Sara: A woman from my homeland

Sara, refugee in Iraq

Sara’s third child wasn’t even 40 days when her husband, family’s only breadwinner, was killd by criminal militias in Baghdad.

I met her when I was volunteering, assisting displaced families in Baghdad. She had a baby in her lap, whom I thought was her brother. It would never have occurred to me that it was her third child. Her innocence, small size and paleness made me guess that her age was no more than 20. I approached her and asked about her condition. Her name was Sara, she was 18 years old and had three kids. She married when she was 13. She found no other way to survive after her father had died in an explosion in 2003, under the US occupation, and her mother also passed away some time after that. She had moved to her elder sister’s and to get rid of the financial burden that she was, her sister encouraged her to marry her cousin, who was 19.

“Never did I attend school,” Sara told me with frozen feelings and dry eyes. “I’m illiterate. My husband was a manual worker who earned daily wages. He was skillful in his work. I had two children. While I was visiting my relatives in Baghdad, I went into labour with my third child. My husband could not come to that Shiite area because he belonged to a different religious sect. I stayed with my relatives for nearly two weeks. Then, when my husband tried to come to take me back something must have happened, I lost contact with him. I looked for him for days until I found his body in the fridge of the Forensic Medicine Office. My baby wasn’t even 40 days old when I buried my husband.”

Her husband was killed by criminal militias who are still looking for preys in Baghdad to murder and mutilate. That is part of the sectarian violence currently taking place in Iraq.

Continue reading

There is No Honour in Crime

Today is the first day I return to office after both an intensive and intense week spent with 13 brave, resourceful and strong-willed women rights activists from Jordan and Iraq. They came here to exchange experiences on issues related to violence against women, among each other, as well as with other organisations, women rights activists and some governmental agencies in Sweden.

A week full of discussions, smiles, inspiration, positive energy and determination but also the unavoidable share of sad stories, tears, frustrations and disappointments.

One of the visits that left a strong impression on all of us was our visit to the “National association against honour related violence”.  Maybe we were touched by the big black and white photos of Pela and Fadime, the most famous victims of honour-related crimes in Sweden, or maybe it was the other painful stories we heard from Sara Mohammad, the founder of the organisation, about the scores of other victims, both men and women, whose lives were brutally interrupted by members of their families for daring to go their own way, or maybe it was our common conviction that we need to raise more awareness about this particular type of violence, in order not to lose more lives.

Hala Abu Taha, One of the exchange participants is a volunteer from No Honour in Crime Network, which focuses on documenting the stories of the victims and to create a debate in society and raise awareness about the concept of honour. It was very interesting to follow the discussions among the participants and Sara about the definition of “honour-related violence” here in Sweden versus its definition in Jordan and Iraq. In most countries in the Middle East region, there is little talk about “honour-related violence”, for example when families control the lives of their sons and daughters, or the psychological, as well as the physical pressure they are subjected when choosing an education or a partner. This is more or less the norm in most Middle Eastern societies. According to some of the participants, it is more realistic to speak about “honour killings”, when violence goes so far that a woman or man is killed by family members.

One of the phrases that Sara said and that kept ringing in my ears long after we left the office was: “If we were to commemorate all victims of honour-related crimes here in Sweden, then we would be doing this each and every day of the year!”

So what are we waiting for?!

Not just another week

Yanar Mohammed and Eva Abu Halaweh

Women’s rights activists Yanar Mohammed (Iraq) and Eva Abu Halaweh (Jordan) visisted Sweden this week. Here discussing violence against women during a panel in the Swedish parliament. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Karin Råghall

Another week at work has passed. It’s just that it was not “just another week”.

It was a week when I got to meet activists from South Sudan, Georgia, DR Congo, Liberia, Colombia, Iraq and Jordan – here in Stockholm. I guess I don’t need to say that this doesn’t happen every week.

The activists were here for different reasons. Some participated in the International Training Programme (ITP) on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Others were part of a delegation of women from Jordan and Iraq who came to Sweden to exchange experiences and knowledge about how to combat violence against women.

I only met our guests shortly. But it was enough for me to start thinking about how fantastic it is to meet people from different parts of the world; who all have a vision of a world where people conceived as “women” are not seen as second class citizens.

Continue reading

No future? – The struggle to support women survivors of violence in Iraqi Kurdistan

A beautiful spring day in Iraqi Kurdistan, Runak Faraj, chairwoman of Women’s Media and Education Centre (WMEC), one of Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organizations in Iraq, accompany me and my colleagues Bayan and Hadeel to the new government shelter in Suleimania.

View over Suleimania

View over Suleimania

In 2011, Iraqi Kurdistan adopted a domestic violence law that prohibits all forms of gender-based violence. According to the law, the Kurdistan Regional Government is responsible for to “provide shelter to the victims of domestic violence”. There is one government shelter in each governorate in Iraqi Kurdistan, three in total. The shelter in Suleimania has recently been moved to new premises at a secret location.

Continue reading

Syrian refugee women in Domiz camp struggling for their rights in Iraqi Kurdistan

A very early Sunday morning just before Christmas, I left Erbil by car with Abdulrahman Ali from Warvin foundation for women issues, one of Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organizations in Iraq. We were heading to Domiz refugee camp to meet with the Syrian refugee women who Warvin have trained and worked with during the year to hear about their situation and activism.

While it had been below zero in Erbil, we did not see the snow until we reached the mountains near Dohuk. Before continuing to Domiz camp, we had breakfast and got warmed up in at a café surrounded by the beautiful snowy mountains.

Later in the morning, we arrived in Domiz camp. It was very cold and muddy. Warvin’s local staff in Dohuk showed us the camp. Domiz camp, which was the first refugee camp set up in April 2012 in Iraqi Kurdistan to host Syrian refugees, is located about 20 km from the city of Dohuk and about 60 km from the Syrian border. Domiz refugee camp is the biggest refugee camp for Syrian refugees in Iraq with a population of around 60,000 people. About 250,000 Syrian refugees are now living in exile in Iraq.

One of the main crossroads in Domiz camp

One of the main crossroads in Domiz camp

Continue reading

Projektplanering hos Amez i Halabja

Vi står i trädgården och tittar bort över bergen. På andra sidan ligger Iran. En natt för mer än 24 år sedan begav sig Awár och Dilan Daleni iväg från sin stad och tog sig över bergen för att börja ett nytt liv någon annanstans. Det var början på en lång och besvärlig resa men alternativet att stanna fanns inte då. Idag är de tillbaka och driver sedan 2007 kvinnoorganisationen Amez i Halabja.

Amez betyder ungefär omfamning och det är vad organisationen gör. Den är öppen för alla kvinnor i Halabja som vill komma till centret och ta del av deras aktiviteter. Det kommer kvinnor från alla grupper i samhället och från olika religiösa och etniska grupper och även personalen inbjuder till den omfamningen då de representerar helt olika grupper ur den kvinnliga befolkningen. Det pratas mycket om flickor och Emelia och jag blir lite förvirrade – är det inte en kvinnoorganisation? Jodå, men på kurdiska finns två ord som kan betyda kvinna och det ena har ett av de stora politiska partierna lagt beslag på. Följaktligen tog då det andra större partier beslag på det andra ordet för kvinna. För att visa på sitt politiska oberoende och inte bli förknippade med något av de politiska partierna har Amez valt att säga flickor vilket inte alls betyder att de endast vänder sig till just flickor.   De berättar stolt om en 64 årigkvinna som deltog i sportgruppen.

Continue reading