September 25-27, 2016
Aysar Shihab – Baghdad
The Shahrazad Centre for the Protection of Human rights Defenders and the Iraqi Journalists Forum hosted a workshop for Iraqi and Kurdish women activists from September 25-27 at their offices in Baghdad. The workshop was attended by sixteen Iraqi women who came from Basra, Dhi Qar, Karbala, Diwaniya, Dohuk, Sulaimaniya, Arbil and Baghdad. For the first time, two international experts joined the women to exchange and to learn from each other on how to both reduce risks and how to support each other in their dangerous work.
The workshop began with exercises led by Ann J. Ward, an activist from the US, to build communication, trust, and solidarity among the women. Women exchanged their ideas about what brought them to human rights work, how they care for themselves, how they face their fears, and what they need in order to develop trust.
Giulia Cappellazzi, an activist and Head of Mission of the Italian NGO Un Ponte Per led the women in discussions to explore what obstacles and dangers they face working as female human rights defenders and how they can be stronger working together as a network of united women.
The workshop began with several exercises on how to communicate with others and to identify their goals and exchange the ideas that concern with Human Right Defending and what are their experiences during their work. The exercise was given by Mrs Ann Ward she is a US activist and working as Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) and has a long experience in Iraq, and worked with international non-governmental organizations and with some of United Nations agencies . Mrs Ann introduced her experience in the field of her protection as activist and the protection of human right defenders in general
During the discussions a number of risks facing women who work as human rights defenders journalists, unionists and lawyers emerged as they are monitoring violations and corruption. Included in these risks are threats from government and non-governmental agencies, accusations and being taken to court for publishing news about the violations of influential people, and being assaulted by different groups who see the work of human right defenders as threatening.
Iraqi woman also face harassment merely working as females in the public space. A common threat is the use of social media to harm the reputation of women journalists and activists. Often, those against women publish fake pictures and information about the defenders to shame them and that can increase their risk of being fired from their jobs or being threatened or killed . Trainees all agreed that the digital space, specifically social networks such as Facebook, have become the most dangerous area of their safety. It represents the easiest way to be targeted by those affected by the work of journalists and defenders of human rights.
The women agreed that to improve their own self-protection they should be cautious in their movements, stay on public roads, let colleagues know of their movements and meetings, and use cameras and phone applications to identify their locations or emergencies. Also, by publishing stories with confirmed facts and high levels of accuracy and knowing laws related to journalistic practices they can reduce the danger of attack.
During the workshop the participants also learned about the Legal Clinic provided by the Shahrazad Centre. The Centre lawyer provided an introduction about the work and how the defenders can benefit from free consulting on cases that they may face during their work
In fact Iraq is not without specialists in this important and vital field, Dhiyaa Alsarrai is a Communication and Information Program Specialist with UNESCO Iraq. The Iraqi Journalist forum who is implementing the Shahrazad Centre in Baghdad, choose Mr Alsarrai as supervisor of all the trainings due to his experience in this field. He gave a full explanation about the terms of human rights defenders, addressing the international human rights system. He also explained the most important legal safeguards and means of protection available to the defenders of human rights in Iraq that relate to the personal and professional safety especially in or near conflict zones. Mr. Alsarrai also engaged the women to work practically on the design of advocacy campaigns during the workshop.
The identification of the risks and protection was not only on the practical said but went beyond that to the virtual world. Mr. Ahmed Alnahidh explained the most important risks that the human right defenders could face in the virtual world during their work on social media on the internet. The training provided an overview of important social media networks, blogs, and the electronic online petition including its affect and how we can use it to serve the defenders. He also discussed digital security and important risks that women activists and human right defenders may face like hacking and stalking and losing information. He introduced a solution for each problem and identified the right mechanisms to avoid these risks like using encrypted channels, strong passwords for cell phones and computers and destruction of evidence.
Mr. Alnahidh also explained the means of digital storage and identified the pros and cons of different methods and how to use them safely. He reviewed the importance of backing up files in a safe place, the importance of identity protection, and how to determine geographic locations via the IP address.
The official Iraqi TV covered this workshop and made interviews with the head of Iraqi Journalist Forum, Mrs Nibras, and with the trainers and the international experts who participated in this special workshop.
Graduation certificates were provided to each participant and also to an Iraqi Social Forum volunteer, Mustafa Ali, who worked as a translator for the international experts to support Shahrazad Centre.
This project was implemented in collaboration with the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) and the Italian organization Un Ponte Per… (UPP), and was funded by the Human Rights program of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Iraq and the Swiss Foundation Assistance Internationale