Parzhen´s quest to support survivors of gender-based violence
One-stop centres transform girls’ and women’s lives
Erbil, Iraq, 25 November 2022 – Sitting at a major Governmental hospital in Erbil, there is a UNICEF-supported Women and Girls’ Health Centre. The Centre is filled with colourful posters covering the white walls, and brochures on the tables. All of these materials discuss gender-based violence, providing girls and women with tools on how to seek support and prevent violence.
In a small, office, a middle-aged woman sits behind a desk. She is Parzhen Fadel, the social worker and counselor of the centre.
“I am happy that UNICEF is here with us today because you will get to meet one of our first cases since we opened this centre,” says Parzhen.
As Parzhen starts talking about the case, who is a survivor of child marriage, a woman in her thirties wearing a Jilbab, a traditional long black dress, and a black head scarf with silver studs, knocks on the door.Sara has very soft features, with dark sad eyes.
A sense of hopelessness
“I want to speak-up because I don’t want other girls and women to suffer the same way I did,” says Sara with a trembling voice. “Every woman needs to speak-up.”
Her husband, Ahmed, has abused her physically and emotionally and isolated her socially for over 18 years since they got married. They have four children, three girls, and one boy.
“I was constantly beaten by Ahmed,” adds Sara. “He put me down in front of our four children and forbade me from visiting my parents. Last year, I was so fed up that I could not take it any longer.”
Sara gets anxious and starts fidgeting. She continues with despair: “One-day last year, as Ahmed was beating me, I ran to the bathroom and locked the door.”
“I felt desperate, I was convinced that the only way out of this misery was to commit suicide,” says Sara.
“I saw a bottle filled with fuel, I poured it over my head, opened the bathroom door, and put myself on fire using a lighter,” Sara adds.
With shaking hands and a depressed look in her eyes, Sara mumbles: “Ahmed came rushing into the bathroom to save me, but my youngest son started crying out of fear.” “My three daughters tried to save me by pouring cold water on me, while I was trying to take off my clothes that were already on fire.”
Sara was taken to the emergency room, and diagnosed with deep second-degree burns. Her hands were the most impacted by the fire. “I was hospitalized and treated for the burns,” says Sara with a sigh.
From a sense of hopelessness to empowerment
While at the hospital, one emergency room physician referred Sara to the services provided for women suffering from gender-based violence at the centre.
“I was reluctant to come to the centre because I felt helpless,” says Sara. “However, I knew deep inside that I needed someone to listen to me, and I had nothing more to lose.”
The Women and Girls’ Centre opens five days a week, eight hours a day. Yet, for emergency cases like Sara's, the social worker is always on call.
Funded by Germany, UNICEF established three one-stop centres with partners in Soran and Erbil city, both in the Erbil Governorate of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
These centres offer girls and women comprehensive support to address gender-based violence, including medical, psychological, and legal aid. In Parzhen’s centre alone, 35 to 45 cases are supported every month.
Together with partners, UNICEF has trained more than 750 government workers in sectors such as health, social welfare, legal services, and the police, including 473 females.
They were trained on gender-based violence case management and referral, core concepts and principles, mental health and psychosocial support, and laws that support survivors.
“This is how I landed this job, and I like it because I am helping girls and women who are in dire need of support, ” says Social Worker Parzhen. “I am very happy when I save not only a women’s life but also a whole family, like Sara and her family.”
“Over the past year, with the team, I was able to empower Sara and make her stronger and capable of demanding her rights.”
By supporting cases like Sara´s, Parzhen and her team inspire other women and girls to reach out for help.
Team services go beyond counselling. Their outreach programme also serves to raise awareness on gender-based violence and women and girls’ rights and to engage with men and boys on gender equality, and violence prevention.
“I hope I am inspiring other women to seek support and speak up,” says Sara with a smile. “My next step is to secure advanced medical support for my burnt hands to enable me to run my daily tasks.”
 Name was changed to protect the woman and uphold confidentiality
 Name was changed