Women in Iraq struggle to survive

 Iraq
 Emergency Response
 24th May 2017

After the re-taking of their hometowns, some of the families who had fled from Northern Iraq recently returned home. However, wrecked houses and demolished roads create major challenges for the returnees. The conflict, which began in 2014, destroyed much of the region’s infrastructure and in villages like Bashiqa, the rehabilitation of water and electricity networks will take a while. Families are often left with nothing when they return home.

Other families remain in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which are scattered across Northern Iraq, offering a basic sense of security. Most families do not dare to return home, particularly Yazidis, who fled to Iraq in 2014 through the Sinjar Mountains. So far, around 94,500 internally displaced people have returned home while over 300,000 are estimated to remain displaced. We met with a few women who returned home and some who remained in camps. They spoke about their daily lives, sorrows and worries.

Kocher: “Did my children survive?”

Kocher Saido, at their tent in Chamishku camp for displaced people, Photo: CARE/Emily Kinskey

Kocher worries every minute about her three children. They are lost and she doesn’t know whether they survived. She lives in Chamisku’s refugee Camp. Her husband’s inability to work results in the family’s dependency on aid organizations. This is very difficult for Kocher’s family, who has been living in Chamisku for the past nine months.

Kocher and her husband have nine children. In 2014, they were forced to flee from Sinjar and were separated from three of their children. Ever since, they have not heard from them and do not know where they are. While thankful for having escaped the armed conflict, concerns about their children’s whereabouts overshadow everything.

Fatima: “We cannot survive without flowers”

The first thing we noticed when we went to see Fatima (45) in the camp is the floral splendor surrounding her tent. “We used to have a beautiful garden and a gorgeous house in Sinjar,” Fatima says with a smile on her face. “We would like to at least live in a nice environment in the camp. We cannot survive without flowers,” she continues.

Her whole family was forced to flee from Sinjar region. Since 2014, they have lived in a camp for displaced persons in the north of the autonomous region of Kurdistan. Fatima hopes that one day she will be able to return home. However, she knows that she will not be able to do so anytime soon. Yazidis, members of a persecuted religious minority, were brutally forced to flee their homes when Islamic State militants stormed Sinjar in 2014. Their home was not destroyed but most of their belongings got stolen as the family was only able to carry bare necessities with them in search for safety. Their desire to return home to their garden is strong. “But life in the camps is ok,” she says. Her husband is a teacher and her children either go to school or college. Her son, Bilchar, is a charismatic young man who studies English at the University of Dohuk. He looks just like her.

Amina: “Nine kids are enough”

“This is my last child. I don’t think I want any more children,” Amina, mother of nine children, begins to tell us in Zumaar’s health center. She left her newborn at home today but brought her 1 and a half year old daughter with her. She is sick and Amina wants to know what she needs. “But I still need to convince my husband that nine kids are enough,” she jokingly says. “He loves children.”

Amina, who had to live in a camp for internally displaced people with her family for a while but returned home now, is taking part in an awareness raising session on breastfeeding and family planning for mothers and expecting mothers, organized by CARE’s partner organization Harikar. About 15 women are here, most of them with newborns in their arms, to learn about hygiene, breastfeeding and family planning. After the session, they receive CARE baby packages containing diapers, baby clothes and hygiene items. Amina came from far away. Her town does not offer medical care or health services for mothers. When we asked her about her future wishes she said that she wants her children to go to school one day. “So that they have a better life,” she adds.

Sawsan: “My daughter wants to go to school but we cannot afford her to go”

Photo: CARE/Emily Kinskey

Sawsan (33) is mother of four children aged 1 to 16. Her family had to flee to norther Iraq’s capital Erbil a few years ago and had lived under very difficult circumstances. After the re-taking of her hometown Bashiqa, she returned home. “We live here together with five other families,” she says. Space is limited and privacy very restricted. Still, Sawsan’s smile is contagious. We asked her where she gets her strength from. She does not know but hope it remains, she says. “Inshallah.”

One of Sawan’s greatest concerns is clean drinking water, which CARE and its local partner Ausra al Iraqi provide together with blankets, matrasses, lights, hygiene and kitchen packages, tarps and winter clothes. “My parents’ house was burnt down, they are left with nothing,” Sawan tells us. Her husband found a job in a town further away. This is not a given, as not many work opportunities exist in Bashiqa. But his salary is too low to cover the family’s expenses. Sawan’s eldest daughter cannot go to school because transport and study materials are too expensive. The school in Bashiqa was closed due to destruction, which would force her daughter to commute to a different city. “My daughter is very upset with me. She wants to become a doctor, which is of course only possible with proper education. But what should we do? We want to send her to school and know this is important. But our earnings are just enough for us to survive,” Sawan says.

Her biggest wish for the future? “That the school here opens again. It is heartbreaking to see that children are not able to attend school while they so desperately want to go. I want my daughter to be happy again.”


By Katharina Katzer, Katharina.katzer@care.atFor more on our work in Iraq, click here

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