Iraq: helping women take charge of their destinies

17-04-2012 Feature

All too often, women are among the most vulnerable people in Iraq. But Iraqi women are strong. They take on responsibility for their families or they devote their lives to alleviating the suffering of others. The ICRC is supporting them in their struggle for a more dignified future.

Parzhen, physiotherapist in Erbil

"I like my job and I'm proud of what I'm doing," says Parzhen. She is 23, and has been working at the ICRC-run physical rehabilitation centre in Erbil since April 2010, where she helps people resume a normal life after they receive an artificial limb. "Physical disability doesn't make anyone less human," she insists.

A graduate of the Medical Institute in Erbil, Parzhen treats 30 to 35 women and children a week. She helps them learn how to walk with an artificial leg or to use a wheelchair. "There's the humanitarian aspect of my work, and helping patients live the fullest lives they can is highly rewarding. On top of that, the working atmosphere here is very friendly. I hope to continue supporting disabled people for a long time."

Eman, shopkeeper in Baghdad

A mother of seven children, Eman became a widow when her husband was kidnapped and killed in 2007. Even though she received substantial support from her community and got a job as a cleaner, she experienced the typical economic and social difficulties that women face when left alone to raise their children and feed their families. "I want my children to be educated and get good jobs," she says. With the help of the ICRC, she opened a small shop in Al Dora, where she moved after the death of her husband.

"I can now meet the basic needs of my family," she explains. "I feel more independent and I don't have to rely completely on my parents and parents-in-law." With the money she earns, she hopes to give her children the future she has been dreaming of for them. "I want to tell all women heading households that even if you end up alone, you have to trust yourselves that you can support your family."

Zainab, "abaya" maker in Missan

Zainab lost her left leg in 2003 after a rocket hit the market where she was shopping. Then her husband abandoned her because of her disability. Left alone with a 12-year-old daughter, she had to rely on her parents, who have also been struggling to make ends meet. Recently, her daughter had to drop out of school to take care of her mother.

The ICRC provided Zainab with a sewing machine and materials, so that she could start making abayas (gowns). Zainab had never worked before, but is very grateful for this opportunity. "This project is changing my life, and I'm proud to show people my work," she says. Zainab is now becoming more independent, and hopes to expand her clientele.

Summaya, psychosocial worker in Baghdad

Summaya provides psychosocial support to cancer patients at Central Paediatric Teaching Hospital in Baghdad. "Through my work with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, I can help the most vulnerable groups in the community," she says. "I strongly believe in the principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, such as humanity, which are reflected in the sympathy and empathy I show towards the patients I work with."

Driven by her strong desire to help people in need, Summaya started to work with the Iraqi Red Crescent four years ago, as a volunteer, taking part in one of the first-aid courses organized by the ICRC for Iraqi Red Crescent staff and volunteers.


Summaya offers psychological support to a child affected by cancer. 

Summaya offers psychological support to a child affected by cancer.
© ICRC / B. H. Ali

Parzhen helps disabled patients to learn how to live with an artificial limb. 

Parzhen helps disabled patients to learn how to live with an artificial limb.
© ICRC / A. Y. Mohammad

Eman proudly runs her shop, to make a living for her family. 

Eman proudly runs her shop, to make a living for her family.
© ICRC / M. Pawlak