With insecurity and economic hardship, Iraqis are still paying the price of years of oppression and war. And women carry a heavy burden. Hanaa Edwar, a human rights activist, has never stopped fighting for women's rights.
Hanaa Edwar said: “In 2011 we had weekly protests and demonstrations, with young people from different social strata protesting against sectarianism, against corruption, attacks on public liberties.”
Many protesters were arrested and Hanna Edwar was filmed protesting in parliament, nad the Prime Minister accusing human rights organisations of supporting terrorism.
Hanaa Edwar said: “After 35 years of bloody dictatorship in this country, the first thing we need to do is develop from a totalitarian regime into a culture of human rights and democracy. It's not easy, this transition period. But the Americans made a chaos of this transition. It's not only them; even our politicians are not capable of doing the things necessary to rebuild, reconstruct the country.”
Hanaa's crusade started in her teens. During her law studies, she joined the Communist Party, and got involved in several human rights organizations. At 26, she left for East Berlin as the Iraqi representative of an international women's rights organisation. She spent 10 years there, but couldn't return to Iraq; Saddam's regime forced her into exile in Syria, before she joined the resistance in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Hanaa Edwar said: “I was again forced to leave the country because of the wave of chemical war of Saddam against the resistance movement in Kurdistan. Again I came to Damascus. After the 2nd Gulf War, after 1991, we felt our responsibility was to find how we can organize ourselves for relief. So we started thinking of creating an organization, which we named Iraqi al Amal association, which means hope; we wanted to plant hope in our people.”
After years of underground activity in Syria and in Kurdistan, Hanaa Edwar returned to Baghdad just one week after the American invasion in 2003, and opened the headquarters of her organization. The Al Amal network now spreads throughout the whole country. The main focus is on women, hard hit by decades of dictatorship, sanctions, war, and sectarian violence. Al Amal provides material help, as well as legal and psychological support. But as well as grassroots activism, Hanaa Edwar isn't afraid of confronting those in power.
Hanaa Edwar said: “Our national budget is always spent on security and defence, not on social security. But we have 1.5 million widows, we have 3 million orphans, 10% of our population are disabled; we have displaced people who have nothing. And at the same time you find a lot of corruption in our apparatus. Not only should we speak about terrorism in Iraq. Terror in Iraq it is one thing; but when we speak about corruption, corruption also is the other side of the terror.”
Hanaa Edwar's activities don't only attract supporters, threats are commonplace, against her and her organization's members. She knows she can rely on her staff, and the many women who head up the various organizations within the Al Amal network. They want to make their voices heard in all areas of public life. To change things in Iraq.
Hanaa Edwar said: “We need really peace, peace, peace. For over 40 years now, we have lived in a situation where you don't know what will be tomorrow! You can't plan for tomorrow. You are not safe about your family. You are not safe about yourself if you go outside, or you come back. During the 3 years of sectarian war we moved, we did a lot of work despite the dangers surrounding us. And we lost some of our best friends. I lost close friends, And this for us, it gives me always encouragement more, and this challenge I have to continue.”