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A Positive Intervention in a Conflict Ridden Country: Iraq » Women's Courage

A Positive Intervention in a Conflict Ridden Country: Iraq

February 24th, 2012 by eliana Leave a reply »

I mentioned this briefly in class, but this week’s readings were particularly difficult for me as we talked about women in war and refugee situations.  The reason it was so tough for me was because I could see no solution or protection for women aside from long term, insitutional or cultural shifts. But then, in class, Ben mentioned a thing he does when things get too be a little too saddening, look for positive interventions. So I decided to follow his advice and started by looking on a site he recommended called Insight on Conflict. [1] Seeing as I’m focusing on the Arab and Muslim world and those worlds are full of conflicts, it wasn’t too difficult to find a country to zero in on and look for positive interventions there. I decided to examine Iraq, since it was a country I had long been interested in blogging on, and which is fraught with conflict and challenges as the United States pulls troops out of the country.

Searching under gender on the Insight on Conflict site, I found just five organizations in Iraq, which is actually not too bad. But, as I was researching two of the organizations which the site recommended, I ended up running across another organization which caught my eye. Unlike the countrywide interventions I talked about in Tunisia, this group, called Al Mustaqbal Women’s Center, is just a small organization in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. What drew my attention to the organization was, first and foremost, the name of the group, Al Mustaqbal, which means The Future in Arabic. Something about the name just seemed very beautiful and promising to me. I was then drawn to the fact that the group is trying to educate on violence against women, a topic which has been at the center of our class the past few weeks.

Founded by a woman attorney named, Zainab Sadik Jaafar, Al Mustaqbal has launched a public education campaign which denounces violence against women. They also held symposiums to bring these issues not just to light, but into an open forum where they could be freely discussed. They also tried to brainstorm solutions and the underlying causes of violence against women in Iraqi society. In doing so, they were able to diminish fears that people felt about the local militia group called the Mahdi Army. [3]

The organization also raised money to fund the making of a documentary called “Be Tender with Flasks” which features women’s activists and Islamic leaders calling for the end of violence against women and “honor killings”. [4] Honor killings are ones in which a family kills a daughter for some sort of transgression, a premarital relationship, rape, and other things which supposedly bring dishonor to the family. The only way these families see to regain that honor, is to kill the daughter. This documentary, which appeared on local and regional satalittle channels, also really emphasized that the teachings of Islam promote peace and the “special status of women in society”. [3]

It was fascinating to read about this group, which one writer describes as having combined the non-profit model with innovation. That is to say, women are leveraging their education to lower violence and teach about recovery in their local area of residence. [5] Particularly in Iraq, I think it’s great this is a community run center which focuses on just one area of the country because Iraq is so divided. In looking at the country and the history of its formation, it is very fractured and often ruled over by tribal or sectarian groups rather than powerful local governments. So, in Iraq, it makes sense to have more local and specific organizations rather than countrywide interventions which are unlikely to be persuasive to people who live by local rule.

By doing a Google search of the group, I was also excited and fascinated to see that a group called the Open Society Foundations, a group which is dedicated to “building vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens”, had given a grant to Al Mustaqbal Women’s Center. The grant, given in 2010 was worth $49,800, a decent sum of money for a local community center, which makes me think that this organization has to be making an impact to merit such an award. [2]

Thus far, Al Mustaqbal Women’s Center has made significant gains in raising awareness about violence against women. It is by no means an end in itself, but it seems like a very good start to eradicating a practice which is so widespread in Iraq and often worsened by the tensions created by conflict in the county.

Works Cited

[1] Insight on Conflict: http://www.insightonconflict.org/
[2]Open Society Foundations: http://www.soros.org/initiatives/women/focus_areas/grantees/amcw_2010
[3] http://www.usip.org/events/women-fighting-peace-in-iraq
[4] http://web.peaceops.com/archives/1885#more-1885
[5] Female Entrepreneurship in Iraq: http://www.pitapolicy.com/?p=462



  1. nicole says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post because, like you, I did have a difficult time dealing with information regarding the treatment of women in conflict situations. I think it’s great that a local woman founded the organization. I’m interested in whether or not many men of the community attended the symposiums and participated in brainstorming solutions and the underlying causes of violence against women? Has there been any backlash against this organization at all? I think it’s amazing that they were able to produce a documentary to raise awareness, especially on an issue that plagues many Muslim women. I actually watched a movie a couple years ago called “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” in which an Iranian woman is accused of infidelity, persecuted by her husband and the men of her village under Muslim law, and sentenced to suffer death from stoning. While the stoning is very difficult to watch, I would suggest you watch the rest of the film as it echoes many of the themes you’re discussing in your blog.

  2. Deepa says:

    I actually watched a Bollywood movie that depicted the work of a Muslim female attorney very similar to Zainab Sadik Jaafar. Based on this, I wonder if you know how such organizations are depicted in Arabic culture. Is domestic violence present in movies? Is it condoned or just accepted as a part of life? Local cinema might be a good indicator of any cultural shifts that such organizations are able to create.

  3. L says:

    I would be interested in seeing what aspects of the program are particularly comforting to women. Education as an intervention is always a good start but since the target population is women it seems a bit surprising that they would feel safer against the militia. Unless they were learning about legal protection, there doesn’t seem to be an indication that the men among the population would be less likely to perpetrate violent crimes. I love the aspect of the women’s community center though; having a resource that allows for community building among the women is really awesome.

  4. fiona says:

    I agree, some of the readings and topics we discuss can be disheartening, to say the least. Burn-out is a huge problem for a lot of people who work in the non-profit sector. It really helps to hear about the good deeds of average people around the world. I personally find it much more uplifting to hear about a group across the world in a culture totally different from mine striving for the same ideals, than a government or other group making a large grant. Thanks for this encouraging post!

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