In honor of International Women’s Day this week, AMAR U.S. is reflecting on the women in our community who dare. Today, we want to highlight female AMAR staff and volunteers on the ground in Iraq. Our female staff are vital in rebuilding Iraqi women’s lives: here are their stories.
In Iraq, women have been heavily impacted by conflict over the past decade. Aid in healthcare, childcare, emotional support, safety, employment, and education are far more difficult for Iraqi women to access than men. AMAR’s programming aims to counter this disadvantage and provide Iraqi women with resources and support through difficult times. We have a staff of incredible women who have dedicated their time with AMAR to helping fellow Iraqi women access the resources they need and feel empowered.
While the situation in Iraq has improved since 2014, Iraqi women remain unequal in society. Many women are not educated on their legal rights, which can lead to them being placed in difficult situations, and being unable to speak up for themselves. Sazgar worked to empower women in her role as the AMAR INVEST Center’s Legal Consultant. Her work specialized in violence against women, and she ran monthly workshops for women in the community to teach them about their legal rights. Sazgar made it her mission to break down this barrier. When women were facing problems, especially gender-based violence, she met with them individually to discuss their situation, and guide them through—both legally and personally.
“Working here, I realize how many women in Iraq are invisible. But AMAR helps them to the surface and allows me to help them.”Sazgar, AMAR INVEST Center Legal Consultant
Access to medical services is also a large concern in Iraq, and maternal healthcare has been especially affected. Currently, most maternity wards and hospitals are still shuttered, which has negatively affected hundreds of thousands of women and girls. Many hospitals that would serve women and girls with these health needs are either destroyed or too far away. AMAR Primary Health Care Center workers Shahd and Mijda specialized in countering this issue, bringing back access to maternal healthcare for Iraqi women. Many women who reside in camps struggle to breast feed, as they are malnourished and stressed. Shahd and Mijda supported and educated pregnant women, including assisting them with starting to breastfeed. They each dedicated themselves to guiding individual women through the breastfeeding and new motherhood process, and held weekly lectures on maternal health topics to help women in their community.
Gynecologist Dr. Dhalfaa Nathim also provided much-needed health services to Iraqi women through AMAR’s Primary Health Care Centers. Dr. Nathim experienced hardship herself, living in a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Khanke due to her former home in West Mosul being destroyed by ISIS. However, she used this first-hand knowledge of the conflict’s effect on Iraqis to propel her work, as she knew its grave importance. As most gynecologists are either without a working facility or too far away, Dr. Nathim filled a crucial gap. Through AMAR, she provided much needed medical services to women and girls in the Khanke camp area.
“Here in the clinic, I see about 150 women every single day. Without the clinic, there would be no health support, and I think the situation here would be much, much worse.”Dr. Dhalfaa Nathim, AMAR Primary Health Care Center Gynecologist
Aside from physical effects, Iraqi women have been affected psychologically by the conflict they have lived through. The AMAR “Escaping Darkness” program, and the wonderful female Community Based Workers (CBWs) within it, provided crucial long-term psychological support to Iraqi women in need.
Friends and fellow CBWs Siham and Katrin worked on the Escaping Darkness program together. Each of them dedicated their work to providing long-term psychological support to victims of ISIS, especially women and girls. Often, survivors no longer feel comfortable around men due to their experiences, so women who provide psychological support, like Siham and Katrin did, fill a pivotal role. Siham and Katrin served as friendly, familiar faces who provided a safe space for women to process their experiences, and helped their female patients begin overcoming their trauma.
One CBW, Huda, worked in Baghdad and impacted the most change through home visits. She visited over 200 families in their homes. Women she spoke to would open up and share their stories with her; many discussed their experiences with abuse. Huda believed this honesty and reflection was the first step to their independence. She would guide them through their struggles, then empower them to take advantage of resources like the AMAR INVEST Centers. She encouraged these women to pursue independence in order to improve their self-confidence—her overarching goal with every patient.
Abeer, an AMAR CBW, also made it her priority to discuss mental health and gender-based violence with patients. She primarily worked with IDP women who had experienced conflict, conducting group sessions where IDPs could share their stories and find comfort in each other. She also created a targeted campaign in the camp to reach teenage girls, which discussed gender-based violence, and held a workshop last International Women’s Day on women’s rights and gender-based violence. She routinely gave her personal contact information to patients to call her in a mental health emergency. She made many IDP women feel as though they have a close relationship with someone they can trust. Abeer’s impact was felt throughout the camp in which she worked.
In Iraq today, more than half of the displaced population is female, and most are female heads of household with children to care for. Thanks to women like Sazgar, Shahd, Mijda, Dhalfaa, Siham, Katrin, Huda, and Abeer, as well as AMAR’s generous donors, AMAR’s programming can provide women in Iraq with support, education, healthcare, and an opportunity to heal.