Just like other Iraqi governorates, Mosul’s province, Nineveh, enforced health precautionary measures. But there were a few specificities to this area, as a result of the destruction of the infrastructure and social and economic life by the war, which made this sanitary campaign much more difficult and showed how unprepared and dysfunctional the government was to handle such a crisis.

The women of Mosul and its suburbs did not give in to the difficulties and took part in many humanitarian and social activities to alleviate the effects of the spread of the pandemic, which caused many deaths. The pandemic has indeed allowed women to show inspiring examples of creativity despite the government failure to adequately manage the pandemic.

Women confronting Coronavirus

While many international and local initiatives attempt to empower women, Mosul women continue to suffer persecution and a curtailment of their role in a society described as patriarchal at all political, economic and social levels. In Iraq, they are often considered second-class citizens.

Hanan Omar is a pseudonym for a 35-year-old widow from Nineveh Governorate. In her interview with The Red Line, she recalled the bitter and difficult conversations and events that she faced. While reflecting on the suffering she and her close ones endured, she expressed pride for all the efforts women had undertaken during the crisis.

“Most of the women involved in business are mothers and they have different social duties and responsibilities, but they bear the burden and do not hesitate to show part of their creativity, despite being in a conservative society where they usually don’t get the opportunity to take initiatives on their own,” she said.

Mrs Omar, a mother of three, continued, explaining that she sought to work in a women’s workshop and provide assistance for 3 months, due to her experience in the field of sewing, in order to provide medical supplies for the needy ones. “The experience was very harsh and difficult, but the feeling of responsibility urged me to hold on.”, she admitted. 

Activist Maryam Hanin, 37, from Nineveh, stresses that there is a need for international and regional intervention to support women in Nineveh; “We live in a conservative society, and perhaps, this pandemic opened the doors for us to prove our efficiency within the community in difficult times, and that we can provide a lot of support in difficult circumstances.

The Iraqi Women Network launched a new project by building the “Communal Peace and Security” initiative for the Nineveh Governorate during the Regional Women Security Forum in 2015. This initiative’s objective was to enhance the role of women and their participation in the development and reconstruction process after the war against ISIS that had destroyed a large part of the province. Since then, governmental success in the reconstruction process have been scarce, particularly due to inefficient implementation of international and local decisions which undermines constructive initiatives.”

Poor health services and scarcity in hospitals

Three years after the liberation of the city, the suffering continues to multiply, especially during the outbreak of the pandemic as the city lacks advanced health institutions, intensive care facilities, and service departments.

“Women in Mosul need additional support, especially since the recent liberation”, expressed Ali Khudair, a member of the Nineveh provincial council. “Maslawi women have very limited room for empowerment and their role is undermined within society. Yet they have provided all the assistance they could bring.”, he added.

“Health is almost non-existent in the governorate, and the statistics of the infected people are inaccurate. The tests are not approved because we lack the appropriate equipment to make standardized tests.” Mr. Khudair added. “The government is inefficient and has no interest in rebuilding the province. This is particularly true regarding projects related to health; 33 billion Iraqi dinars (close to 26,500,000 USD)  have been allocated to rebuilding and equipping Al-Salam and Qayyarah Hospitals since 2019, but nothing has been done; no one has moved a finger.”, concluded the government employee.

In the same context, Nineveh Health Director Falah Al-Taie said, “There is very little support and in any case, it does not compensate for all the destruction of hospitals and health sites in the province.” Mr. Al-Taie added that “Infrastructure are destroyed and hospitals are still in poor conditions,” noting that “there are some organisations that have taken over the task of reconstruction, but they are very late, and the sums allocated are small; also, there is an urgent need for functional hospitals, medicine and modern equipment”.

Al-Taie revealed that “18 hospitals have been destroyed and have been replaced by movable structures in alternative sites, such as (caravans), while the bed capacity of hospitals do not reach 50%.”

Observers familiar with the situation in Nineveh have noted on various occasions that political interference, conflicts, and the influence of militias prevented the provision of the required services for the Governorate, especially in the health sectors. Earlier, Abd al-Rahim al-Shammari, a deputy from Nineveh Governorate, said in a press statement that “the local government is very weak and not serious in terms of countering corruption and there are projects that are referred to influential people from outside the province, which is tantamount to collusion.”

Women and local support for medical supplies laboratories

Sakina Mohammed, the governor’s advisor for women’s affairs and social care, stated that “with the spread of the disease, several decisions were made, including starting awareness campaigns and educational seminars in order to teach women how to follow preventive measures to combat the virus. This had to be done because of the novelty of the pandemic and its difference from previous diseases.” In addition, a sewing factory was established in cooperation with Abnaa al-Hadbaa organization for relief and development aiming at distributing thousands of masks and preventive supplies for free, thanks to the work of hundreds of women in the factory,” she added.

Muhammad added, in an interview with the Red Line, that “women’s efforts in these circumstances contributed to motivate others to work while many benefitted from for monthly wages. In return, hundreds of women participated as volunteers in providing assistance. Currently, there are dozens of people who continue to support this initiative and to work hard.”

On the other hand, Ola Al-Othman, the head of the organization, described how she started her initiative: “I established my production facility on my own with a few donations, when the pandemic swept through the city and the circulation was cut off inside the country and through the borders. Despite all that, we managed to produce medical protective equipment such as masks, protective suits, surgical caps, and others. Thanks to the work of our women crew, we were able to produce more than 600,000 masks, and sell them to pharmacies at very nominal prices”, Mrs. Al-Othman noted that she also donated 50,000 masks and 4000 protective suits. After the end of quarantine, products from different regions started to find their way on the local markets which led to the decrease in our production. However, there are still 22 female workers on the floors of the facility, while others work from their homes, because their families do not allow them to go out.

Suffering and difficulties

Mrs Al-Othman talked about the difficulties women faced in their work: “I was working from early morning until sunset between two jobs, one of them in the hospital and another in the workshop. Things had to be organised, especially bearing the burdens of my infant and family responsibilities.” She continued, “I was infected with the covid 19, and was communicating with my colleagues in the workshop via the phone to inspect the designs and measurements. Moreover, I did not talk about my infection so that they do not feel frustration and panic.”

Marwa Muhammad, a pseudonym for a 29-year-old woman who also works in a workshop, also described her experience to The Red Line:  “We have real problems, while working, especially with our family, problems to raise our children and to satisfy our husbands, but the particularly difficult circumstances at the time of the pandemic make it imperative for us to contribute to support our families. Men must accept the difficult reality that the city and its people are going through after emerging from a devastating war. The most vulnerable section of society in these circumstances are the women.”

A high percentage of women and children in Nineveh Governorate have been affected psychologically, and physically, as a result of their experience of the crimes committed by the islamist organisation ISIS. Women’s exposure to violence, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity during ISIS control in Mosul, was added to their suffering emanating from difficult humanitarian conditions, their loss of security, livelihoods and economic resources.

As Iraq is now facing yet another wave of Covid-19, chances are the situation will worsen again and that women will be exposed to the structural obstacles of a conservative society. Nonetheless, past events have shown us that women can play a highly positive role and take part in vital initiatives to compensate for the government’s dysfunctionalities and the lack of infrastructures in war-torn areas of Iraq.

VIAMowafaq Mohammed