How are we #AloneTogether with women in Iraq?

On March 8, the increased spread of COVID-19 meant that we sadly had to suspend in-person trainings and gatherings at our offices in Iraq. Even so, our passionate and dedicated staff are doing all they can to equip women to protect themselves and their families from disease; before offices closed – along with schools, universities, and other non-formal training centers as mandated by government order – our teams taught women about health, hygiene, and social distancing.  

And just because Iraq is in lockdown doesn’t mean we can’t stay in contact: Shan, our Economic Empowerment Manager in Iraq, has been making calls and using social media to send women important news about health, government resources, and especially to make sure women know they aren’t alone.  

Shan (middle) with program participants. Photo credit: Aidan O'Neill
Shan (middle) with program participants. (Header) Shan with a participant and participant's family. Photo credits: Aidan O'Neill

We wanted to share with you some of the conversations Shan had with us, and give you a glimpse of how this outbreak looks for our participants in Iraq as they navigate these challenging times: 

Nasreen*  

Nasreen was very happy to be checked on. Since starting the program in December, she says her leadership skills have increased greatly. Nasreen has stood up and advocated for her friends and neighbors, who are beginning to run out of food. Ultimately, they are all thankful and just want to be safe during this health crisis.  

Nasreen is eager for this crisis to pass as she looks forward to attending her classes again. She values having learned a lot about her rights. She spreads love among family members, and feels better equipped to raise her four children and be a better parent for them. 

Thanks to her lessons about daily expenses and saving money, Nasreen had prepared a financial safety net.  During this time, Nasreen’s family has had to dig into their savings and is using the money that they have saved over the past few months.  

Nasreen is counting the days until she can start trainings again, because she plans to learn to sew and continue supporting her family. 

Shireen* 

Shireen joined our program this past December in Sheikhan, and is looking forward to returning and learning to sew. Until then, she stays at home and follows health guidelines from Iraq’s Ministries of Interior and Health.   

Shireen said, “I learned how to better my communication with others in Women for Women International's course. My teacher writes on the board, and it helps me remember lessons.”  

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, our trainers in Iraq taught women hygienic handwashing. “I wash my hand one hundred times a day,” Shireen jokingly claimed.  

As she said goodbye, Shireen sent good wishes for everyone to stay safe and healthy. 

Zainab* 

Zainab also joined our program this past December in Sheikhan. The sound of her children playing in the background carried through the phone call, and she had been playing with them.  

Currently, Zainab’s husband is the sole breadwinner in the family as a taxi driver. But with a government-ordered lockdown due to the outbreak, no one is permitted to use taxis anymore, diminishing his income. “This difficult time has shown me more than ever how important my contributions can be to the financial well-being of our household,” said Zainab. 

In the coming months, Zainab also hopes to learn to sew. With the self-confidence she gained from the program, she aims to start her own tailoring business to make money and support her family. 

Through the program, Zainab also gained friends with whom she keeps contact. “Before this program, the only people outside of my immediate family who I really knew were my in-laws. But now I have made friends. I call them to check up on them, and I am very happy to have a wider network of friends.” 

While at home during the lockdown, Zainab follows the news and has taken time to reflect on her sessions at Women for Women International. So far, she has used some of her time to write a letter about what she has learned and thanking the staff for their work.  

“I benefited a lot from this program. For example, before this program, I didn’t know how to communicate. I couldn’t express myself. Now, I am more confident when it comes to expressing myself and ideas.” 

Before ending the call, Zainab expressed, “What would we do if you are not there? We want you to start again, and very soon.” 

Bahar* 

A married mother of four, Bahar was also happy to receive a call from Shan. She and her family have been following health guidelines, such as staying at home, to protect themselves and loved ones. Still, she wonders and hopes for the day when the training center will open again.  

“I am very thankful for what we learned from you about how to manage our spending and saving money. It has come in handy in these difficult days. We spend the money that we have saved on essential things.”  

She added, “The sessions weren’t only good for teaching, but for me as a housewife, it was a way to get out of the house and control my daily struggle and sadness.” 

Hear more directly from Shan in this Instagram Live conversation with Brita Fernandez-Schmidt, Executive Director of our UK team

* Name has been changed to protect participant’s identity