Young Iraqi women: “Hear our voices, hear our dreams”

Young Iraqi women: “Hear our voices, hear our dreams”

Publication info

Mary Kate MacIsaac

Mid-way down a gravel lane in a tent camp for Iraqis displaced by conflict in nearby provinces, a group of teenage girls is gathered in a circle, exchanging the latest news, stories of friends and family.  Each of their families fled here, to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) late last summer when militants attacked their towns in the Ninewa governorate of Iraq.  According to the United Nations, they are among 900,000 Iraqis who have sought greater security here.

The ground is still damp from the harsh wet winter, but the sun is shining brightly.  Soon summer will arrive and the scorching heat will be the new topic of conversation. Aisha*, 15, is at the center of the group of teens. She is laughing with her friends, who each assume a more serious appearance as visitors approach.  Aisha hollers an excited ‘hello’ to Shireen, a  Kurdish-Dutch aid worker employed with CARE’s partner, Harikar. 

When armed groups took her town last summer, Aisha had just completed grade nine.   She is mature for her age, but she has had little choice.  She is the de facto head of household for the family of five.  Aisha’s mother was killed in the violence that swept Iraq’s Ninewa governorate last August.  Her father was working in another city far from their home when it happened.  Aisha and her four siblings escaped with an uncle’s family.  Her father has continued his job as a guard in a city several hours away, so the family sees him only a few times each month.  Despite being a young teen, Aisha is now the main care giver for her two brothers and two sisters. 

Taking a seat with friends in a neighboring tent, the teenagers compare their old lives with the new.  They describe the changes they or others they know have endured. “There are a lot of differences between here and our home,” Aisha explains.  “For example, more girls are getting married now, earlier than before.  I don’t think girls should get married so young.  They’re too small, they’re still too young.  They know nothing.”  The young women around her nod their heads in agreement. “But this is because families do not feel their daughters are safe,” Aisha explains.  Rates of early marriage have increased as a result of the war, something CARE and other agencies have raised concerns about. 

In refugee camps or camps like this one, for internally displaced persons (IDPs), women are more vulnerable to exploitation and sexual violence.  Walking longer distances to washrooms and wash areas increases the level of risk.  “The washing area and bathrooms are so far and separate from where we are living.  This is a problem for us,” Aisha explains.  “We wish our kitchen was closer, too.  We must walk too far to go there.” With future funding, CARE plans to improve latrines, to rehabilitate them for special needs, and where possible, place bathrooms closer to the living areas.

For Aisha, there is much in their lives to improve.  She hopes that young people around the world will remember the Iraqi and Syrian teens who are suffering as a result of this conflict.  In a message she asks to share with teens around the world, Aisha says, “We want the world to hear us and remember us.  We want you to know us and understand the situation we’re living in. Hear our voices, hear our dreams.” 

Like teenagers around the world, these girls share their hopes and dreams with each other.  Each aspires to a life better than that which they have found in an IDP camp.  Aisha’s friend Rania, 18, was an excellent student and wants to be a doctor.  Before her family fled, Aveen, 10, was the top student in her grade seven class.  She wants to be a teacher.   And Aisha, she says, “I’m hoping to become a professor of human rights.  This will be important for the future of our country.” 

These dreams are achievable.  But it would be easier to start if they were back in their homes.   A friend’s father is seated nearby listening.  “All anyone really wants is to go home,” he interjects. “We don’t want anything else.  This is our dream.”

CARE's Role

CARE is working to improve water and sanitation in this camp for internally displaced persons in KRI. CARE plays a central role in the camp’s waste management, covering waste removal, the desludging of latrines, and cash-for-work programming for both waste collection and latrine cleaning.  In addition to supplying kerosene heaters, fuel barrels, blankets, and carpets during the cold winter, CARE has also supported the camp with the distribution of fire extinguishers and training. 

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals. 



Aisha*, 15, and friend, Diana, 18, teens who fled violence in Iraq's Ninewa Governorate last August, have found refuge in Berseve 1, a camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).