One Mother’s Inspiring Fight for her Rights

Samira, like many Iraqi women, married young. For most of her adult life her world revolved around her home and her four children. Her rights were an afterthought.

A few years ago, her husband died. Without his income, Samira and her children couldn’t afford to live in the factory they called home for so many years.

She barely had time to bury her husband and comfort her children before her attention switched to matters of survival: Where would they live? How would they feed and clothe themselves? And the question that occupied Samira’s mind the most: How would she keep her kids in school?

Although Samira didn’t have the answers to all these questions just yet, she was confident she could find a solution that would bring her children stability and security once again. But there was a new complication.

Her in-laws were completely against Samira living on her own with her children. It would “look bad to civilized society” for a widow to live without a guardian. She was bombarded with the usual suite of objections: she wasn’t capable of providing an “honorable lifestyle” for her children, it was not moral to live alone, and the classic “what would people think” argument.

Finally, the in-laws wore her down emotionally and she moved her family in with them. It was a decision she immediately regretted. Samira and her children were treated like criminals. “They did not trust me or my children,” she told us.

It became clear that her in-laws’ offer to live with them wasn’t about compassion, or even about familial obligation. It was about maintaining control of Samira and especially, her children.

This was a life Samira refused to accept. Turning her back on the conservative conventions that had forced her hand, she walked out, taking her kids with her.

“My dream is to support my children and raise them until they graduate from school and become educated.” She knew that she couldn’t achieve that unless she took control of her own life.

She was going to do whatever it took to make sure that her children would never have to worry about interrupting their education because they couldn’t afford the school fees. When we asked her if her children had jobs to contribute to household expenses, Samira said “I do not ask my children to work because it is a violation of their rights.”

Samira spent every spare minute she had baby-sitting or baking bread for her new neighbors in order to make ends meet. She was going to prove to her in-laws that she could provide for her children “honorably”. A neighbor noticed Samira’s growing baby-sitting service and entrepreneurial spirit. She recommended War Child’s Women’s Empowerment Program to her so Samira could turn her babysitting service into a daycare. She was a model student and was soon established as a business woman in her own right.

Today Samira is the picture of an empowered Iraqi woman and she wears that badge with pride. “I consider myself a strong and leading woman in this society,” she says, “which is dominated by customs and traditions that are against women’s rights. I will fight these customs and traditions until my last dying breath and without regret because my life depends on my work. Raising my children with dignity does not depend on customs and tradition.”

There is a woman or girl like Samira in every country, every project, and every neighborhood where War Child works. These women are at the heart of the women’s empowerment movement that is growing in conflict zones everywhere.

We are honored to stand with them, to hear their stories and to help amplify their clear and powerful voices. As mothers, they are the guardians of the future. You can help them shape it.