In a conservative society, where public spaces are not always accessible to women the Women’s Center is a place where women can come together, meet each other, discuss pressing issues, have a coffee, and participate in a class.
When our women’s center was set up in 2004, it was as part of our partner organisation Wadi’s activities in the region, it was a intended as a space where women could come together. The early 1990s through 2003 saw Halabja under the control of the Islamist group Ansar al-Islam, who imposed a punishingly harsh regime, terrorised the local villagers, and stripped women of their most basic rights. Establishing the centre in 2004 created an alternative for women, who after years of living under extremely conservative rule had no access to public spaces. No chance to go to a café, to walk around the city, to meet other women, socialize and discuss things. Out of this space, through the efforts of the women who visited the centre, programs and ideas for how to best help others, and each other came to be.
The center became independent in 2012 and in response to the needs of women (both local and refugee/IDP) provides a variety of services. Our philosophy of creating a framework through which long term structural change can occur underpins all of the programs we offer at the center. Without a space for direct engagement by women in the issues that affect them most, there will be no larger societal dialogue. One of the services we offer is the Women’s Rights Awareness Courses these are workshops focusing on women’s rights education led by Centre staff (who are all local women and trained by our partner organization Wadi). These workshops are essential in opening a dialogue on topics that are taboo. The workshops focus on a variety of issues: FGM, honour killing, sexual harassment, legal rights, and women as agents of change in their communities.
At the women’s center we also offer Vocational Courses. As part of the long-term strategy of women’s economic empowerment sewing courses are offered on a regular basis. Sewing is an essential skill that allows women economic independence first by not having to rely on commercial shops, and second by being able to sell or trade their clothes. Moreover the sewing program also increases women’s self esteem, and sense of power, independence and pride in being able to provide for themselves and their families.This is especially important given the lack of routine, normalcy and constant upheaval faced by refugees and IDPs.
Through the Center several successful sewing programs have taken place, and there is always a need and demand for more.
We also offer Women’s Self-help Groups: Women often feel completely isolated in their problems, and the taboo and shame surrounding many women’s issues makes discussion almost impossible.
However, given a private, more anonymous setting of our Center, women have the possibility to voice their experiences, issues, and to feel connected to other women’s experiences. Giving a voice to those who are so often voiceless. The groups are led by an expert in this form of therapy, who gives structure to the meetings, and is available for any questions or other issues that group members might have.
Finally we also offer Direct Health Services for women providing multiple types of health care for those in need. Through the services of a gynecologist trained in various types of sexual trauma, and general gynecology, women’s health care is offered regularly.