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Intensifying Activities: Women Centers in Halabja, Hauraman and Garmyan Area

In Detail :

Activities of the Halabja Women Center in the 2. Half of 2007

The women of the Halabja and Hauraman regions in northern Iraq have lived under particularly oppressive conditions. Both regions suffered from the Baathist rule and after 1991, when northern Iraq became de facto autonomous, Islamic fundamentalist groups took control over the areas Halabja and Hauraman, located close to the Iranian border. In April 2003, after the liberation of Iraq, WADI started assistance and education programs for women and children in these areas. 

Garmyan region is bordering the old Green Line. It also belongs to the poorest areas of northern Iraq. This rural area was massively destroyed by the Iraqi army during the Anfal campaign. A big part of men in the region were killed or deported to camps in central and southern Iraq. Villages were destroyed to the ground and the region was mined. Thousands of women and children were killed or deported. After the liberation in 1991, Anfal widows and a few surviving men came back to rebuild their villages. In the past, WADI conducted several studies about Anfal widows and held a large assistance program for women and children. Today, WADI's mobile teams provide women and children with medical and socio-psychological assistance.

Halabja Women Center

The Halabja Women Center

The inhabitants of Halabja suffered particular hardships. The military campaigns of the Iraqi army in the late 1980s were extremly harsh in this city, as Saddam Hussein took it to be the cradle of Anti-Baathist resistance. Halabja was within the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq war that was still fought at the time. The city was targeted by the Iraqi army on 16th -18th of March 1988. The attack included bombardment of the city, using poison gas, massacre and expulsion of its population. 8000 civilians were killed in this attack and thousands have died since then due to the long-term effects of the poison gas. The city was destroyed to the ground and the area was closed by the Iraqi army. The survivors and refugees fled either to Iran or h the mountains around the city. The Iraqi army forced those refugees of Halabja that couldn’t hide in the mountains to settle in a refugee town under military control.

After the withdrawal of the Iraqi authorities from northern Iraq in 1991, people from Halabja returned to their ruined city. Soon however, the Halabja and Hauraman regions were occupied by Ansar al-Islam, an Islamic fundamentalist group that imposed strict religious rule on the local population. Women were deprived of all rights including education and were generally forced to stay at home. When the region was liberated in 2003, Wadi began a number of programs supporting the women in Halabja.

Literacy course in Halabja

Wadi’s women’s center in Halabja opened in 2004 following requests from the community. It was supported by grants from USAID/OTI. The center is a unique public space reserved for women in a place where they are usually kept away from the public sphere. It is run by locally recruited women social workers and regularly visited by WADI´s mobile teams. Victims of domestic violence get socio-psychological assistance and protection. 

The center offers both vocational training - such as sewing, hairdresser training, handcraft and computer training - and awareness courses, i.e. courses about health care, gender-related violence and human rights. The center also offers literacy courses since the illiteracy rate among women in northern Iraq is still very high. In 2006 about 30 women passed the state exam after learning at the women center’s course. Passing this test enables the women to enlist officially in secondary school classes, if they want to continue learning. According to demands of the women, English courses will be offered, too.

Sewing course

Halabja’s women center also offers lectures and workshops, dealing with human rights and social problems like forced marriage, violence, honour killings and female genital mutilation (FGM)
The mobile team provides an awareness program against FGM, discussing its potential harm for girls and women.  A female lawyer can be consulted at the center by women in distress. 

In the center's library, women can find manuals about health care and awareness. Women can borrow books, newspapers and magazines from the library. 

Social events, such as parties or picnics, are regularly organized by the women. The center has also organized a monthly tea party. Some women visit the center especially for the social opportunities. In 2006, the center moved into a bigger house, which had become necessary regarding the large numbers of women that wished to attend the courses and to use the center’s services.

In 2007, the women built up a café on the rooftop of the center’s building.  It is the first and only café for women in Halabja. In fact, it is one of the first special coffee shops for women and girls in the whole Kurdistan region and even in the whole of Iraq. Women meet there, drink tea and discuss their problems and daily affairs. The place is also used for awareness lectures and seminars about health, gender-related problems and human rights. Additionally it is a place, where local artists, poets or even musicians may present themselves - in a 'womens only' location. This is unique in the region.

Halabja women center is now financed with support of Green Cross.

Byara Women Center

Women's library in Tawela, Hauraman

Hauraman is a disadvantaged border region in Iraqi-Kurdistan. In the past 20 years it has seen oppression, war, massacres and Islamist control. Hauraman suffered severely from the Anfal-Campaign. In 1988, the Iraqi Army destroyed nearly all the villages and towns of this region, killed thousands of the inhabitants, while the remaining population was forced to resettle in so called “collective towns”. The Hauraman area was closed by the military and mined.

In 1991 the Kurdish area of northern Iraq gained de facto autonomy and self-rule. While parts of Iraqi Kurdistan were rebuilt and began to develop, the Hauraman area was soon overtaken by the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam that established its Taliban-like control in this border area. This group used force and terror against the inhabitants of the region, especially depriving women from their freedoms.

English language course in Byara women center

In 2003, Ansar al-Islam was pushed out of Hauraman as the result of a joined American-Kurdish military campaign. 

In the summer of 2003, a number of projects started to assist and empower the women in Hauraman. WADI, supported by OTI/ USAID, offered training and literacy courses. Women centers were opened by WADI in Byara and Tawela in April 2004, operating similar to the women center in Halabja and working in close cooperation with it (meanwhile, the Tawela center lies under the auspices of the government). The centers are the result of a long struggle fought by local women. They should be considered as important places for the participation of women in the democratic reconstruction of northern Iraq.

While the Byara women center is used by women of all ages, the number of young women is striking. This group prefers especially computer and English courses. According to their needs, the center offers different types of courses to the women in a program closely related to the activities of Halabja women center. 

Computer course in Byara

The center runs a program similar to that of Halabja, but is also focusing on human rights training. The Byara center offers medical, legal and psychological assistance which is provided by WADI’s mobile teams that visit the center once a week. Thanks to the mobile teams the women can get medical care and may consult a social worker or a lawyer in case they need. They might be able to help the women when confronted with domestic violence, forced marriage and divorce, or when threatened by honour crimes. Concerning health issues, the center offer awareness and information lectures, with special focus on women’s issues such as contraception, pregnancy and female genital mutilation

In spring 2006, the center moved to a bigger building in order to accommodate the growing demand from the women of Byara. The Byara women center ist supported by the Roselo Foundation and ZIWAR.

Kifri Women Center

In 2005 WADI opened Kifri’s women center in cooperation with local women's organizations. The Kifri women center is supported by Women’s World Day of Prayer Austria. The center offers a gender specific program of literacy courses and vocational training, similar to those in Halabja and Byara women centers. Since December 2005, women also have the possibility to attend English courses. 

Kifri barber course

The center’s program is complimented by the work of the mobile teams in the region and by first-aid courses open to men and women in Garmyan's villages.

Garmyan's infrastructure and health system are very poor. Most isolated villages have no access to health care. The mobile teams' assistance is extremely important in this region. 

WADI Garmyan is one of the most active and most important pillars of WADI´s campaign against female genital mutilation  in northern Iraq.

Smut Training Courses

In 2007, Wadi started to support awareness courses and professional training in Smut (Garmyan). 

Computer course in Smut

Smut had been a collective town with about 50,000 inhabitants, built by Ba’ath government after destroying many of Garmyan´s villages during the Anfal campaign. Therefore, Anfal widows and woman-led families make a large portion of Smut´s population. These women cannot return, either because their villages are still mined or because their former neighborhood has turned hostile to them due to ethnic or religious tensions. For some time now, even more refugees, most of them Arabs, are arriving.

In Smut, the situation of women is very tense and there have been no women's projects at all. Recently, a growing number of women came up demanding some help and support from the outside.

Wadi now offers literacy courses, English courses, professional trainings and seminars about reproductive health. The courses are held in a rented location. 

Kifri women center and Smut training courses are financed with the support of Weltgebetstag der Frauen Deutschland.

WADI - Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation
Headquarter: Herborner Str. 62, 60439 Frankfurt/ M, Germany
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WADI Branches in Iraq:
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Arbil Office: Tel: 061 -7600305
Homepage: www.wadinet.de