Suaad touches upon women as victims of circumstance time and again, particular with reference to domestic violence. Agencies across the world believe that women who are able to contribute financially, though the labour force, or as entrepreneurs are far less at risk from domestic violence. I ask Suaad if this is true in her experience.
“A woman’s status is closely linked to her ability to financially contribute to her family or community wellbeing. I therefore believe that women’s economic empowerment and incidences of domestic violence are very closely related. Just to give you an idea, Women for Progress ran a survey in 2009 in two areas in Baghdad (Shia and Sunni), to investigate levels of domestic violence. Out of the 1400 women we spoke to 82% were experiencing domestic violence as a normal occurrence. In areas of high unemployment and hardship husbands, brothers, and fathers take frustrations out on their womenfolk. It is accepted. It is routine. It is normalised.
Women don’t leave because they have no options. Women must understand that it is not the act of marriage that creates security for them; it is understanding their individual potential to create, achieve and do and then acting upon it.
Create, achieve, do – not words routinely associated with women who are marginalised and vulnerable. I ask Suaad, if she had a magic wand and three wishes what would be the three things she would put in place today to support women’s economic empowerment in Iraq?
- Education, creating a way to give everyone equal educational opportunities. This is not new – our current cultural position is not that of a generation ago. Many more women enjoyed a good education and then went on to take roles of leadership in many different sectors.
- Employment – finding an effective way to absorb the millions of unemployed in our country. The cause of much of the hardship endured by women comes from economic instability, caused by sectarian violence and war.
- International corporate governance and investment – a corporate investment model that supports and promotes equal opportunities for women, unpinned by supporting legislation and finance. In short, every international company that starts up in Iraq should support Women’s Economic Empowerment directly, with funding and business practice, for example ensuring women-owned businesses are included in the supply chain. ”
“My work is twofold. On one hand I must raise awareness and help women I work with understand what their rights and opportunities are. On the other hand, awareness in itself is not enough. People need to eat, need shelter, need support. The essence of a good civil society is of course creating awareness and buy in – ensuring humanitarian needs are met in the process.
I need to work with women who are trapped in the house for reasons of culture and confidence – but then also need to ensure that I am able to provide the backing and support they need when they are able to make that move out. When I started in 2007 I had a very clear idea of wanting to work towards a strong civil society by providing legal aid for women. However, as you start unpicking one thing another ten emerge!