Like in the rest of Iraq, gender inequality and gender-based violence (GBV) are pervasive in the Kurdistan Region (KRI). There are efforts by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to face the problem of GBV, including a strong law addressing domestic violence and a law enforcement department called the Department of Combating Violence Against Women and Children (DCVAW), which is the KRG’s specialized GBV police force and protective shelters. However, there remains many challenges in protecting survivors, who often struggle to access quality services to ensure their immediate protection and support their recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these vulnerabilities with GBV risks soaring: increased social isolation, economic stressors, and barriers to accessing services have heightened risks for women and girls across the KRI, leaving many trapped at home with their abusers.

As it is SEED Foundation’s mission to support survivors of violence and those at risk, it is with the support and partnership of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), that we launched the “Protecting and Empowering Survivors of Gender-Based Violence in Kurdistan Region of Iraq” project on 1 November, 2020. This project seeks to prevent and reduce gender-based violence (GBV) by a two-pronged approach.

On the one hand, it will provide rigorous and practical hands-on training to frontline service providers from DCVAW and from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA), which is responsible for operating shelters for women at risk of violence including “honor”-based violence, to strengthen their capacity to respond to those who have experienced GBV in a more trauma-informed, rights-based, and survivor-centered manner. The program will also help invest in the future social service providers of Kurdistan by helping strengthen and improve one of the very few existing undergraduate social work university programs in Iraq, whose students will go on to support countless clients, including many survivors of gender-based violence.

Additionally, SEED supports, and empowers survivors of gender-based violence through direct services of case management, mental health and psychosocial support services (MHPSS), and legal counseling and representation. Services are provided in a comprehensive and integrated manner, meeting the survivor’s needs holistically by addressing physical health, mental health, housing, economic empowerment, livelihoods, and education, protection and legal services, and strengthening support systems.

“Without the support of our donors, such as the German government, SEED would not be able to provide vital services to survivors of gender-based violence. Programs such as these, which also support capacity building, make the services of SEED and other NGOs more sustainable,” says Tanya Gilly Khailany, Vice President and Co-Founder of SEED.

Throughout this program, SEED Foundation will also focus on empowering adolescent girls and women ages 13-25. SEED will work with these girls and young women through in person and online groups, in confidential forums which are most comfortable and accessible to them. “This program will support these girls to lead healthy lives, take care of and protect themselves, build strong and healthy relations with their families and communities, make smart life choices and will ensure that these girls have the skills, knowledge, and support to be safe and reduce their risk of experiencing violence,” says Sherri Kraham Talabany, SEED President and Co-Founder. This will occur through increasing girls’ leadership and self-care skills, improving their knowledge and awareness of important life topics, and assisting their academic success. Throughout this program, girls will benefit from stronger connections with peers and mentors, will have opportunities to explore and use their strengths and capacities, and will discover new opportunities that they can access to organize and create change within their communities.

SEED Foundation looks forward to the new partnership that will allow it to continue to protect and empower women and girls across the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.