Saja’s determination to improve her life.
Community integration and gender-based violence center offers opportunities for girls and young women.
Southern Iraq, 10 December 2022 - Saja , a 44-year-old woman, dropped out of school when she was 14 to marry Maher, 19 years older. She is now a mother of five, three boys and two girls.
During the first years of marriage, Maher worked as a daily labourer. Yet, he was not able to fully cover the expenses of the family and they had to rely on her brother-in-law, Yasin, to provide for their basic needs.
A few years later, Maher stopped working and the family had no other support than one from Yasin, creating a lot of pressure on Saja and her children.
During her marriage, Saja’s suffering continued as her husband continued to abuse her and the children. She had to depend on herself and her family’s support to secure her children’s needs to continue their studies.
“I had no choice but to bake bread and sell it to people to ensure that my kids stay in school,” said Saja. “I also enrolled myself in school and completed my secondary education.”
But one day, Saja´s life changed.
“In 2017, one day during lunchtime, I was cooking fish waiting for Maher to return home for lunch,” said Saja. “As soon as Maher entered the house, he started beating my oldest son, Yasser.” After the fight, Maher threw Yaser out of the house.
“I was shocked and very angry,” recalled Saja. “I pulled myself together and stood in front of my husband and told him that I will never leave my children - if they go, I will go.”
Several attempts at reconciliation to reunite the family failed. Saja decided to leave the house with her children.
Gender-based violence center offers respite
To her good fortune, Saja learned about Multi-Service Referral Center (MSRC) in her city southern Iraq from her customers to whom she sold bread.
“I was very happy to meet the counselors at the center,” said Saja. “The most important thing that I needed support with was obtaining my children’s official documentation, which my husband denied us.”
Saja was also assigned to a gender-based violence social worker and received life skills training, psychosocial support, as well as legal counseling.
“I am now working as an administrator in a company,” said Saja with a smile.
The Multi-Service Referral Centre (MSRC) in southern Iraq, funded by The Government of the United States of America, supports girls and women to prevent gender-based violence. Since 2021, the center helped 450 cases, half of them, women and girls.
Thanks to legal aid from the UNICEF-supported center, Saja was able to obtain the needed documentation for her five children.
“I am satisfied with my life now,” giggled Saja. “I am very happy that I secured my children’s documentation.”
Saja continues to dream of improving her life and that of her children.
“I hope that my children will continue to learn and secure good jobs,” said Saja. “I also wish that I can work at this center to inspire other women and girls to speak up and take action against gender-based violence.”
 All names of individuals were changed to protect their identity.