I am sorry to have missed the chance to send you New Year’s greetings before now. But Iraq is burning, and Trump is denigrating us whenever possible … it is just not the time to celebrate.
The city of Mosul is devastated. Hundreds of thousands have fled, with nothing, through a landscape of immense danger. The stories my colleagues and I have heard from the women who somehow survived this journey are heartbreaking. Families who must choose between staying and starving, or fleeing at a high risk of death. Children abandoned along the route, some run over by tanks. When they finally arrive at Khazir Camp, they find themselves locked in, forgotten.
Many women we speak to are badly traumatized. They won’t make eye contact, in fear of questions about rape or ISIS fighters. In most cases, their husbands are dead. Some are pregnant. Where can they go? How long can they hide? The fact of their abuse is used as a reason for their own families and tribes to murder or abandon them.
These women have been the focus of every ounce of our efforts so far this year, and will continue to be.
Thank you for your continued support,
~ Yanar Mohammed, President, OWFI
OWFI Sheltering More Women than Ever Before
OWFI is now providing shelter and support to by far the largest number of women and children we ever have — 26, some with children. We have responded in every way we are able to the many threats facing Iraqi women right now.
In January, we opened two new shelters. The first, in Kirkuk, provides protection for women from Hawija and other western Iraq cities who have fled ISIS abuses, as described above.
The second is in the southern city of Basrah, where a traditionally misogynistic culture has been strengthened by the growing power of the militias. This shelter offers refuge to victims of sex trafficking who were unjustly imprisoned as prostitutes, and then threatened with honor killing by their own families upon release. UN agencies asked us to help these women, since the government’s so-called shelters will not accept them.
Safe rooms have also been developed in the homes of several strong supporters of OWFI to protect women at risk of honor killing in Mosul itself.
We are especially proud of the leadership role that young, former shelter residents are playing in this new expansion of our sheltering capacity. “Graduates” of OWFI shelters are becoming the front-line feminists of Iraq.