EUAM Iraq’s Gender and Human Rights adviser Sahra El Fassi from Germany reflects on her work in Baghdad in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Can you briefly describe your current position in the Mission and the main areas of work you focus on?
I am the Human Rights and Gender Adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MoI). My work responsibilities involve advising on human rights and gender related aspects of the Security Sector Reform in the Federal Intelligence and Investigation Agency (FIIA), the MoI Directorate of Family and Child Protection from Violence, the MoI Directorate of Human Rights, the MoI Female Training Institute, the MoI Ethics and Human Rights Center, the MoI Women Empowerment Committee and the MoI UNSCR 1325 Ministerial Team.
2. How would you describe working with the Iraqis?
During my tour of duty, I have encountered so many fascinating and determined Iraqis, both women and men from different generations. Their relentless will and dedication to improve the lives of Iraqis despite the numerous challenges is admirable. They are persistently promoting the Women, Peace and Security agenda and speaking out on social media and television. I have been working with determined female police officers who had to persuade their families to allow them to join the male-dominated and ill-reputed police force.
I am impressed and humbled by Iraqis who keep navigating in a complex environment, defying norms and stereotypes and making a positive change.
3. What are the main challenges Iraqis are facing currently?
Iraq has a long history of tension and conflict. Iraqis of my age have experienced the Iran and Gulf wars, Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, the U.S. invasion, followed by insurgencies and civil war and the rise and fall of Isis.
Iraqi women and girls have faced numerous challenges posed by years of conflict and instability. Access to education, employment and healthcare have been hampered by the prevailing gender dynamics. The patriarchal Iraqi society limits the economic, social and political participation of women. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased the systematic and structural gender inequality. Nationwide lockdowns and curfews have increased domestic violence cases and gender-based violence.
Many Iraqi women also need to cope with the atrocities perpetrated by Isis. The Isis fighters used sexual violence as a strategic weapon to control the population. The Iraqi government needs to swiftly modify the discriminatory legislation, prosecute, and punish sexual offenders and provide safe shelters for women.
It is worth mentioning that women and girls played a significant role by taking part in great numbers in the anti-government demonstrations that erupted in October 2019 and killed nearly 550 protesters.
4. What are the major achievements of the Mission when it comes to gender and human rights issues?
EUAM Iraq has advised the top management of the FIIA on establishing a mixed intelligence unit. As a result, female and male intelligence analysts are now working side by side. The Mission also cooperated with FIIA in hosting several workshops which addressed the competitive advantage of diverse intelligence services with mixed operational teams. The workshops focused on considerations of gender dimensions in countering organised crime, violent extremism and terrorism.
EUAM worked with the MoI Female Training Institute and the Ethics and Human Rights Center on specific workshops. EUAM has developed training packages to update the current curriculum for police officers and to include international approaches and concepts in the field of human rights and the agenda for Women, Peace and Security.
5. How does EUAM Iraq support the Iraqis in implementing the UN Resolution 1325?
The Mission’s main counterparts are the MoI and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). EUAM Iraq engages with the Ministerial Team of the MoI which is responsible for the implementation of the UNSCR 1325 and ONSA’s Implementation Committee. The Mission supports counterparts in promoting the Women, Peace, Security agenda as a commitment to legal, social and economic rights. The Mission has hosted several workshops on women’s participation and protection from gender-based violence. The Mission also supports in the elaboration of the action plan for the second Iraqi National Action Plan (I-NAP) for the implementation of the UNSCR 1325.
6. What has been the most rewarding or memorable experience for you personally in the mission so far?
For me, it was the Training of Trainers (ToT) which we organised for Iraqi female police officers together with an Iraqi colleague. The two-day course covered topics on gender-based violence, the Women, Peace and Security agenda and the related international and national legal framework in Iraq. The training days turned out very lively and we engaged ourselves in very personal and controversial discussions on traditions, societal beliefs and changing attitudes.
7. What would be your message to a young Iraqi woman struggling with the current difficult situation in the country?
Be inspired by women and men who make you believe anything is possible. Try to surround yourself with individuals or ideas that lift you up and encourage you to speak out for the positive change you want to see in Iraq. Focus your energy and strength on small changes. You will inevitably see how your small steps and individual actions within your home or community do contribute to societal change.