We support women and girls in war and crisis zones
13. February 2023 - Interview

New director for Regional Office in northern Iraq: "Every experience of a survivor is important."

This year, Wedad Ibrahim became the Director of the Regional Office in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq. She is herself a survivor of sexualised violence and before joining medica mondiale she had gained experience in project work and cooperation with other organisations, so she will know be putting this knowledge and experience into practice in northern Iraq.

Eine Frau steht auf einem Balkon und lächelt in die Kamera.
Wedad Ibrahim is the new director for Regional Office in northern Iraq.

The autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) in northern Iraq is a region which unfortunately has not found peace yet. Armed conflicts and political instability are affecting the lives of the people there, especially for women and girls. Refugees from Syria and inside Iraq – and now those fleeing from Iran, too – face strong threats of sexualised violence.

Within this atmosphere the team from medica mondiale have been working together with local women’s rights organisations for many years. And this year Wedad Ibrahim has joined the Regional Office in KRI. The 39-year-old feminist is experienced in working together with relief agencies and NGOs, and brings with her a range of experiences from feminist projects in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan.

Wedad, what is your connection to feminist issues?

Wedad Ibrahim: One experience that shaped me was attending a feminist school in Egypt for four years. Afternoon or day courses there introduced us to feminist literature, films and questions, and I could discuss women’s rights with other young women. This brought together a range of different viewpoints. I followed up on this concept in my own work and helped set up four feminist schools in Jordan. These are great informal environments to learn how to make your own decisions and discover the connections between your own daily life and the global world.

Why did you decide to work for medica mondiale?

Wedad Ibrahim: As a feminist organisation, medica mondiale has values which match mine. Further, in my previous work in Libya there were many similarities to the situation in KRI, for example the security situation. And I felt that I was ready to take on a leadership position.

And was there another reason?

Wedad Ibrahim: I am also a survivor of sexualised violence, so the issues are of particular importance to me. I have been on a journey in my life which has helped me to heal. On this journey I experienced how survivors manage to overcome feelings of helplessness and begin to feel strong – and to empower each other. For me that was an important transformation from helpless child to proud woman.

How is this experience reflected in your work?

Wedad Ibrahim: Women are able to help women, survivors are able to help survivors. They can recover from their experiences and become the women they truly are. That is something I believe in and something I want to promote. After all, I was able to decide to be happy – with my past. So other women can do that, too. We can overcome the trauma. At the same time, I want to spread the knowledge of why this violence occurs.

What are your expectations for your work in KRI?

Wedad Ibrahim: A lot: I want to work with survivors of a monstrous system. Here I am referring to the women who have been raped, abused and tortured by members of the so-called Islamic State. For me that is the ‘monster level’. Every experience of a survivor is important. I can learn a lot from them.

In such a difficult working environment, how do you take care of yourself?

Wedad Ibrahim: A trauma brings with it the risk of re-traumatisation. I have learnt how to look after myself to avoid this: accepting the help of colleagues and friends, asking for help, benefitting from support within my family – and if the point comes where all this is not sufficient, then by going to therapy. Another important factor for me is having at least one completely free day in the week when I only have to deal with myself – not with my son, and not with my work. Then I can go out, go shopping, relax or watch a film. This is crucially important.