From helplessness to empowerment
A women’s center, supported by UNICEF with U.S. Department of State funding, is creating new opportunities for vulnerable women
Al-Najaf, 3 June 2023 – For 58-year-old Laila*, life brought her many blessings. Married for over 33 years, Laila and her husband Sobhi have seven children, including four girls.
“I got married to my cousin and we were blessed with seven children,” said Laila. However, “At the beginning of our marriage, life was not easy.”
During those years, Laila, who can barely read and write, had no choice but to work as a tailor to support her family.
“My husband was jobless and I had to do something to bring money home to feed my children,” said Laila.
That was not the only setback in Laila’s life. On the contrary, from the beginning of her marriage, she was repeatedly abused by her husband.
“My husband used to beat me and abuse me verbally,” recalled Laila. “He also used to beat our children.”
Due to poverty and social norms, Laila felt helpless and did not take any action to salvage her situation.
“I used to consult my late mom at the time,” recalled Laila. “But my mom always told me you have to be obedient to your husband and accept all that he says or acts.”
Life passed by and Laila, in addition to economic hardship, endured domestic violence at home. Finally, Sobhi was able to find a job as a taxi driver, but his abusive actions against his wife and children continued.
“When Sobhi started working, I stopped working,” recalled Laila. “I had seven children to take care of and it was a full-time job that is very demanding.”
A life-changing opportunity
Laila’s misery continued. Yet, things changed when her neighbour Zuhra informed her about a women’s center that provides support to vulnerable women.
“Zuhra told me about a women’s center in Al-Najaf that provided support to women who suffer from gender-based violence,” said Laila. In June 2022, Laila joined the center.
Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the center provides women like Laila with psychosocial support and legal counselling.
“I even brought my three eldest daughters, who are already married, to the center to gain the knowledge and skills on how to better manage their lives,” added Laila.
At the center, Laila also received life skills and entrepreneurship skills. This included strategic planning and creative thinking in addition to communication, time management and leadership skills.
“I attended these workshops and I gained lots of skills,” said Laila. “Following these workshops, and out of my passion for plants, I came up with the idea of developing a plant nursery.”
Laila’s idea of opening a small business was accepted by the center. She was very happy to receive seed money to start her new small business.
“Now, when I look back, I realize the importance of women’s empowerment and financial independence,” said Laila. “After successfully establishing and running my nursery, my husband shows me more respect and does not dare to abuse me.”
Laila is much happier and is constantly empowering her daughters to take better hold of their lives.
“I was able to realize my dreams,” said Laila with pride. “If I can do it, every woman in Al-Najaf can build her self-esteem and reach out to success.”
*All names were changed to respect confidentiality.