Yanar Mohammed in:
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Our partner Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), appreciates all of your questions on Iraq’s current crisis and how OWFI is working to protect families fleeing the surging violence. Keep reading to see her answers:
What actions are people in Iraq—especially women, LGBT folks and young people—taking to make change?
In spite of all disasters which fell upon us in the new millennium, there was one advantage which cannot be undone. The internet and media, including satellite television, has opened Iraq up to the world. Women, youth and LGBT have developed a new awareness, becoming connected to international movements against oppressive and patriarchal tendencies.
In addition, many Iraqis who had left the country during the long-lasting wars came back with a vision of how to connect with an international movement of human rights. Meanwhile, many of the older political activists who lived under decades of dictatorship began to work under different circumstances, where change is possible. In 2003, many of us set up our civil society organizations, where our understanding and expectations of a good future was passed on to a younger generation of women, men and LGBT who had aspirations to exercise their free will. Our hope was betrayed by the brutality of occupation, especially once the US made common cause with reactionary religious fundamentalists bent on destroying women’s rights.
In spite of the political mess of the ruling class, many organizations made use of the time, in order to train groups of activists.
Although OWFI has trained many young activists, we notice that the most driven and determined ones are those who had found refuge in our shelters and benefited from our programs: the woman who had a knife at her neck, only a few years ago, or the LGBT person who was denied all possibility of dignity or safety. As OWFI activists, they are now dedicating their life to change the reality around them to make it more tolerant for the next generation.
At our shelters and programs, older women activists accept the responsibility to mentor, care for the wellbeing, and provide human rights training to our residents, thus creating a new generation of human rights activists.
This team of activists takes this strong human rights message out to the society, through our radio station Al Mousawat 103.8 FM in Baghdad. They broadcast messages that challenge the legislators and misogynists in ways which nobody else dares to do.
With the invasion of ISIS, and the division of Iraq into two parts, the central government took the opportunity to order the shut-down of many opposition media outlets, which had challenged their authority and oppression. Our radio was one of those who were ordered to shut down, thus leaving the airwaves with no challenging voice calling for liberation. We were told that our frequency might be given to a newly rising militia which wants to have its own media platform. This militia has been responsible for mass killings of women and LGBT people.
How do you console a heart and body having been victimized via war, patriarchy, rape, etc.? Thoughts? Quotes? Personal experiences?
We would speak warmly to a survivor of violence. But our main strategy to help their healing is to introduce them to fellow survivors who have overcome their distress. These fellow survivors are living a new life, with new goals to become strong enough to protect others from violence. They have experienced transformation into social and political activists. When a survivor of violence can see her options in life and can feel the success that others have achieved, that is their first step towards hope and empowerment.
Ours is a space of believing in oneself, willpower and determination. After 11 years, we have many role models at our women’s centers who are walking examples of the transformation from victim to fierce, uncompromising activist. They are the best experts to nurture the new survivors, as they have experienced the same pains.
Is there any protection for women in Mosul from the ISIS?
Recently, OWFI posted a message on our social media networks addressing the grievances of the women in Mosul, Telafar, Sinjar, and other western cities. We included our telephone numbers for those who are distressed and in need of a way out.
In the community of men who support OWFI, we’ve also managed to find inter-city drivers who make daily trips to Mosul and volunteer to bring women to our safe-houses in Baghdad and Kerbala.
One of the OWFI branches, in Hawija is in a community under ISIS control. This branch assists mothers with medical and physiotherapy services for their disabled children of this town. More than 600 children under 11 years old have physical disabilities resulting from environmental contamination by the US military. OWFI received donations for the physiotherapy equipment from MADRE.
After the invasion of ISIS in June, the militants came to our offices asking our representative in a hostile manner about the source of her financing. When they doubted her story and became angry, the residents interfered begging them to keep the center open, as their children’s well-being depends on it. The final say came from the cleric of the neighborhood, whose two children’s mobility were improving because of our services.
Today, the OWFI-MADRE health care center is open and serving the children of Hawija. Hawija has also absorbed many waves of refugees from the western cities of Tikrit and Mosul, and many were sheltered in our offices for weeks, until we re-located them to the houses of our membership. We distributed food baskets and clothes to 80 families in Hawija in the last two months.
Help Our Sisters Who Need Us Most
Understanding ISIS: A Women’s Rights Perspective
Aid and Shelter for Women Fleeing ISIS