In Iraq, Refugee Crisis Worsens as Displaced Syrian and Yezidi Women’s Needs Are Not Addressed

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In Iraq, Refugee Crisis Worsens as Displaced Syrian and Yezidi Women’s Needs Are Not Addressed, Says Women for Women International

Organization supports critical psychosocial services and business training to help women recover from trauma and provide for families in camps and host communities.

June 20, 2016, Washington, D.C. – Displaced Syrian and Yezidi women in northern Iraq are facing deepening crises and lack of critical support that threaten their basic security, economic well-being, and survival, says Women for Women International (WfWI) on World Refugee Day. Working with at-risk women in the region, WfWI urges immediate investment in services that target women and families to help them stabilize and begin to rebuild their lives.

“The situation on the ground is quickly becoming desperate for many Syrian and Yezidi women living in camps and host communities,” says Mandana Hendessi OBE, WfWI Country Director for Iraq. “Many women tell us their families are starving, they have no way to earn money, they are not safe, and they are struggling each day with the debilitating effects of extreme trauma. We are trying to help them address both their immediate and long-term needs.”

Globally, more than 80 percent of refugees are women and children, and 80 percent of refugees live in developing countries like Iraq that have limited resources to assist them. In Iraq, the scale of the challenges is growing. With the third largest internally displaced population in the world, Iraq expects the total number of refugee and displaced people to soar to 4.1 million by the end of the year. In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) where WfWI works, the region’s population has increased nearly 28 percent in 5 years, placing unsustainable strains on the resources of a host community that has extended its hand to those seeking refuge.

The sudden and prolonged influx of refugee and displaced populations to the KRI has strained the local economy and left many women living in extreme fear and highly precarious situations. Rising unemployment and soaring living costs are particularly affecting Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDPs in host communities. More than 50,000 people -or one-third of households- cannot afford food, water, fuel and clothing. Worryingly, 60 percent of Syrian refugees living outside of camps are entirely dependent on savings, and may resort to unsustainable coping strategies such as arranging the marriages of their daughters for a bride price.

Syrian and Yezidi women and girls also face daily threats of sexual harassment, assault, and violence within their families, camps, and host communities. UN Women found that over 80 percent of refugees live in daily fear of abuse, and over two-thirds know someone who has been abused. Women and girls report feeling unsafe in their own homes, with a significant increase in domestic violence, early and forced marriage, and temporary marriages, particularly in households where male relatives are unemployed and suffering from displacement-related stress. Fear and insecurity restrict women’s and girls’ ability to attend school, or even leave their homes. WfWI has also heard reports of women who have turned to extreme methods of self-harm.

“Most of the refugee and displaced women we meet are deeply traumatized by their experiences of war and in urgent need of psychosocial care services,” says Hendessi. “They cannot move forward, and their children cannot move forward without critical mental health support to help them cope with the trauma, stress, and fear.”

In response to this crisis, Women for Women International is working with local organizations in the KRI to reach the most vulnerable women in need of support, including those suffering severe emotional trauma, at high risk of violence, and living in extreme poverty. Over the next three years, WfWI will provide psychosocial support services, and life and business skills training to 3,000 Syrian and Yezidi women in the KRI to help them overcome trauma and find the resources needed to rebuild their lives.

“Syria and Iraq are the epicenter of today’s refugee crisis. Women for Women International was founded specifically to support those women survivors of war who are most in need,” says Jennifer L. Windsor, CEO of WfWI. “Our ability to partner with local organizations operating in KRI to support Syrian and Yezidi women is mission-critical. This work is made possible because women around the world know that investing in women makes a difference.”

“This project has given me hope and the will to go on – to improve my life,” says Kabira Habash, a 38-year-old Syrian woman who lost everything when she fled to the KRI and is now participating in trainings supported by WfWI. “I am learning about women’s rights, health and well-being and how to prevent violence against women and soon I will be learning how to do market assessment and start my own business…We hope that we can return to where we lived before…We want to rebuild our lives and our country.”

In addition, WfWI is working to engage men in these communities as partners and allies in women’s social and economic empowerment. Targeting male relatives, religious, and community leaders, WfWI will facilitate dialogues and action to change violent and discriminatory attitudes and behaviors toward women.

“Women, who are among the most disadvantaged, have become responsible for protecting and providing for themselves and their children with next to nothing in hand,” says Brita Fernandez Schmidt, WfWI-UK Executive Director. “Yet, they bring enormous resilience to the task of survival and step courageously outside traditional roles to keep families afloat. That’s why we must continue to invest in these solutions.”

About Women for Women International

Since 1993, Women for Women International (WfWI) has provided more than 447,000 women survivors of war and conflict with training, support, and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and economic self-sufficiency. WfWI’s innovative programs are guided by a vision to create a world in which all women determine the course of their lives and reach their full potential.

WfWI works in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Sudan. To learn more, visit