WADI Projects

Nawa Center For Women in Distress

The first shelter for women in distress in Iraqi Kurdistan

The opening of Nawa Centre in Suleymaniah in January 1999 was a big step in the struggle for women's rights in Iraqi society. It was the first shelter for women in distress in that opened in Iraqi Kurdistan and the whole region. Women in Iraq face various threats from domestic violence to “honour killings”. Due to deep-seated social structures as well as legal provisions, women are in fact dependant on their male relatives throughout their lives. Nawa Centre offers means of protection and assistance to those women, that they cannot possibly find anywhere else in their society. Local women's organisations had struggled for more than two years to make the opening of the centre possible. The centre was finally built with the financial and administrative support of WADI, and in close co-operation between local women's organisations and Women against violence in Nazereth.

Saving Women's Lives

Already in the first 6 months of its work, Nawa Centre assisted 47 women. 29 of the women were successfully reintegrated into their families. To date, the centre has assisted more than 1000 women in Suleymaniah, Arbil and Dohuk governorates. The need for the women's shelter is indeed great, and the assistance provided to women in Nawa Centre is often a matter of life and death. As in other patriarchal societies, women in Iraqi Kurdistan are subjected to strict rules of control. Women do not have the status of independent persons in their society. Instead, they are considered the property of their fathers, uncles or bothers, and of their husbands, once they are married. This means that if women violate the wishes of their male relatives, they may be ex-communicated, repudiated and even murdered. Once a woman is repudiated by her husband and her family, she would often have no chance to survive, let alone to lead a decent life. In cases of divorce, a right saved to men only, the woman in often held responsible for the failure of the marriage. Sometimes her family would consider the divorce harmful to the honour of the family, in which case the woman will be threatened by “honour killing”. Iraqi law fails to give effective protection for women whose lives are in danger.

In this social and legal reality, the assistance offered to women by Nawa Centre is crucial. The centre's staffs include social workers, psychologists and medical assistants, who were recruited locally. The centre and its staff provide women accommodation, food, socio-psychological assistance and health care. The centre aims both to provide refuge to women who need it and to help them solve the problems that had driven them out of their homes. Often, the mediation of social workers in the centre can settle disputes between a woman and her family. Husbands and other family members are sometimes also thankful for the assistance in mediation and problem solving they receive from Nawa Centre's staff members. When women go back to their families after medication, Nawa Centre staff keeps a ‘follow up' program that supervises the developments after the woman's return to her home.

In other cases, women suffer severe psychological problems, following years of domestic violence and oppression. Nawa Centre provides socio-psychological help and therapy. The centre also operates literacy courses – as many girls are deprived of schooling, vocational training courses and awareness programs. Wadi's team offers legal advice for women at the centre, and organises talks on women's rights and gender specific issues. The centre also keeps an open line, to which women in need can call 24 hours a day. NAWA Centre is part of a network of organizations that work for women's rights and include WADI´s women centres and mobile teams, KHANZAD centre as well as with Kurdish women's organizations, and women shelters built after 2003, such as Lani Aram (Suleymaniah) and Centeri Penar (Chamachamal).

Nawa centre in 2006

It took the women's organization more than to years of struggle before Nawa Centre finally opened in 1999. In the beginning the centre evoked skeptical as well as hostile reactions. To speak openly about domestic violence against women and to treat it meant to break of a social taboo. By now the centre has built a good reputation and is better accepted in society. The centre, and problems it deals with, have also gained official acknowledgement of the regional authorities; in 2001 the centre was taken under the financial responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs. In 2003 another centre for women in distress was opened. In 2006 Nawa centre has moved into a bigger residence. Mrs. Diman Kamal Ahmad is now the head of a team of seven female staff members. Over 70 women have been assisted by NAWA Centre from January till August in 2006. Yet the demand from women in need is still larger than can be accommodated in the centers, as the threats for women's lives from their relative are still an everyday reality.

The cooperation between civil society organizations has been successful in Nawa center. The mobile teams of Wadi (link) continue to assist the centre in consultancy on legal and social issues, and in participating in the “follow up” program that supervises women who has returned to their homes. Beyond the crucial help and saving the lives of individual women, the activities of Nawa centre have been part of the effort to change the status of women in Iraqi society to equal citizens.


Please help us to support women in Iraq with your donation!

Donation account:

Postbank Frankfurt
Account 612 305 602
BLZ 500 100 60

For the future the opening of further Centers for Women in Distress in other parts of the newly liberated Iraq are planned.

Wadi Sub-Office Suleymaiah
March 2003

UPDATE: The NAWA Center For Women in Distress has been handed over to the government (Ministry of Social Affairs) as a successful project in 2006. Due to security reasons, for permanent operation it is recommendable to run such shelters under government auspices.

WADI maintains an ongoing partnership with NAWA.

WADI - Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation
Headquarter: Herborner Str. 62, 60439 Frankfurt/ M, Germany
Tel ++49-69-57002440, Fax: 57002444, Email:

WADI Branches in Iraq:
Sulaimanyah: Tel: 00964-770-1588173
Arbil Office: Tel: 061 -7600305
Homepage: www.wadinet.de