The participants in our women’s empowerment program inspire us with their commitment to community and leadership. Thanks to a grant from Dining for Women (DFW), a US-based, non-profit giving circle dedicated to empowering women and girls living in extreme poverty, CRP has been able to and is continuing to offer four-week workshops throughout the year centered on women’s self-care, wellness, empowerment, and leadership. An important aspect is that the sessions are facilitated by women who have gone through the program themselves and received training to lead the workshops. CRP’s expertise and position of trust in the community are based on our engagement with the beneficiaries themselves; they, not us, are the experts in their needs and their experiences, and a core element of our programming is training community members to lead classes themselves.

During a recent session, participants learned about and discussed international human rights law and shared their perspectives, offering examples based on their own experiences. They read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, talking about the individual articles. The group’s facilitator, Aseel, emphasized that these rights are guaranteed regardless of age, race, religion, or nationality; they are guaranteed to all individuals. “All of the rights complete each other,” she said. The second facilitator, Sara, added that “rights aren’t earned” but are deserved “as soon as a child is born.”

Other participants discussed other forms of inequality they had observed, particularly highlighting differences in treatment of men and women, and girls and boys. One woman said, “Men’s salaries are always more than women’s, I don’t know why.” Another said, “In Iraq when raising children, we gave the good food to the boy, the good clothes to the boy,” and added, “This is the first form of direct violence against women.”

“All of the rights complete each other”

As refugees who have fled war and conflict, the women have themselves experienced or witnessed severe human rights abuses. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” but the women spoke of friends, families and acquaintances, including children, in Iraq being arrested without cause or proof of wrongdoing.

Knowing one’s rights is an essential element of being or becoming empowered; you cannot demand that your rights be respected unless you know what they are. The workshop session allowed the women an opportunity to talk through these rights and formulate how they apply to their lives and understandings of the world.