Engaging Women on the Front Lines of Reconstruction Efforts in Iraq
During years of conflict, ISIS destroyed the Aldolouiya Bridge in the Salah Ad-Din region in 2014, disconnecting 80,000 Iraqis and separating communities. Rebuilt in 2017 with funds from the World Bank Emergency Development Operation Project (PDEO), which runs across the country, it is the only road connecting the district of Aldolouiya to the town of Balad.
The role of citizens has played an important role in the reconstruction effort, which has improved the transparency of public institutions, making them more accountable and efficient. Work with the Reconstruction Fund for Areas Affected by Terrorist Operations (ReFAATO), the Bank set up workshops in Aldolouiya specially designed to involve women and other stakeholders, such as young people, in rebuilding links within and between communities.
These community feedback sessions have become an informal, bottom-up example of civic engagement strengthen accountability in service delivery, tackle potential problems early and reduce the likelihood of emerging risks. Two-way interaction between citizens and government or the private sector was meant to be a critical tool to ensure an inclusive recovery. However, the context of the conflict in Iraq made it difficult to implement a real process of citizen engagement, despite a strategy from the start. While Iraq is to some extent more peaceful now, engaging citizens when there were security concerns has proven difficult. Long waits at checkpoints made access to beneficiary communities a daunting task, while there was a danger of attacks in the mountainous areas at the start of reconstruction.
Despite this, local women like Warda Salah still benefited from informal community meetings in Aldolouiya. Initially, the town’s men were reluctant to have their wives in decision-making meetings, but trust built after hours of dialogue and women quickly began to attend. After a month of these community meetings in Aldolouiya, the women had established their own bazaar, happy to know that they then had a voice in the community.
Warda says the inclusion of women in decision making in her community has connected their group with others in neighboring communities. She now teaches women in her own town and others in weaving, ornament design and tailoring, thereby re-establishing a pre-conflict cottage industry.
“The purpose of training these students is to help them support their families and give them experience, improving themselves and filling their time with useful things for their benefit,” said the chef. from the community.
Previously stuck in disconnected communities without leadership, women like Salah have engaged in decision-making and consultation meetings, empowering themselves economically. While these women were originally unable to attend the feedback sessions, in just a few months they had been trained and empowered to set up another bazaar in the capital Baghdad, 200 kilometers away. of the.
“Now that we are educated, we are trying to take our idea from side to side,” said Amina Husam, another local crafts teacher. All International Women’s Day, they have set up a special bazaar and say they are grateful for this enriching experience.
In another example, a group of young Iraqi women participated in a community greening campaign in March for the district of Saadia and Jalawla in the eastern province of Diyala. The project aimed to strengthen the spirit and revive the culture of volunteerism and participation in community affairs among young Iraqi women and men.
“I encourage women to leave their mark in society and participate in volunteer programs, even with something simple like we did today,” says Aya Ibrahim, a volunteer who has helped with reforestation. from the Saadia area.
A volunteer named Shefaa Salem said the role of women can be “greater in society,” adding that she would tell her children about the “imprint” she had made.
However, in Iraq, skepticism about the usefulness of community events impacted the Bank’s ability to effectively implement the project and foster community capacity building. Due to this skepticism and the fragile nature of the project environment, the campaign was not structured along formal lines of citizen engagement. For example, the team had planned to set up a citizen hotline that would allow people to complain, make suggestions or ask questions, but this quickly proved ineffective when invoices were not paid.
On reflection, these evolving processes were informal and the dialogue formed from the bottom up. However, engaging citizens like Warda, Aya and Amina has proven to be effective in encouraging them to enter the market, a positive step in the fight to end poverty in this conflict-affected area.
Efforts to support the Iraqi government have focused on the very tangible results of this informal civic engagement and have built a deep relationship with the beneficiaries.