Iraq: The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq

The Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq© OWFI

The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), founded in 2003, is a truly pioneering national women’s organization dedicated to rebuilding Iraq on the basis of secular democracy and human rights for all. OWFI has developed innovative anti-violence and political empowerment strategies for women across Iraq. OWFI advocates on behalf of women who are most marginalized, including those who are incarcerated, widowed, displaced or battered.

Sheltering Women from Violence

OWFI is working to combat a sharp rise in violence against women that has gripped Iraq since the US invasion of 2003. OWFI provides comprehensive services to women who have been targeted for violence, including the first women’s shelters in the non-Kurdish part of Iraq. OWFI has established five women's shelters—in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil and Nasariyeh—to provide Iraqi women with a place to turn for security and support.

Combating Gender Discrimination in the Media

In the fall of 2009, OWFI launched the Al Mousawat Radio broadcast to reach out to women who have felt isolated and alone, to serve as a connection between Iraqi women and youth and the progressive community around the globe and, most importantly, to combat the fundamentalist mindset of mainstream media.

MADRE is working with OWFI to create programming that offers listeners vital practical information on their human rights and introduces new perspectives that help to transform derogatory or harmful attitudes and practices towards women.

Art Action for Peace

MADRE works with OWFI to support a brave group of Sunni and Shiite youth who are coming together to demand peace. FreedomSpace gatherings are public performances where people have the opportunity to share their poetry and music in order to promote reconciliation and human rights in a newly democratic Iraq.

FreedomSpace events are the only gatherings of their kind in Iraq today, where young people can constructively and creatively express their rage, their fears, and most importantly, their hopes for a peaceful future. These gatherings have been banned by Islamists. Several participants have been attacked, but Iraqis who want peace are flocking to these gatherings despite the danger.

Demanding Rights for the Women of Iraq

OWFI works to increase women’s participation in local and national politics and enhance government accountability by facilitating communication and representation for women.

OWFI has organized demonstrations to protest the attempted dismantling of women's rights by US-appointed reactionary clerics and has called for the inclusion of progressive women in any new Iraqi government. Yanar Mohammed, the founder of OWFI, has received death threats from fundamentalist Islamist groups for her work to further women's human rights. But she continues to fight publicly against both the US occupation and Islamic fundamentalism, and to encourage and empower other women to do the same.

"Either we organize and demand our social and political freedoms," Mohammed declares, "or we give way to a theocracy and the institutionalized, legalized oppression of women in Iraq."

Despite the grim political realities they face, the women of OWFI are hopeful. OWFI's founding statement declares: "There is a huge emancipatory and secular force in this society that aims at achieving freedom and a better life for women . . . Women in Iraq deserve another kind of life; one that is full of freedom, equality and prosperity."