After living through the traumas and displacement of conflict, female survivors of war in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) are rebuilding their lives thanks to Women for Women International's 12-month training programme.
An award of £200,000 from players of People's Postcode Lottery is helping Women for Women International to significantly expand its presence and services in the KRI. The charity is responding to dire conditions facing women from Syrian refugee and Kurdish host communities.
Since 2014, Women for Women International has been helping to train over 1,200 displaced Syrian, Iraqi and, Yezidi women. Their stories are ones of resilience, recovery, and determination to create a brighter future for their children.
Today, one in four people living in the KRI is a refugee or internally-displaced person – this amounts to two million people in total. Most live in non-camp settings, usually hosted in the poorest areas where jobs and resources are scarce. Women face additional levels of discrimination, and are more likely to be socially isolated, excluded from economic opportunities, and subjected to violence. At the same time, many women are the sole providers for their families and face a daily struggle for survival.
Women for Women International's 12-month programme has been tailored to meet the needs of these women, including strengthening community bonds, training in employment skills, and receiving counselling to deal with trauma. Regular classes enable groups to form circles of support, breaking the isolation created by conflict, and promoting trust between women from refugee and host communities.
The project also engages men, who play a vital role in combatting violence and supporting women's rights and economic participation. Local trainers work with men at different levels in the community, covering key issues such as the value of women's work, the traumatic effects of domestic violence, and the importance of educating girls.
One person Women for Women International has already helped is Kabira, who fled Syria in 2014 with her 3-year-old daughter. After seeing their neighbourhood destroyed by bombs and enduring a terrifying journey across ISIS frontlines, they eventually reached the KRI's capital, Erbil.
Kabira managed to join up with her sister Sheiran, who had already registered as a refugee there. The sisters managed to put a roof over their heads and food on the table, but the isolation of their new life was devastating. When she felt overwhelmed by painful memories and anxiety, Kabira had no friends or relatives to turn to for support.
She said, "Being in the house all the time was soul-destroying. I didn't speak the language and I was so isolated."
A women's centre, funded by Women for Women International, was a lifeline for Kabira. She said, "One of the best things was getting outside, making friends, having conversations, telling our stories and sharing our ideas."
She completed social empowerment and economic empowerment courses, and took part in a leadership training course. "This project has given me hope and the will to go on – to improve my life. I am learning about women's rights, health and wellbeing, and how to prevent violence against women. Soon I will be learning how to do a market assessment and start my own business. We hope that one day, we can return to where we lived before. We want to rebuild our lives and our country."
Clara Govier, Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery, said, "I am delighted that players of People's Postcode Lottery are supporting women survivors of war to build brighter futures for themselves and their children."
Women for Women International UK's Director of Fundraising and Marketing Shivonne Graham emphasised the impact of this award. "At a time when 1 in every 113 people on earth – 65 million in total – have been driven from their homes by conflict, it is more vital than ever to invest in long-term solutions. This begins with providing opportunities and hope for women who have lost everything and shoulder overwhelming responsibilities to care and provide for their families.
"This year, players of People's Postcode Lottery will help 300 women access our life-changing programme - 300 women who will now have emotional support, skills to earn an income, and confidence to make their voices heard."