Towards violence-free workplaces in Iraq: Interview with Feryal Alkaabi, Director of Awan Organization

Awan Organization for Awareness and Capability Development (Awan Organization) is a feminist organization founded in 2010 by a group of women in Iraq. It aims to raise awareness and provide capacity development on women’s rights as a way to prevent violence, exclusion and discrimination against women and girls in the central and southern regions of Iraq. With the support of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), the organization has launched a new project on preventing violence against women in the workplace.

We talked with Feryal Alkaabi, Director of Awan Organization, about violence against women in the workplace and Awan Organization’s approach to preventing it.

Photo of Feryal Alkaabi, Director of Awan Organization. She is standing, speaking in front of a white board, wearing a headscarf.
Feryal Alkaabi, Director of Awan Organization. Credit: Awan Organization

What is the main purpose of Awan Organization?

Our organization works to give voice to the reality of all aspects of the lives of Iraqi women and girls, highlighting inequalities and taking actions to create an equal and just society free from violence against women and girls. Through our work, we support increasing women’s and girls’ economic, cultural and legal awareness and improving their equal participation and representation in society. We draw on our expertise to address all forms of violence, including violence in the workplace.

Why does your project focus on workplace violence against women?

Sexual harassment and assault in the workplace are major challenges for women in the private sector in Iraq. Indeed, this is not just a challenge, but a widespread violation of their human rights.

Despite legal protections, many women are exposed to sexual harassment in the workplace by their managers, colleagues and customers. Companies often lack a clear policy that informs their employees of their rights and offers them protection and redress if these abuses occur. There is a very low level of awareness about the laws and procedures among employees and employers. As most women are not aware of their constitutional and legal rights, cases of violence are often not reported. Even when women are aware of their rights, harmful norms and traditions make it challenging for them to speak up and report this violence.

Failure to address sexual harassment against women in the workplace can also increase the barriers preventing women from accessing the labour market; their participation in the labour market is already limited due to social and cultural stereotypes and discrimination. Not taking action in such cases supports victim blaming and promotes a culture of silence.

How can violence against women in the workplace be addressed?

We need to improve the implementation of laws and procedures within the workplace by preparing policies to be adopted by the private sector against violence against women in the workplace.

We also need to educate people and raise awareness among employers and employees in the private sector about the negative impact and serious nature of sexual harassment against women in the workplace. It is important to create solidarity between women and men and talk about the harm sexual harassment is causing to the whole society.

In addition, we should develop the legal capacities of women working in the private sector, increasing their knowledge of the labour laws, ILO standards and procedures that should be used to protect the rights of the working women.

It is important to create solidarity between women and men and talk about the harm sexual harassment is causing to the whole society says Feryal Alkali, Director of Awan Organization

How does your project aim to prevent violence against women in the workplace?

Our project aims to realize the steps mentioned above, which are needed to enable secure and safe workplaces for all women in Iraq. Supported by the UN Trust Fund, our three-year project is targeting employers, women and men employees, sectoral bodies, civil society and a wide range of other stakeholders.

We aim to address violence against women in the workplace, starting by raising awareness among women working in the private sector, including women living in poverty, members of minority groups, those living with disabilities, displaced communities and female heads of households. We aim to achieve this by conducting awareness-raising sessions on legal and constitutional rights as well as labour laws and by disseminating information through public advocacy and media campaigns. By establishing safe units in trade unions, we will also provide legal advice to survivors of violence.

We are working with women’s organizations, the Human Rights Commission and sectoral bodies, such as the Chamber of Commerce and trade unions, to develop a guide and a new policy for employers on harassment in the workplace. In addition, we will be conducting awareness-raising sessions with both employers and workers on the serious nature and negative effects of harassment.

Group photo: people (both men and women) sitting at black tables in a room, watching a woman speaking and pointing at a white board.
Awan aims to raise awareness of both employers and employees on violence against women in the workplace. Credit: Awan Organization

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UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to eradicating all forms of #VAWG. https://untf.unwomen.org/