Skip to comments.Private organizations helping Iraqi women
Posted on 11/20/2009 3:40:32 PM PST by SandRat
KIRKUK The use of non-governmental organizations to champion social issues is often a successful method of combating social and cultural woes.
Some examples include anti-smoking and litter campaigns in the United States.
While the government of Kirkuk continues to develop, private citizens are encouraged to take on social challenges.
The role of women in Iraq, and their contributions to Kirkuk, was the subject of a conference Nov. 19 at the Kirkuk Government Building. Non-Governmental Organizations representing women's issues attended the conference, which included groups who addressed issues ranging from illiteracy, domestic violence, small business development and civil rights awareness.
"Illiteracy is the main cause of violence in families," said Fawzeyah Anwar Ali, the director of Widows and Orphans Organization, an NGO that is chartered to fight illiteracy among women in Hawijah, a sub-district of Kirkuk province.
Fawzeyah has been working with widows and orphans for more than 18 months and is working with the provincial government to establish a literacy center in the urban capitol city of Hawijah. The center, she believes, could conceivably train up to 400 women to develop basic literacy skills in less than 240 days.
"I will work with the Director General of Education to conduct classes at Hawijah Institute Hall and the Education Hall to help women read better," said Fawzeyah. The program aims to take the students through four advancing stages, each 60 days in length. Throughout the course, she is also coordinating for lawyers to work pro bono to instruct the women on basic civil rights.
While ambitious, the program is representative of the other groups, each with a planned and resourced syllabus of instruction to educate women on concerns identified through a province-wide survey designed to isolate the greatest challenges faced by women in Kirkuk.
The survey, coordinated by Soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division in cooperation with the Kirkuk Provincial Reconstruction Team, identified unemployment as the most pressing economic problem faced by women in Kirkuk, and unawareness of women's rights as the biggest social concern.
"While illiteracy is not high on the list of biggest concerns, it is a common denominator," said Capt. Kimi Damassia, a liaison between the 2nd BCT, 1st Cav. and the PRT.
Within Kirkuk, Hawijah has the distinction of having the highest illiteracy rate among women, nearly 35 percent, according to the survey.
"There is a connection between illiteracy and violence in the families," said Fawzeyah. "Some people must leave school early to work because they are poor and have not learned to read yet. Then they never learn and stay poor. Being poor makes much stress and anger. Women need to understand their rights."
Unemployment among women in the province was listed as the greatest economic concern, agreed to by nearly 72-percent of the respondents, which is tied directly to illiteracy as well. Unemployment across Kirkuk is estimated at nearly 28-percent by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. With fewer than five percent of women in Hawijah holding a university education, the opportunities for more than menial labor are scarce.
Other organizations, like the al Atyaf Feminist Organization and the Sara Center for Women Training and Rehabilitation, offer unique job opportunities to women seeking employment. Al Atyaf conducts workshops to instruct women on how to start up and manage small businessesa growing demographic in the provinceand the Sara Center offers cooperative business management training through a local vocational center. At the end of the training course, women are guaranteed jobs at the Ranko Company, a private food and beverage company. Ranko agrees to pay half of the salaries for up to two years if the Sara Center pays the other half.
This conference was one of several planned for the next few months aimed at addressing women's issues in Kirkuk.
"We must work together," explained Fawzeyah. "If we work together, we can make it better."