Livelihoods Program Brings Women Out of Isolation After Genocide

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Students design social media posts for International Women’s Day.
Photo: Re:Coded

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) pushed eastward into Qaraqosh in Northern Iraq in 2014 and displaced Sozan* , her family and her entire community. After fleeing and finding safety, she struggled to cope with the disruptions in her social support networks. Once Qaraqosh was liberated, Sozan returned home, but she and other young women like her still felt isolated.

We suffered a lot during displacement and also after we returned to Qaraqosh. My children and I were displaced with my parents but without my husband, who was in Baghdad. After returning, we all were suffering from economic and psychological issues including my kids. When we were back in Qaraqosh my husband did not let me go out of the house, so I was always at home.

Women who hoped to reconnect with friends and relatives when they returned to their communities found that not everyone came back, and that the networks they had before were gone or broken. In addition to the trauma of displacement and ISIS atrocities, families were concerned about the precarious security situation and lack of economic opportunities, and preferred that women and girls stay home or at least limit their outings.

To support these women, USAID offers a gender-sensitive livelihoods program in Qaraqosh. The program targets women who have few or no livelihoods opportunities.

The program’s technical skills training materials were developed specifically for women in northern Iraq, and the complementary ‘Women Speak Out’ dialogue sessions provide a space for women to talk about issues relevant to their lives. Case management services are provided so women can confidentially discuss gender-based violence and discrimination, and learn about available resources. The 27 women in the program are from Iraq's vulnerable minority communities, including Christians, Kaka’i, and Shabak. The program also builds trust through dialogue and participation in training courses so that women see one another as resources.

The pilot program teaches digital marketing, photography, and graphic design courses to encourage women to appreciate the world around them and think critically about the various ways that images resonate within the community. These activities help break down social boundaries between different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and help women build social networks that are essential to their individual and communities’ resilience.

Soon after beginning the program, women began to provide guidance and support to one another. For example, when the time of the course was switched to afternoons, one woman said that her father would not allow her to attend since he worried about her safety when she returned home in the evening. The other women in the program volunteered to speak with her father and convinced him that she would be safe and that someone would accompany her home. He was reassured and allowed her to continue in the course.

For Sozan, the combination of livelihoods skills training and dialogue sessions with women from her community was positive:

I’ve participated in a lot of programs and activities after displacement, but this program is one of my favorites because they increased my knowledge on using technology from one side and changed my personality from the other side. At the beginning I was just interested in ICT [information and communications technology] training, I was not that interested in Women Speak Out sessions. But then I saw how these sessions are related to our daily life and was very comfortable with the group and with the facilitators and even asked them that I want to talk to them individually.

* Pseudonym