out to young women whose devastating stories mirror her own. And she finds comfort in helping them to heal and transform.

“It’s been a really long journey to get where I am today,” Samira told us. “But now, I am conquering the world. If you asked me today about the most important decision I’ve made, it was opening the door and escaping my house.”

Thanks to you, threatened women like Samira find escape, protection, and friends to lean on. What’s more, they reimagine their lives as empowered activists—together. Thank you!

*Samira’s name has been changed.


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Organization Information

MADRE, An International Women's Human Rights Org.

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Yifat Susskind
New York, NY United States
$5,749 raised of $7,500 goal
159 donations
$1,751 to go
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