Solidarity through storytelling: empowering Iraqi women

May 17, 2021

“I had hope that our city would be restored. But when ISIS continued marching forward and took control; they began kidnapping girls. I hated being a girl and wished to be dead.”- Amani Salih, 30 years old from Mosul, describes her life during ISIS occupation.

Many women in Mosul were negatively affected when ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) took over the city, including Amani. They were forced to live under very difficult circumstances, and any objections would have ended with their lives. All the previous efforts spent to promote women’s rights in these areas vanished, women were forced to live with their heads down, and voices unheard.

“I still remember how my mother used to tell me every night that she hoped to see me alive when we wake up the next day, in an attempt to prevent me from committing suicide. Our life was like a prison,” shares Amani.

During the occupation of Mosul by ISIS Amani was among the many civilians who couldn’t leave the city. Instead, she locked herself inside of her house and did not leave until Mosul was liberated. She spent many days living in fear without hope, but she recognizes now that the obstacles she has faced have made her stronger. During her participation in the Gender Responsive Crisis Chamber (GRCC) session held by UNDP Iraq to allow women to share their stories, Amani spoke to inspire other girls, and to discuss the support she needs.

“Several women are in need of psychological support so they can be active again in society. I hope to see more girls participating and getting the support they need” Amani states.

The GRCC was established with support from UNDP Iraq as a result of a series of discussions on social norms and increased incidences of violence against women in Iraq. The chamber focuses on empowering women with active roles in crisis response activities, and allows women and girls, like Amani, to share their stories on how Iraqi women deal with crises in their daily lives.

Promoting the sharing of stories from women in crisis is a new and distinct methodology used by the GRCC. According to Amani, “many women in Iraq need to be heard, and such activities can help them speak out and get the support they need, especially those who cannot read or write.”

In Iraq, women’s rights face a wide range of obstacles, including social norms, the proliferation of domestic violence, past influence by ISIS, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Research shows that 52% of women who experienced domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic did not know where to go for assistance during movement restrictions.

Alyaa Al Ansari, one of the women leaders of the GRCC, has helped several women to share their stories and get the support they need during the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.

According to Alyaa, “we need to encourage women to fear nothing. Women have always been victims, and we should work together to empower each other to lead, make decisions, and innovate solutions.”

Despite the daily challenges she faces in her work, seeing other women getting support and becoming active again in society inspires her.

“I strongly believe we can make a change,” she affirms.

Supported by UNDP Iraq and in coordination with the Iraqi Central Statistics Bureau, academic institutions, and civil society organizations, the GRCC is focused on empowering women, like Amani, by finding innovative approaches to engage partners and new perspectives to empower women in Iraq. The chamber works to address the impact of social norms and gender bias during crises and review existing protocols to reflect the changing circumstances under COVID-19. As a platform for developing innovative solutions that address crises from a gender perspective, the GRCC operates to empower Iraqi women and advance the women, peace, and security agenda.