Please take a moment to imagine this
Startled, you are awoken. It is still dark outside, but there is banging on your door. Your neighbour, with panic in her eyes, says you must escape. Now. There is no time to pack. You wake your children. They are confused; there is no time for questions. Even if there was, their bewilderment – and fear – matches your own. You quickly grab a few articles of clothing, some water, and join the crowd outside. That night is the last time you see your home.
On August 3, 2014, the Sinjar region in northern Iraq was overrun as tens of thousands of Yezidi men, women, and children were forced to flee from the impending Daesh – the so-called Islamic State – who view the religious minority community as heretics: dangerous and disposable. The women are raped. The children are abducted. The men are killed. Amidst the chaos, some manage to escape. Women like Seve, who after a gruelling and sleepless journey, reaches Khanke, a small town in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRI) with her six children. She and her family have escaped imminent danger; however, they now face a different battle: poverty and hunger.
Our work in the KRI
Our work with Syrian and Yezeidi women
At Women for Women International, we work with women like Seve to give them the support to regather their strength and the tools to slowly rebuild their lives. Mandana Hendessi, our regional director for Europe, Middle East and Asia, captures the spirit of the women survivors, “They are not victims, they are entrepreneurs.”
Our programme has four key objectives: for women to earn and save money, to develop health and well-being, to influence decisions in their homes and communities and to create and connect to networks for support. We aim to bring women together who, although in the same community, may have never met and with the support of trained social workers offer an outlet for recovery from the traumas they have experienced.
By supporting refugee women in earning an income, we give them the means to provide for their themselves and their families. Our programme teaches them about their health, their rights, and their potential to become self-sufficient. We involve men in the conversation – and engage the entire community in creating a dialogue to change attitudes around discrimination and sexual violence. We believe that when you work within a community setting you can change the gender-power balance.
Hope for the future
Knowing their rights
Two years have passed since the genocide on the Yezidi community. Women like Kabira have learned about their rights, "I now know when you are sitting in a taxi, for example, and the taxi driver starts to make suggestions to you about wanting to do this or that to you or trying to harass you sexually. You now know that this is not normal behaviour, this is gender-based violence," Kabira says. "So you now know how to deal with that and how to complain and where to go to complain about it, where to get to support."
See below for related features
Katie shares her experience in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
Special insight from Ghulam Rabi, a men's engagement programme graduate from Afghanistan.
Brita Fernandez Schmidt shares her reflections on the importance of economic empowerment in Kosovo.