Every year, starting on 25 November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) until 10 December (Human Rights Day), the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
During this year’s 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are highlighting the work of local women leaders, based in different parts in the world, who recognize gender equality as a key element of just and sustainable peace. They know, often from first-hand experience, that even after hostilities between warring parties end, many women and girls continue to live in insecure and violent conditions. In fact, because women and other vulnerable people may face a backlash after a war has ended, their situation can get even worse.
In the past three years, PAX has worked with Iraqi and Palestinian NGOs on the Women and Youth Against Violence project to improve women’s security. The aim has been to strengthen women’s leadership in dealing with police or other security officers and to address the security concerns of women and youth. As part of this project, women living in the Laylan Refugee Camp (for internally displaced persons) near Kirkuk in Kurdish Iraq received training in leadership and mediation skills.
These women took on leadership roles in the camp, and have taken to calling themselves mukhtara. Mukhtar means community leader in Arabic – someone who is trusted and relied on to resolve disputes in a village or neighbourhood. This role is commonly fulfilled by a man, but the women who have been developing their skills, with the support of peace and gender activist Surood Al Naqshabandi of the NGO Iraqi Al Amal, are performing these functions in the camp. They are increasingly recognized as fulfilling a much-valued role in their communities.