For the first time since its launch in 2013, the annual event of the Iraqi Social Forum extended its activities to last an entire week, demonstrating the impact of 6-years of hard work to improve the lives of all Iraqi people. The season opened with three consecutive days of workshops, seminars and self-organized dialogues from 22-24 November at the Baghdad Academy for Human Sciences in Baghdad. The discussions involved hundreds of professors, academics, activists, and specialists, and saw wide participation from international activists who have expressed clear messages of support and a firm desire to continue joint work with the ISF in the future.
The opening three days covered a wide range of topics which define the work and goals of the ISF’s central masarat (paths). These included:
- the future of trade union activity and the reality of trade union freedoms;
- the social security laws in place to guarantee the rights of workers, and the need to be vigilant in making sure that these laws are enforced;
- ways of developing the legal system so that it better serves all Iraqi people;
- the development of an alternative budget which more directly reflects sustainable development goals, and which better represents the aspirations of civil society;
- the need to bring an end to violence against women in the workplace;
- the rights of working-class Iraqis;
- compulsory education to ensure the protection of children;
- protection of the environment and Iraqi heritage.
ISF’s masar (path) dedicated to the protection of the environment made Iraqi heritage and environmental concerns a central role in the week’s events. It brought together activists from local forums who presented their own individual examples of civil society taking charge in different governorates to protect Iraqi rivers from pollution. The sessions focusing on water and the environment examined the current state of agriculture given the challenges of water scarcity and the dire impact dams are having on the rivers. During the workshop, participants discussed the book, The Iraqi Negotiator, The Ilisu Dam and A Reading of The International Convention On The Law of The Non-Navigational Uses of Watercourses, and activists from Baghdad presented studies revealing the extent of the pollution of the Tigris River within their city. Topics also covered human rights in the context of the environment, and the low levels of water in the Iraqi Marshlands.
Protection of minorities and the key role they play in sustaining national unity were also key issues addressed throughout the course of the week, thanks to the ISF’s Peace Building and Nonviolence masar (path). A workshop entitled “Our diversity strengthens our existence” included strategies for building a strong and lasting peace in areas such as Mosul which have been liberated from Daesh. The workshop explored the role of music in spreading the values of peace, and the possibility of using sports as a tool to promote social cohesion. .
Several seminars organized by ISF’s Political and Civil Rights masar examined freedom of expression, with specific attention given to the right of peaceful demonstration, using the recent demonstrations in Basra as an example. There was an open dialogue on the constitutional framework relating to the concept of citizenship and how to strengthen it, as well as a review of fundamental first aid procedures. Participants in these workshops and seminars also discussed the role of civil society in the construction of a civil state founded on core civic values. They explored the current state of students’ freedoms (which has its own campaign, “A Silenced University Student”), and engaged in the ongoing debate about the reality facing human rights defenders today in Iraq.
Seminars and workshops on Iraq’s cultural heritage revolved around the Urim campaign presented as a model for civil society activity. The issue of illegal trafficking in monuments formed the basis of a broader discussion, which lead to ideas about how to bring about significant economic and environmental recovery as it relates to Iraq’s rich past, its land and its artifacts.
Women’s issues, the theme central to the ISF’s Kahraman masar, also played a major role during the week: activists shared stories of success, honoring strong women and their hard work. Participants considered the problem of domestic violence and explored different ways to reduce it. There was also a rich discussion about the need to expand opportunities for women to participate in political decision-making. This increased access to political power is required if Iraq wants to fulfill its obligations as outlined in the national report relating to CEDAW. The role of women in confronting extremism and terrorism, and their impact on enhancing social cohesion was also a central topic during the week.
In all, there were 45 seminars and dialogue sessions during this 5th season of the Iraqi Social Forum, with involvement from dozens of organizations, both those which work directly with the ISF and those active outside it as well. The conference events included formal and informal gatherings throughout the week until the final day, which began with the 4th annual ‘Baghdad for Peace’ Marathon. The marathon included more than 1,300 women and men, all running to support lasting peace in their city of Baghdad.
The season ended with a festival, ”Another Possible Iraq”, held at Abu Nuwas Gardens on 30 November. Bands from the Arts of Peace team and a number of other young groups performed various artistic and musical shows. Other organizations and teams participated in the festival to raise awareness about the many issues taken up by the ISF through its different masarat (paths). With this final celebration, the 5th season of the Iraqi Social Forum came to a close. It was the most diverse one yet in terms of issues raised, and it was also the most inclusive; this wide involvement is thanks to the activity of the new local forums in so many different Iraqi cities
This year, the season chose the slogan “Citizenship” for this represents the idea of an identity that unites the diverse voices and opinions of the Iraqi people who came together to work for the whole of Iraq. All the masarat (paths) of the ISF aim at establishing the values of active citizenship for the common good.
The tremendous success of the week was due to the exceptional efforts from a large number of volunteers who worked for two months without a break until the event itself took place. The ISF thus offers its sincere gratitude to the volunteers who helped to make the event as successful as it was.
The ISF’s 5th season was possible due to cooperation from a number of organizations belonging to the National Committee of the Iraqi Social Forum and its masarat (paths), the Information Center for Research and Development, the support of the European Union and the Swiss FAI Foundation, CCFD french organisation, the Norwegian Karibu Foundation, and in association with the Italian organization, Un Ponte Per… and the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative.
The Iraqi Social Forum Secretariat