Focusing on long-term empowerment of women and the development of a democratic civil society in Iraq, WADI supports several independent women centers in Halabja and the regions of Hauraman and Garmyan. Under the Ba’ath-dictatorship, Iraqi women were discriminated against and excluded from social life, education and health care. The liberation of Iraq allowed local independent NGOs to form and operate. In a society where the roles of women are entirely domestic, there was no public sphere for women to meet and discuss their problems.
The independent women’s centers, supported by WADI, offer women for the first time a place for personal development and social self-organisation. In the centers, women have free access to education, vocational training, awareness courses, medical assistance, and psycho-social consultancy. During the period of the constitutional referendum and the election of 2005, gender specific courses about the Iraqi election system and politics were offered to the women. The first center opened in Halabja in 2004, followed by the opening of the Byara women centers in the Hauraman mountains in 2004 and Kifri women center in 2005.
Halabja Women Center
Halabja has 125,000 inhabitants and is located near the border with Iran. Throughout the 1980s its inhabitants were harshly repressed by Saddam’s regime. During the Anfal campaign against the Kurdish population the city was target of chemical attacks by the Iraqi army in 1988. From the early 1990s until 2003, the city was under the rule of the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, which imposed a Taliban-like despotic rule. The new rulers were hostile towards equality and democracy and deprived women of their basic rights, all of which they identified as the values of the enemy. WADI’s women’s center opened in 2004, following requests from the community.
The center is run by locally recruited women social workers. WADI´s mobile teams visit regularly. Victims of domestic violence get socio-psychological assistance and protection. The Halabja Women Center offers a diverse programme comprising literacy courses, vocational training and awareness courses. Women may borrow books, newspapers and magazines from the library. Social events, such as parties or picnics, are regularly organized by the women. The mobile team provides an awareness programme against FGM, discussing its harm for girls and women. Some women also visit the center for social opportunities.
Due to growing numbers of women visiting the center and attending its programme and activities, the center had to search for another location which can accommodate the demand. In spring 2007, the center moved to a new two-story building in the town. In December 2007 the first women’s café, supported by WADI, opened in the center, as an alternative to the men-only coffee and tea places in the region. The Halabja Women Café gives women the possibility to enjoy leisure and to meet in a public place. In 2008, the Halabja women center will be financed by WADI with support by Roselo foundation and ZIWAR (Kurdish women organization). The cafeteria was supported by Stiftung Umverteilen.
In spring 2013, the Halabja Women Center together with Radio Denge Nwe founded the independent local NGO Halabja Nwe and is now getting some support from the Kurdish Regional Government. Visit Halabja Nwe on Facebook.
Byara Women Center (Hauraman Region)
Like Halabja, the Hauraman region has known war, massacres and then Islamist control in the past 20 years. In the late 1980s, Hauraman was heavily attacked in the Anfal campaign. After the gas attacks on nearby Halabja, thousands of civilians were killed or deported and villages were razed. The entire region was mined and declared as a no-go military area. In 1991, Kurds liberated themselves from the Ba’ath dictatorship and began to rebuild their region. But Hauraman and Halabja area soon went under the control of Islamists.
When WADI opened Byara’s women center in 2004, it offered the first place for women to learn and develop their skills. The center runs a programme similar to that of Halabja women center, but also focuses on human rights training. In spring 2006, the center moved to a bigger building in Byara in order to accommodate the growing demand from the women of Byara. It offers a small library which is a popular meeting point.
Kifri Women Center (Garmyan Region)
Garmyan region is bordering the old Green Line. It is one of the poorest areas of northern Iraq. This rural area was massively destroyed by the Iraqi army during the Anfal campaign. Many men in the region were killed or deported to camps in central and southern Iraq. Thousands of women and children were killed or deported. After the liberation in 1991, Anfal widows and a few surviving men came back to rebuild their villages. In the past, WADI conducted several studies about Anfal widows and held a large assistance programme for women and children.
Today, WADI’s mobile teams provide women and children with medical and socio-psychological assistance. In cooperation with the local women’s organization Komalla Afretan, WADI opened a library for women and girls in the city of Kifri in 1995. At that time, Kifri was surrounded by the Iraqi army from three sides. The library was the first meeting place for Kifri´s women. Up to 15 women visited the library every day to meet, socialize and organize themselves. Lectures and conferences about gender specific subjects were regularly organized by a local board of women.
In 2005, WADI opened Kifri’s women’s center in cooperation with local women’s organizations. The center offers a gender specific programme of literacy courses and vocational training, similar to those in Halabja and Byara women’s centers. Since December 2005, women also have the possibility to attend English courses. The center’s programme is complimented by the work of the mobile teams in the region and by first-aid courses open to men and women in Garmyan’s villages. Garmyan’s infrastructure and health system are very poor. Most isolated villages have no access to health care. The mobile teams’ assistance is extremely important in this region. WADI Garmyan is one of the most active and important pillars of WADI´s campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) in northern Iraq.
In 2007, WADI started to support awareness courses and professional training in Smut (Garmyan). Smut had been a collective town built by Ba’ath government after destroying many of Garmyan´s villages during the Anfal campaign. Therefore, Anfal widows and woman-led families make a large portion of Smut´s population. The women are invited to participate in literacy courses, professional trainings or seminars about reproductive health.