“What makes me stronger is my confidence as a woman. My position at WfWI allows me to support women, reach out to them, and give them hope and a voice to be heard.”- Khalida Lazgeen, Program Officer at WfWI in Iraq
Following years of prolonged conflict and conservative culture in Iraq, women have lacked opportunities in education, healthcare, and economic opportunities. Social and cultural norms paired with a lack of realization of women’s rights and needs have made the situation worse for women. According to a WHO health survey report, the illiteracy rate among Iraqi women is twice that of men. Women head one in ten Iraqi households. Only 18% of women participate in the labor force, and one in every five married Iraqi women has suffered physical domestic violence and abuse.
When Women for Women International started a program back in December 2019 to support women in Shekhan district in Iraq, many people, especially men, found it strange to see an organization that advocates for and helps women. At first, women were hesitant to join the program, and their husbands would not allow it either. But after numerous social mobilizations, awareness raising, and informing the women about empowerment and vocational training opportunities and how they can transform their lives, gradually, they agreed to Join.
Khalida, a new mum and a program officer with Women for Women International, works with women at Shekhan training center in Iraq. Inspired by our name, the support we give women, and her desire to deliver messages of hope to women in Iraq, she joined the organization. Despite the numerous issues women face, Khalida believes her position can influence and change women's lives in the community.
With the proper support, women can change their lives and the lives of people around them. Women in Iraq are realizing their potential. They are breaking social norms, leading their households, gaining skills, setting up businesses, learning about their rights, improving their well-being, and speaking up. Khalida is a big advocate of change. She uses her power to educate women on self-reliance, reach out to vulnerable women and urge them to enroll in our programs.
“As a woman, I see the power in myself. I want to use my power to support women whose voices are unheard, women who don’t dare to speak up, and women who want to go out and start their businesses and be part of the community. I will use my voice to raise their voices.”
Three years since the start of the program, Women for Women International has gained popularity in Shekhan. Women frequent the center to request enrollment into the program. This change indicates WfWI’s impact on women's lives in Iraq. Women feel empowered and are seeking opportunities to rebuild their families and communities. Currently, the program in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has enrolled 2979 women. In 2022, 1034 women successfully graduated from the Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program. At graduation, there is an immense improvement in the lives of women. According to data from 395 participants who graduated in 2021, women reported average net daily earnings of $ 7.96 per day at graduation compared to $13.97 at enrollment. 96% of women at graduation reported involvement in deciding whether to have another child, compared to 85% at enrollment.
When women join the program, they are shy, fear speaking about their ideas, and are always silent and afraid. But after close interactions with the women, their needs are known. The program offers these women a safe space to interact, opportunities, and psychosocial support. Over time, they get comfortable and realize it's a safe place to speak and make connections with other women. Not only do they benefit from the knowledge, but once they get home, they share it with other women and involve their husbands in their homework. Women in the program go over and beyond to share ideas with their husbands and family, who pick up and implement them in their lives and businesses. These women are now seen as change-makers in their families, and their opinions are well sought after and respected.
Khalida shares, “One day in my street, I approached some women and informed them about the organization and the empowerment opportunities available. They adamantly refused to join and said their husbands would not allow it. But after a three-year presence in the community, a group of women recently knocked on the center doors asking to be enrolled in the program. This made me happy, to see the women change and how Women for Women International has influenced the community.”
“I would like to thank the donors for their support. The changes in the women are immense, and it is evident through their connections with each other, the support, the center is home, they get help and see each other as sisters. Whenever they need something, they think of the WfWI center as a place to get the support they need.” said Khalida.
Being a new mum to a five-month-old girl, Khalida has a lot of hopes and dreams for her as much as she has for the women in her community. Khalida has witnessed many barriers in her community that she believes can be changed.
“When my daughter grows up," she says, "I will always teach her to follow her heart, respect others, speak up, and support women.”