Although the end of the Hussein regime brought great relief to many women, insecurity and insurgent lawlessness have brought an increase in crimes and violence against women, including rape, honor killings, and kidnappings. A climate of fear continues to limit the movement and activities of many women. Women’s ongoing involvement in Iraq’s reconstruction is critical as the country struggles to move toward stability. Over the past year, there have been numerous organized efforts to promote capacity building of Iraqi women’s nongovernmental organizations while also ensuring women’s empowerment in economic and political arenas on a grassroots level. Approximately 80 women’s groups currently exist in Baghdad, offering a new outlet for dialogue and empowerment.
Women for Women International’s Iraq office served 300 women in 2005, with a total of 1,300 women served since 2003, benefiting an additional 7,800 family and community members. Additionally, Women for Women International has provided NGO training to 15 groups committed to Iraqi women’s empowerment.
Vocational skills training courses are also offered as part of Women for Women International’s programs. Courses currently offered include carpentry, carpet weaving, beadwork, and an introduction to computers. These programs give women the opportunity to become active participants in the economic reconstruction of their lives, families and communities. Haifa, an Iraqi woman, could not afford to pay for her family’s medical expenses because her health and age made it impossible for her to continue her previous line of work, which was selling fuel near a gas station. Once she started receiving direct financial aid and business skills training from Women for Women International, she was able to begin work that she could conduct from home. She made a deal with a supplier in a nearby governorate to purchase straw-made sweepers, fans, and baskets at a wholesale price, which she then sells. She has doubled her initial goal and is now regularly able to save the amount of two months rent from the profits.
Women for Women International in Washington, D.C., has been named the winner of the 2006 Hilton Humanitarian Prize, which comes with a $1.5 million award, one of the largest monetary prizes, in any category, in the world.
Founded in 1993 by Zainab Salbi — who survived years of strife in Iraq — Women for Women International (WWI) works with female survivors of war and conflict in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan. Picking up where humanitarian aid leaves off, WWI has served more than 70,000 women, assisted 380,000 family members, and distributed approximately $28 million in direct aid and micro-credit loans. The organization also operates a sister-to-sister program and a letter exchange that matches female sponsors with women who have lived through similar conflicts; its field offices are staffed almost entirely by country nationals. Salbi said the prize money will serve as a challenge gift for a $6 million campaign to build permanent safe women's centers in countries in which WWI operates.
"Women and children bear the major burdens of the unprecedented number of wars and civil conflicts raging worldwide and are often left to rebuild their lives without the basic necessities for survival or a viable means to earn a living and take care of their families," said Steven M. Hilton, chairman and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. "Women for Women International has demonstrated that it can create change and stability within a society by providing women survivors with the tools and resources to rebuild their lives. The organization also gives women the training and confidence to engage in their communities' and ultimately their nation's economic, political and social structures."
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