I am fascinated, and come to a question about leadership and parental support I had stored for later now –
“All women leaders I have met can’t become true leaders without the support of their family.”
We discuss this statement slightly, why women leaders in particular, surely this is all leaders?
“ I am isolated much of the time, making decisions that can have far reaching consequences with little support at the fundamental, strategic level. Added to this, often my achievements go unrecognised, the little ones, my day to day successes. My parents and my sisters fill this void. My Mum is more proud of my achievements than I am! This pride is a mirror to me, giving me strength, even when I feel I have nothing left to give. I also continue to learn from them. I do think social norms mean that women leaders feel more alone than their male counterparts, this is why family support is particularly important to us. We women still need to learn to be more supportive of each other also, especially in leadership roles.”
I want to sit and ponder, absorbing and toying with every concept Suaad shares with me. But it is clear that education is something she feels incredibly strongly about, so we examine her passionate belief in the power of education more strongly.
“Formal education is the only way out for women. Maybe escape is an even better word. I live in Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad and one of the poorest tribal areas of Iraq. It is taboo for women to go and work. So women are trapped by circumstances in vicious circles of domestic violence – they cannot leave, where else would they have to go? They are trapped by the fact they have no knowledge or understanding of the world beyond their four walls.
Added to this, for an estimated 1.6 million widows in Iraq – not to mention the numbers of divorcees – the picture is even bleaker. Widows have no social status and if they have no means to support themselves, they can end up starving. It is the same for women who are divorced. If she is alone, maybe returning to her family, she has no idea of how to access information and help that might be able to change her situation.
If a woman has no capacity to make money she has no security. Even if she is married her husband will value her less, she will be less willing to speak up for herself. So, I say again – education is power for women. Without education I am trapped, I stay at home. This does not just hold true for Iraq, I believe it is a consideration for the entire region.”