UN Women: Women in Iraq play vital roles in the country’s COVID-19 response

Copyright: UN Women The coronavirus pandemic is one of the biggest challenges facing Iraq, but it is not the only one. Women workers, in particular, are shouldering a disproportionate burden, faced with additional responsibilities in their households and communities. “Iraqi women have shown a great deal of resilience in the various sectors in which they work,” said Dina Zorba, UN Women Representative for Iraq and Yemen. “UN Women, alongside its partners, is focusing its attention on fighting domestic and gender-based violence and minimizing repercussions of the situation on women, particularly those most in need of help,” says Zorba. Despite the unprecedented challenges, Iraqi women are playing vital roles in the country’s COVID-19 response, serving as leaders, health and social workers, and responders to domestic and gender-based violence. Here are the stories of five Iraqi women and how the coronavirus crisis has impacted their lives. Mariam Taha: Navigating the pressures of work and home as an essential health worker

Mariam Taha, a lab worker at the Central Public Health Laboratory in Erbil, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Photo: Courtesy of Mariam Taha.

Mariam Taha is a 36-year-old technical assistant at the Central Public Health Laboratory in Erbil, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Since the first COVID-19 cases were detected in Iraq in February 2020, Taha’s life has changed drastically. Taha, who typically works eight hours every day, now logs an 11-hour shift.

The nature of her work has shifted too; the laboratory has become entirely dedicated to testing suspected COVID-19 cases. Taha is now in constant fear that she might contract the virus at work and spread it to her family. Although no COVID-19 cases have been recorded at the centre she works in, she takes every precautionary measure, including donning a face mask, gloves, goggles and suit while at work. Anxiety about contracting and spreading the virus has become a part of Taha’s daily life. “Every time I leave work, I feel anxious and stressed that I might infect my family. Before leaving the centre, I take off my disposable personal protective gear, and I sterilize myself using medical sterilization. As soon as I arrive home, and before physical contact with anyone in my family, I shower and wash the clothes I was wearing,” Taha explains.

While the demands of her work have been trying during the pandemic, Taha is dealing with challenges on other fronts as well. She notes that her responsibilities as a wife and a mother have increased, especially after school closures. “My four children are now staying at home without schooling, except for one who is receiving distance learning online and requires my time to follow up on his homework.”

Fayza Elias Rashu: Providing for others, despite personal loss

Fayza Elias Rashu is sewing masks to distribute among the displaced community in the Sharya complex for displaced persons in the Duhok Governorate, northwestern Iraq. Photo: Courtesy of Dak Organization for Ezidi Women Development.

Ten years ago, Fayza Elias Rashu and her family, who belong to the Yazidi minority group, left their home in Sinjar in the Nineveh Governorate in northern Iraq in a bid to improve their living conditions. They settled in the Sharya complex for displaced persons in the Duhok Governorate, northwestern Iraq, where Rashu, using her previous sewing experience, found work as a dressmaker for the Dak Organization for Ezidi Women Development.

The position enabled Rashu to support her family, and she excelled at the job, training many women and girls on sewing. Before the COVID-19 crisis, Rashu dreamed of expanding her small shop into a large workshop, but the situation has forced her to close the business. Despite the loss, Rashu continues to sew for others.

With the support of the Dak Organization, one of UN Women’s partner organizations, Fayza has sown more than 500 masks and distributed them, free-of-charge, to her community. “I wanted to do something of value for my community, especially those suffering from forced displacement. This is something I have wanted to do for so long,” she says proudly.

Kajhal Nayef Rahman: Pushing for improved resources for survivors of violence

Kajhal Nayef Rahman, Judge at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, during an activity organized by UN Women in 2019. Photo: UN Women.

Kajhal Nayef Rahman is a judge at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Erbil, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Like many public officials, Judge Rahman and her office have been shouldering a heavy workload since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

She says that there has been a noticeable rise in the number of domestic violence cases in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) since the pandemic hit and containment measures were put in place, closing businesses and public offices across the country. “The lockdown and the curfew have severely impacted the ability of women facing abuse at their homes to communicate with us and to seek help,” she explains.

Despite the security measures available in the area, such as shelters and safe housing for violence survivors, women in abusive situations still do not have adequate means to communicate with authorities, Judge Rahman says. “With the closure of government departments and the curfew, the government should find ways to enable violence survivors to make complaints, seek help, and get needed assistance and protection. A domestic violence hotline, for example, could connect survivors to resources.”

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