When Hayfaa* first walked through the door of the women’s centre in Erbil, she was exhausted after years of violence – in her country and her marriage. She was 13 years old when her parents gave her to a cousin to be his wife. This husband later married a second woman. His visits became fewer. At some point, he stopped coming to visit Hayfaa and their four children in the tent at the Baharka refugee camp. However, he still did not want to let them go. In early 2022, Hayfaa made one last attempt – and went to EMMA.
For ten years, women and girls have been able to access psychosocial and legal support at our partner organisation in the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq. Vocational training and other educational courses pave their way to greater independence and a small income of their own. EMMA means “we” in Kurdish. The “we” that the activists are striving for is one of a free and peaceful society that guarantees equal participation for women.
Integrated support for refugee women and girls
Today, EMMA provides safe contact points for women in various centres around Erbil and Dohuk. Mobile teams travel to the large camps and host communities, where around one million internally displaced persons (IDP) still live. There are no functioning schools or hospitals in their villages and towns. And they have to avoid landmines laid by the Islamists in the so-called Islamic State (IS) or armed skirmishes between the Turkish army and the Kurdish PKK.
"Everyday life in the refugee shelters is stressful enough",
“Countless girls and women also still have to live with their unbearable experiences of flight, enslavement, and rape. And they are also stigmatised for being survivors of this violence.” So it is all the more important for EMMA’s social workers and psychologists to carry out their work. In many locations, they provide the only services that offer any support for the women and girls.
Comprehensive empowerment of women affected by violence, awareness-raising on the consequences of violence
In the centres run by the organisation, women can participate in one-to-one and group therapy, or family counselling. To gain financial independence, they can take literacy, English and computer courses in the bright rooms of the centres, or train to be tailors, bakers and beauticians.
Sexualised violence is part of everyday life for many women and girls, even after the defeat of the so-called Islamic State. Therefore, EMMA is working with professionals in public institutions to increase awareness of the causes and consequences of sexualised violence and the trauma-sensitive way to help survivors. At the political level, activists are working to ensure that existing laws are actually enforced. They run public campaigns to make the case for women’s rights.
Demanding and upholding women’s rights: for a self-determined life
Lawyers help mothers, wives and daughters assert the rights they are entitled to under the law. They represent their clients in court, fight to achieve divorces, and ensure that the women receive alimony payments for themselves and their children.
Hayfaa was one of these women who found legal assistance behind the brown door of the centre in Erbil. Together with a lawyer, she began her divorce process. Then, during her visits, she heard about the tailoring classes that EMMA offers. And the team at the organisation discovered Hayfaa’s skills. Today she runs sewing courses, helping other women to gain independence in their lives.
* Name changed
Published in memo 2023/2