Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraq: Feb/Mar ‘10

Authorities in Anbar pledge to do more for disadvantaged women following IWPR reports on their plight.
By Uthman al-Mukhtar

IWPR Iraq’s stories on impoverished women in Anbar have prompted provincial officials to step up efforts to help them.

The provincial council has launched a women’s committee that will meet weekly with female Anbar residents, and has already provided jobs, free healthcare, financial aid and legal support for two widows featured in IWPR’s reports.

Rabiyaa Nael, a provincial council member who serves on the committee, said IWPR’s reports on widows in Anbar had pushed the council to address the needs of women. The council had created a women’s committee but it did not meet until March, after the Anbar provincial council office passed along IWPR’s reports to council members.

The committee is tasked with providing support for women and, Nael said, that after reading IWPR’s reports, the provincial council decided to formally launch it to “solve and understand women’s issues in the province”.

"We had a committee to address women’s issues, but it was not activated until the Anbar provincial council’s media office sent us a copy of IWPR’s reports,” she said.

Experts interviewed for IWPR Iraq’s report Impoverished Women Vulnerable to Extremists warned that war-ravaged Anbar’s destitute women – many of them widows – could fall prey to promises of money, revenge and martyrdom from extremists intent on destabilising Iraq.

Insurgent groups have used Iraqi women as suicide bombers to attack public institutions, markets and security checkpoints.

The report followed another IWPR story Widows Silent Victims of Ramadi Attacks which featured female victims of a devastating truck bombing in Anbar. Dozens of poor widows and mothers were queuing to receive their benefits when the suicide bomber struck.

Thirty-year-old Anbar resident Halema Hashem, a widowed mother of four, was among the victims interviewed for the IWPR piece. Provincial council committee members contacted her as well as another widow featured by IWPR, Elaf Muhammed, after reading the stories.

Muhammed secured a job, legal aid and healthcare through the provincial council after meeting with Nael in late March. Nael, who gave her 300 US dollars, also quickly arranged a job interview for her at a sewing factory, where she recently began working.

Muhammed, 31, says the job will allow her to keep her three children. Her late husband’s family threatened to take custody of the children in part because she could not support them. The provincial council also promised to provide Muhammed with free legal aid if she faces a custody battle.

She said she was grateful to IWPR for writing about her life as a widow and said her life had “changed for the better”.

Meeting with Nael “is a big change”, she said. “Being heard is more important than money.”

The provincial council also sent a case worker from Anbar’s social welfare department to visit Hashem and raised her monthly government benefit from 100,000 to 175,000 dinars (85 to 145 dollars). They also provided Hashem, who is still suffering from injuries sustained in the bombing, with free medicine.

“We are quite serious about stopping the bad guys from manipulating women’s suffering," Nael said.

Sabah Al-Ani, general director of Anbar’s psychological health department, said the IWPR stories broke new ground, as this was the “first time that women’s issues in Anbar have been tackled in such depth.

“Journalists in Anbar don’t pay attention to women’s issues and their rights because they are part of a society that believes that women were created only to serve men and do housework.”

The stories, he went on, focused “on their personal situation and gave them the chance to speak for themselves, instead of their parents, brothers, or uncles [speaking for them]. It is unusual to have private conversation and talk freely with [women in Anbar]”.

Ani said the report inspired him to “urge journalists and media activists to act more bravely by covering [women’s] issues in the media, with the hope of prompting change”.

Firas Sami, a parliamentary candidate for with Iraqiya coalition in Anbar, said the IWPR stories gave weight to an Iraqiya report addressing widows’ issues which was submitted to parliament earlier this year. “The stories reflect reality by portraying the women as real, hopeless victims,” he said.

Uthman al-Mukhtar is an IWPR-trained journalist in Fallujah.

More IWPR's Global Voices