IOM Iraq’s EU-Funded Project Contributes to Peace and Stability in Iraq

By: Sabah Abdulrahman

IOM Iraq contributes to peace and stability in Iraq by promoting dialogue and strengthening relationships between host community members and internally displaced persons (IDPs),  and building local capacity through vocational training and soft skills development.

To this end, IOM recently carried out a European Union-funded project in Kirkuk to enhance social cohesion between IDPs and members of the host communities from diverse ethno-religious backgrounds: Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Kakayees, Sabean-Mandean and Christians.

The project started with sewing training for IDP and host community women; as part of the package, women had the opportunity to enhance their communication and dialogue skills through 45-minute awareness sessions. The goal of these sessions was to highlight the importance of dialogue and interaction as a means of strengthening social cohesion among diverse communities. The women worked together over a period of two months to develop their sewing skills and build relationships; they also supported and learned from each other. While participants were busy learning sewing or attending awareness-raising classes, their children were being entertained in an adjacent hall that was turned into a temporary playroom.

 “At the beginning of the training, women from different communities used to come and go together, never mixing with others or even talking; Kurds would sit alone, Arabs would sit alone, and the Shi’a and Sunnis were apart. A few weeks later they started to befriend  women from other ethno-religious groups and exchanged phone numbers. If one missed a session, others would ask and even call to check on her,” said Mrs. Samia’a, the project’s sewing instructor.

After the women graduated from the sewing course, and in order to build empathetic and supportive relationships in the community, they used their skills to support needy households in the area. They identified women who were struggling financially, took their measurements, and sewed them new clothes.  To encourage social cohesion, the IDP graduates visited host community households, whereas the host community graduates visited IDP households.

In addition to vocational training and skills development, IOM also provides a 7-week course in leadership specifically designed for women. A number of women who attended the sewing training have now joined the leadership course. They explained that being involved in IOM activities has increased their self-confidence, and that they wanted to develop their skills so they could take a more active role in the community.

By building relationships and bonds between diverse groups of people and offering a space for an open dialogue to take place, IOM has contributed to reducing inter-communal tensions and to promoting stronger social cohesion between people from diverse backgrounds.