Mukhtara – Women Leaders in Iraq: Um Marwan

December 5, 2016

“The most important thing we want is safety. To be safe, so we can be comfortable. These are the most important two things we want.”
Um Marwan (41) is the mother of 5 adult children. Her oldest son and daughter are married and raising families in Kirkuk. Five years ago, Um Marwan divorced her husband because he was violent and kept marrying, then divorcing, second and third wives and bringing them into their home.

Since she arrived at Laylan Camp two years ago, after fleeing when her home in Baiji in the north was taken over by ISIS, Um Marwan has developed her skills as a mukhtara.
“The most valuable thing I have is my self-esteem and my dignity. I see myself as having confidence and strength. I can get through all these challenges, like they are a sea that I have to cross. People gossip about me because I live alone, without a husband, but because I have confidence in myself, I don’t care about the gossip; the important thing is my work.

“My life before was to wash dishes and to sweep the floor, I didn´t know anything, to be frank with you. But when I came here, I became aware of many things.
“Here, I learned about power, how to succeed in our work, how to speak with people and how to solve a problem whenever it faces us. For example, if someone is angry, I know how to deal with them. I am the one who remains calm in order to communicate and create understanding.”

Um Marwan was trained as a mediator, along with the other mukhtara, and she has frequently arbitrated in conflicts arising within families in the camp, including instances involving domestic violence, forced marriage, kidnapping and banishment. Now Um Marwan, along with thousands of other IDPs living at Laylan Camp, is packing up her things. Her village and the home communities of everyone in the camp have been liberated from ISIS and are now considered safe, according to Iraqi officials. But Um Marwan knows that for many girls and women, the ending of armed violence does not mean they will now have peace and security. When she goes back to her village, for instance, Um Marwan will have to struggle to maintain the social position that she has made for herself here at the camp.

“As I got to know this work and the other women working as community leaders, I knew this was something for me. But now I’m afraid that there won’t be a role for me when I am back in my village. By the grace of God, I hope things will get better. I am motivated to become more successful, and I am sure that as I get stronger, I will continue to succeed.”

-Interviewed by Surood Al Naqshabandi

Read also: 16 Days against gender-based violence

Get involved with our peace work.
Subscribe to the PAX Action Alert.