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A Day in the Life of a Humanitarian in Iraq

My name is Ghaida Rishmawi. I am Women for Women International’s Country Director in Iraq.

I was born in a war-torn region of Palestine, where I witnessed and went through much suffering. I know what it means to lose your home, land, beloved ones, parts of body, and dreams for future. Growing up in war led me to help others.

Through Women for Women International in Iraq, I have the chance to help some of the most impoverished and targeted women on earth. Here we serve Iraqi and Syrian women who’ve been forced to flee their homes due to conflict as well as the women in the host communities they’ve moved into. Among the women we serve are the Yezidi who survived ISIS brutality and are working hard to heal after the trauma of genocide.

Working in Iraq is hard because we have been in a humanitarian crisis here for decades, within our own borders, and with Syria and Iran. Due to the ongoing crisis, basic human rights have been violated and the fabric of families and societies has broken down. Rebuilding to a normal life will require a long-term approach. Most people will be displaced for many years, and therefore will be in greatest need of stability for themselves, their families, and their wider community.

two women listening in class

Women gather for their class supported by Women for Women International in Iraq. Photo credit: Alison Baskerville

We can easily see violations of women’s right in our training location community in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Women tell us they would love to start their own businesses, but their husbands won’t allow them to do so. When we talk about women’s legal rights, they say they didn’t know they were entitled to inherit or own land. These are basic human rights that no person should be deprived of.

In addition to human rights issues violations, women in Iraq are confronted with the continual trauma of war. This means it is very important to have well-established and effective humanitarian programs on the ground to address both the gender inequity and residue of conflict. We help women heal from trauma through psychosocial therapy sessions and we also teach them important vocational and business skills, so they can earn an income. We include rights and health training, so women can learn to take care for themselves, their family and can take a stand in defense of their rights.

We work with women who need the most help. It is a draining and heart-pounding job because it is hard to disconnect from the emotions that come with humanitarian work. What makes this worth it for me is the ability to make a change. A smile on the face of a child happily walking to his school at a refugee camp, appreciation by a woman who received health service, and the support and energy of other humanitarians who are dedicated to making the world a better place keeps me going every day.