Baghdad youth Camp implemented in March 2015
On the morning of Thursday, 6 March 2015, the Iraqi Social Forum opened a small youth camp called “youth with Shahrazad ”. It lasted for two days and was intended to bring young activists together to work for the protection of women’s rights in Baghdad.
The 8 participants were introduced to the campaign and its specific objectives, and they also gained a more general sense of women’s rights and the challenges they face in Baghdad.
The first day started with a presentation on the background of the Shahrazad campaign. Ali Saheb, the secretary of the Iraqi Social Forum, explained how the campaign started, and its relation to what is known as the draft of al-Jaafari Law. The campaign originated as a direct action to reject this draft law, since it violated basic freedoms for women. Saheb then explained that the campaign is now focused on sexual harassment for two reasons: first, in order to expose and make known just how widespread the phenomenon is within Iraqi society; and second, to address the lack of effort that has been made to confront this phenomenon. He stressed that his campaign ‘does not neglect the new realities imposed by the presence of Daesh and the shift in priorities their presence demands’. Protecting women from the risk of displacement, murder and slavery is now the top priority, and the campaign has had to reorient its direction and objectives from its original focus on the anti-personal status law Jaafari, and a more general confrontation of sexual harassment and underage marriage within Iraqi society. Due to the urgent need to respond to threat from Daesh, the campaign aims to involve and unite a range of different activists, Iraqi organizations, and international civil society under one common goal: that is, to defend the freedom of Iraqi women in the face of forces that seek to restrict their freedom and violate their rights.
Cartoonist Adel Hussein, one of the participants in the camp said, ‘I am here today in order to work in this camp, and my presence stems from my absolute commitment to securing women’s freedoms. My humble contribution to the campaign is drawing posters to promote the campaign’.
The Agenda for the youth camp also included a meeting with the activist, Ahmed Agha, who is the coordinator of the relief organization, Ghawth. Ahmed presented his experience as volunteer and coordinator for a national campaign that he started together with his colleagues to give relief to displaced families. While Ahmed explained the elements of a successful campaign, Imad al-Shara, a journalist and civil rights activist discussed with the participants different kinds of strategic planning used in similar campaigns, and suggested ways Shahrazad might learn from the experiences of those other campaigns.
Participants were divided into small groups to discuss the production of promotional materials to support the Shahrazad campaign. Before the end of the first day of the camp, there had already been an exchange of solidarity messages and video calls via the Internet with a number of international activists who expressed their solidarity with Iraqi women and gave their support for the Shahrazad campaign.
Although sending a photo or a tweet via social media may seem to be only a small action to take to show solidarity with Iraqi women, the impact of these solidarity messages was very important to Iraqi activists, who are struggling to show the international community that Iraq is much more that a country of entrenched war and violence. These activists — and Iraqis more generally — want the world to know about all they’re doing to rebuild and restore Iraq, and the messages received by the camp participants reflect precisely this kind of greater international awareness. They give those working so hard for peace a tremendous amount of hope and energy to go on. Solidarity messages received included a photo message and greetings from members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in the US: ”We support all of your most important work and are so glad to be in solidarity with all of you.”
Another photo message came from Libera Accademia di Roma, Università Popolare dello Sport and Sport Against Violence: ‘Solidarity with #shahrazad’. Solidarity also came from Norway’s Karibu Foundation and the Norwegian Social forum, as well as a message from the Save the Tigris campaign: “Water rights are Women Rights!”
In addition to messages and tweets, video calls connected activists from Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI), Un Ponte Per… , and Walk Free directly with participants at the camp. ICSSI explained its work and campaigns, and discussed the vital role the youth play in civil and human rights campaigns, and in giving support to Shahrazad. Walk Free presented its experience and work on the campaign ‘Take Slavery in Iraq to the International Criminal Court’, a phenomenon that Daesh brought to Iraqi women after Mosul crisis.
The second day of the camp was devoted to work, and the participants started actually to produce the promotional materials for campaign that had been discussed the previous day. They also worked on developing a media plan for the campaign that would include traditional and social media. Activists produced tow posters, a campaign logo, and one banner — all of which will be important tools to promote the campaign.
The participants also discussed how to use mobile phones to support the goals of the campaign, and organized a video call between some participants and organizers of the youth camp and other participants of a workshop in Erbil, organized to support Shahrazad.
The Iraqi office of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting hosted the youth camp, however, because the security situation in Baghdad is still not stable, the participants were unable to sleep at the camp and had to return to their houses after activities finished each day.
Still, the participants were satisfied with the camp, and asked to be more involved in the activities arranged by Shahrazad and the Iraqi Social Forum in general.
This activity has been supported by Karibu Foundation and Fondation Assistance Internationale, through the Italian NGO Un ponte per… and ICSSI.