In honor of International Women’s Day, AMAR U.S. is reflecting upon women in our community who dare. Today, we want to honor the Iraqi women who receive our gender-based services and have worked to rebuild their lives and confidence through much determination: here are their stories.
Women’s financial independence, participation in the labor force, and literacy are some of the best ways to improve the status of Iraqi women and their families. AMAR is a proud supporter of Iraqi women and has worked to empower women throughout the country for over 25 years. Our NEW Iraq program and INVEST Centers helped give women the resources to seek financial security and empower themselves to learn new skills, despite their difficult pasts. Through these programs, AMAR has worked with a wonderful group of Iraqi women and has been able to see them prosper and grow following AMAR’s training.
Many Iraqi women are unable to enter the workforce due to parental and societal pressure to get married, forcing them out of school early. This leaves them without the skills necessary to get a job and in need of a basic education. AMAR’s INVEST Centers provided basic schooling classes where adult women were able to learn to read, write, and master other basic skills they may have missed out on in their youth, moving forward with new skills and newfound self-confidence.
“I was watching my cousins go to school every day, and I felt sad because I could not read or write…I felt hopeless because I was 21-years-old and still illiterate. The most beautiful feeling was when I wrote my name for the first time and began to cry tears of joy.”Sarah, INVEST Participant
However, even when Iraqi women have an education, systemic barriers, dependence on men, and a lack of job skills can keep them out of the labor force. This is where AMAR’s NEW Iraq program came into play; the Network for the Economic Empowerment of Women in Iraq (NEW Iraq) combined mentorship and targeted skills training sessions to help women access new employment opportunities.
Heba found difficulty in entering the labor force after graduating from university. The 23-year-old had dreamed of going to university since the tragic death of her father, and she worked extremely hard—through various financial and health barriers—to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Arabic Language. However, despite her education, Heba was unable to find a job. She began to lose hope. When Heba learned about AMAR’s NEW Iraq program, she decided to join the project to learn new skills. She wanted to learn more about computers and learn English, which NEW Iraq workshops provided.
“This project bears a lot of positives. We, the women, need such projects that enable us to face society and the harsh circumstances. I already have begun looking to the future with hope and optimism. I will not allow anyone to underestimate my potential. We can only change our reality.”Heba, NEW Iraq Trainee
One trainee, Afrah, came to NEW Iraq knowing she needed to learn how to support her children. She is a widowed mother of four who had a history of difficult living conditions. She had never worked before, but after attending workshops, Afrah learned how to create a business plan and calculate a budget. As a result of NEW Iraq, Afrah felt more confident in her future and her ability to support her children. Soon after, Afrah was hired at a food processing and packaging factory and started to participate in civil society organizations to keep pace with modern issues in Iraq.
“I wish that this program and these workshops will continue. There is a lot of oppressed women who need such opportunities to improve the status of Iraqi women. Many thanks are due to all the officers of the program and the trainers in Iraq and the USA.”Afrah, NEW Iraq Trainee
Lama, another NEW Iraq trainee, was a graduate of Islamic studies, but depended on her engineer husband to be the breadwinner for herself and their four children. Tragically, her husband passed away, and this turned Lama’s life upside down. Not only did she now have the sole burden of financial responsibility for four children, but she had lost someone she loved. Lama felt she was no longer able to face life. However, she heard about NEW Iraq, and took a leap of faith by enrolling.
“When I attended the first training workshops, I felt something inside me. It was a kind of happiness and comfort, and after continuing the workshops, I acquired a kind of joy and began to trust myself.”Lama, NEW Iraq Trainee
After attending workshops and mentorship sessions, Lama began to feel better, and she became one of the most prominent women in the program. She began to volunteer herself to lead any discussion, any presentation, or lead any group. Following her completion of the program, Lama was hired in a private food processing factory and was able to fully support her children.
“I began feeling a positive change after I was overwhelmed by negativity…When I am at the workshop, I forget who I am and my cruel past. I knew that hope defeats despair and began to regain my self-confidence. Now I can manage my family and draw a beautiful future for them.”Lama, NEW Iraq Trainee
Only one fifth of Iraqi women are currently participating in the nation’s labor force. Thanks to AMAR participants and staff, as well as AMAR’s generous donors, our programming has been able to provide women in Iraq with the resources and opportunities to grow their self-confidence, pursue financial independence, and break this barrier.