Iraqi widows pick up the pieces of their lives

Posted on: Tuesday, February 11, 2014

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Three million widows, 1.5 million orphaned children in a population of 24 million. They live with no security, under the shadow of fear of bomb blasts with no means of survival. That's Iraq, where death stalks the streets every day.

Mawahib Shaibani, CEO, Art of Living for the Middle East and Gulf, and director of the Alazhar Project was a blessing for these women. She works with war widows to bring peace to their lives and empower them.

The 44-year-old resident of the UAE, quit a top position in a private bank to work for victims of terrorism. "I was managing money earlier. I underwent a transformation after a meeting with the Art of Living in 2001. I quit and started managing women in crisis. If you expect change to happen, the change must begin from the self. I enable war widows as they get life skills, build confidence, and get trauma relief," Shaibani told STOI on Saturday on the sidelines of the 6th International Conference for Women here.

Her documentary about Iraqi war widows was watched in complete silence for it highlighted their despair. The widows are trained in computer skills, banking and finance and career-enhancing programmes that help them get jobs and be financially independent.

She says, "The word 'Alazhar' means flower. A woman is always a flower -- if you nuture her she will blossom. If not, she'll wilt and die. That's why my project is called Alazhar. To begin with, I chose Iraq in early 2000, and now the same activities are on in 15 Middle Eastern countries. Many women we worked with are now working now and there's a smile on their face," says Shaibani.

Gender bias widespread

What's common to many women is the gender discrimination they face in one form or the other. On the second day of the conference, some speakers, who have reached the highest level in their professional life, talked about the bias they faced.

For retired IPS officer and activist Kiran Bedi, it was during her early days of the police training programme when she had to go horse riding. "A male colleague would always wait for me to fall and laugh at me. But to his disappointment, I never fell as I was trained in horse riding. One day, he asked me: 'When a girl does not fall off a horse, how can a boy fall? I took courage from you.' How dare he say that to me," recalled Bedi, who was given the Vishalakshi Global Award at the conference.

Sheila Sri Prakash, a well-known architect from Chennai who has served in the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council, spoke about her experience. "I was the only child and I got anything I wanted. I aspired to study architecture. During the entrance interview, a professor said a seat would be wasted if a girl got it. 'If a boy does the course, he can build his career.' I was aghast and told him I was serious about my studies. My career was a roller-coaster ride, as my contractors and labourers would ignore me, just because I was a woman. But I never gave up," said Sheila.

Source: TOI

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