Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
At the young age of 19, Mariam* has been at the Erbil shelter after coming into problems with her family. She has spent much of her time in quiet repentance, holding herself responsible for her problems, assuming a hard life as punishment for her actions.
“I became so quiet,” she says. “I could no longer speak—I didn’t think I deserved to have a voice.”
The WARVIN project, which aimed to strengthen the capacity of women’s rights advocates and anti-GBV service providers to protect survivors of gender-based violence in public shelters, gave Saira* new contact to feminist leaders. She was part of a focus group held by WARVIN that looked at the situation of survivors of gender-based violence to get their suggestions and insights about the quality of shelters, and ideas for improvement. This focus group involved a briefing about women’s rights, gender-based violence and what standards in running the shelters to ensure the safety and recovery of GBV survivors can be expected from these shelters. It was the kind of exposure that made her open up in brand new ways. Watching other strong activists moved something deep; “I was so inspired by these women,” she says, “so inspired I realized I need to get up and start solving my own problems.”
Mariam* realized that a huge part of her problem was her refusal to speak. It was this silence that was keeping her oppressed both in her external as well as internal life. “But I realized then that I don’t want to not speak anymore. I want, in fact, to start all over again—to solve my problems with a family, to allow myself that second chance after making a mistake because after all, we all make mistakes.”
The most tangible effect of this realization is Mariam*’s decision to make her way out of the shelter and work in women’s organisations. “I‘ve realized that the biggest failure is not being able to find your way back to society, and I want to avoid that. I’ve decided to start all over again, and work for places that help other women like myself—I now know that I’m not unique, and that there are so many women who are facing the same kinds of problems that I am facing.”
Mariam* has since then been making active efforts towards the betterment of her situation. Although she has been unable to reach any solutions with her family, and is still at the shelter, she is confident that it won’t be much longer before she can live the sort of life she dreams about.
“Until then, I have been spending my days encouraging other women at the shelter to be strong and to have hope, because we survivors should not stay silent because of what happened to us. I’m going to be proactive, to be reintegrated into society again, and when I do, I will help other vulnerable women who have been victimized by society’s rules and traditions.”
Mariam*, like many others, already had the strength she needed—she just needed to be reminded of it. “I no longer want to live my life passively. I’m going to do all I can and make a difference—I want every woman to know there is help out there, and they can all be in charge of their lives.”
*Name changed for the sake of privacy