By Simona Testa
Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Nina recognises the important contribution of women to Iraqi progress throughout history and in the present day. Today we would like to honour one woman in particular, Yanar Mohammad, founder of the Organisation for Women’s Freedom (OWFI).
“I’m deeply honoured with the Rafto Prize. Thank you so much!” tweeted Ms Yanar Mohammed on the 30th September 2016. She was awarded the prize in recognition of her great contribution to helping women and minorities, including LGBT communities, in Iraq to fight against abuse, violence and human trafficking.
Her foundation, OWFI, has saved more than 30 women from honour killing since it was founded in 2003, as well as assisting countless other women.
OWFI has also assisted victims of human trafficking for many years by providing safe houses for threatened women. As stated on the organisation’s website, OWFI assists women “in humane ways which properly address the women’s right to respect and integrity.”
Yanar Mohammed has launched a number of campaigns for women including the internationally recognised campaign against ISIS: “Women Confronting ISIS: Local Strategies and States’ Responsibilities.” This campaign focused on exploring “the relationship between gender-based abuses under ISIS and state-sanctioned discrimination and violence against women, highlighting lessons for policymakers and women’s rights advocates in diverse contexts of political and armed conflict.”
The Rafto Prize is not the first award to recognise Mohammed’s contribution to women’s rights in Iraq. In 2008, she was awarded the Gruber Foundation’s Women’s Rights Prize. In 2015, she was invited to address the UN Forum for Women, Peace and Security in New York.
Pinar Ilkkaracan, co-recipient of the 2007 Gruber Foundation Women’s Rights Prize commented, in reference to Ms. Mohammed and the other two co-winners of the prize: “these women inspire us as they courageously fight for gender equality under the most difficult conditions of war and armed conflict – conditions that trigger deeply misogynistic ideologies and practices supported by nationalist and religious fundamentalism through their vision and dedication, these prize recipients have become the world’s conscience in the struggle for justice, peace, and equality between women and men.”
Another contribution for which Mr Mohammed has been recognised is her work as editor-in-chief of the OWFI newspaper and radio station Al-Mousawaat (Equality).
According to MADRE, An International Women’s Human Rights organisation, the radio station is one if its kind as it provides “lifesaving information for women in danger on how to access OWFI’s shelters, counselling support and other vital services. And it educated Iraqi communities on the human rights of women, LGBT people and other marginalized people.”
In their Award Statement 2016, in Bergen, the Rafto Foundation wrote: “By awarding Yanar Mohammed the Rafto Prize for 2016, the Rafto Foundation wishes to highlight the serious human rights violations occurring in Iraq, the lack of legal protection that affects women and vulnerable groups in particular, and the crucial importance of providing protection to human rights defenders.”
There is still a long way to go for the Iraqi women and minorities, however through the work of women like Yanar Mohammed’s small steps are being taken towards a brighter future for Iraqi women.