The German-Iraqi charity WADI is receiving the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award 2017 for its longstanding and successful campaign for the human rights and autonomy of Iraqi citizens. For the past 25 years, WADI has initiated and run a wide range of programs in northern Iraq – from information campaigns about female genital mutilation to children’s education programs to medical and psychological first aid offered to Yazidi victims who have been tortured by the terrorist organization IS. It is the founder’s wish that other organizations around the world follow the example set by WADI.

WADI e.V., the “Federation for Crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation”, is an NGO that advocates for women and children in Iraq. Founded as an umbrella association, it was set up in 1992 by initiatives and individuals on the ground helping the suffering population of war-torn Iraq after the second Gulf War in 1991. WADI e.V. is headed by German journalist Thomas von der Osten-Sacken and by Abdullah Sabir in Iraq.

The name WADI is an Arabic word meaning riverbed. “Our mission is to bring water to the dry riverbed to make things flourish again” – this is the principle by which the charity, working from its head office in Frankfurt and an office in Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq, devotes itself to its central aim: improving living conditions for women in the extremely patriarchal society of the Middle East and fostering their participation in public life.

In the 1990s, WADI built kindergartens and schools in Sulaymaniyah Province, became involved in campaigns against forced marriage and honor killings, and developed a literacy program through which more than 5,000 girls so far have learned to read and write. The establishment and support of women’s centers and consequently also women’s cafes has been a part of WADI’s agenda since the very beginning. WADI has opened three such women’s centers in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1999. They offer women a range of activities, from literacy programs to computer, sewing and hairdressing courses to legal advice. Above all the centers aim to be a place for women to meet, somewhere beyond their own four walls. About 200 women visit the center at Halabja. WADI also operates radio stations for women and young people with the aim of raising awareness of women’s rights.

Through its campaign entitled “Stop FGM in Kurdistan”, WADI was able to get the practice of female genital mutilation banned in Kurdistan in 2011. The international community had long overlooked the fact that female circumcision was taking place in Iraq. It was only when a survey conducted by WADI in 2007/2008 was published that people became aware that genital mutilation was not an exclusively African problem. Of the 1,500 girls who responded to the survey, 72% had had their genitals cut. Besides the legal prohi- bition of the practice, the promotion of “FGM-free” villages helped to achieve a substantial reduction in the rate of genital mutilation.

Since IS terrorists attacked Yazidi villages in northern Iraq in August 2014, WADI has been primarily looking after abused Yazidi girls who have escaped IS captivity, as well as child refugees from Syria. At the Jinda Center in the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk, WADI takes care of Yazidi women who have been able to escape from the hands of IS or whose freedom has been bought. WADI picks the women up from the surrounding refugee camps and takes them to the adult daycare facility, where the charity offers courses in handicrafts, hairdressing or computer skills, operates a greenhouse where they teach the women farming skills, and provides a forum for the women to get together and talk. Mobile all-female WADI teams go around the northern Iraqi refugee camps offering first aid to Yazidi women who have survived the IS terror, speaking with them and providing medical aid.

Photo: WADI e.V.

Header photo: WADI e.V.

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