Women’s center opens its doors to formerly displaced in Iraq’s Qaraqosh

Bellingreri, Al Monitor, June 26, 2018

In the
predominantly Christian city of Qaraqosh, where almost one-third of the
previous population returned after the liberation from the Islamic State,
Women’s House has been founded to assist and support displaced and vulnerable
Women get their hair cut at Beit al-Nisa, the Women’s House, Qaraqosh, Iraq.
Posted June 13, 2018.

should I do at home all day?” Wassa Nimrud asked Al-Monitor. “I am coming every
day to Beit al-Nisa and improving my skills in sewing.” Nimrud is one of the
women attending training sessions to become a professional tailor. Her second
home, after she was displaced in Iraqi Kurdistan during the Islamic
State’s (IS) three-year occupation, has become Beit al-Nisa, the Women’s House,
in the Assyrian-Christian city of Qaraqosh, 25 miles south of Mosul in the
Ninevah Plains.

morning, each room at Beit al-Nisa is full of women working — as cooks,
tailors, hairdressers, professional trainers and students. In addition, women
can enroll in language and computer classes. “Before [IS’] occupation, in our
town we didn’t have a house for women,” Vivine Elias, the tailor and trainer,
told Al-Monitor. “Now that the city is still half empty, at least we have our
own place to work and learn. To be together!”
proclaimed its self-styled caliphate built on fear in Mosul in June 2014, and
its occupation had spread to Qaraqosh by that August,
where a minority of Muslims, mostly Turkmens and Shabaks, have always lived.
“Qaraqosh’s citizens cannot forget that frightening night of Aug. 6, 2014, when
the entire population fled when [IS] was advancing to take their city. We
escaped, not knowing our destiny,” Nimrud said. “We lost everything, we ran
away without anything.”
Half of
Qaraqosh was destroyed. Churches and monasteries were desecrated, while public
buildings, shops and private houses were looted and razed. Its citizens were
displaced throughout Iraq and, by now, much of the world. Today, almost one-third
of Qaraqosh’s pre-IS population has returned home. As commercial and community
life is trying to resurrect itself, the Women’s House was founded.
“The idea
of a house for women was conceived spontaneously during our displaced life and
in the displaced camps” Nival Nabil, one of the project’s coordinators, told
Al-Monitor. “In the camps, people could not spend the whole day in the tents,
especially during the summer where the temperature reached 45 C [113 F]. So
women felt the need to reunite, to do social activities and organize themselves
to work together.” Back in the camps, the Italian nongovernmental organization Focsiv listened to their requests,
supported women’s activities and today manages the Women’s House, employing
women who steadily work there.
al-Nisa was inaugurated in Qaraqosh in November 2017, a year after the
liberation from [IS],” Jabber Mustapha, Erbil’s Focsiv coordinator, told
Al-Monitor. “Each training course lasts one month, 20 days a month, three hours
per day. But this is not just a place for training, it’s a safe place to meet;
for example, in the night women come and sit in the small court to speak.”
aged 18-45 can register at Women’s House and choose their training or activity.
“At the end of each course, we offer the women a tool to continue to practice
their skills at home, such as a sewing machine or kitchen’s tools to
cook,” Nabil said. “Furthermore, we would like to invest some money to found a
sort of cooperative where women manage their own shops.”
“Before the
women’s center was born and before 2014, I used to work at home as a
hairdresser,” Ruweida Atem said. “Now that I am teaching here, our dream is to
open a salon in the town, which is still partly destroyed but in need of
commercial activities.”
Muslims have
also returned to Qaraqosh. Muslim women, together with their fellow Christians,
are attending these training classes, hoping to start their own new activities
in Qaraqosh. Sehmiya, 21, who belongs to the Shabak minority, said, “We were
afraid as well when [IS] arrived and we escaped all together. This is our town
and so we came back here.”
Muslim woman, Asimah, was displaced in southern Iraq, near Iran’s border, and
only recently could come back home. “My neighbors, who are all Christian, told me
about the Women’s House. My family agreed, and so I started a tailor class. I
want to work and be independent.”
the Iraqi government claimed victory over
in December 2017, the group’s presence in the country in areas
such as Ninevah, Anbar and Salahuddin provinces can still be felt.
Terrorist attacks on a weekly basis in different provinces continue to shake
Iraq, as security forces arrest IS members daily in Mosul.
citizens are ready to work and rebuild their futures in a bid to stabilize
Iraq, and women continue to play a major role investing their skills, expertise
and qualifications to reunite hope.