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New Iraqi Association Strives To Help Unmarried Women

"Single Women" recently opened its doors in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to assist unmarried women who have traditionally been neglected by society.
Syrian refugees, who fled the violence in Syria, are seen at a school that functions as a shelter for Syrian Kurdish refugees at Qushtapa at the outskirts of the city of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region, August 23, 2013. The number of Syrian children forced to flee their devastated homeland reached 1 million on August 23, 2013, half of all the refugees driven abroad by a conflict that shows no sign of ending, the United Nations said. Another two million Syrian minors are uprooted within their country where

SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — An association calling itself Single Women, based in the city of Sulaimaniyah in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, is helping unmarried women meet the challenges of family life and the pressures faced by single women.

Single Women is the first association in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region set up to help women over the age of 35 who haven't married or had the chance to achieve any technical or professional skills.

Amina Ali, the director of the association, told Al-Monitor: "I began implementing the idea in 2009. I later worked on clarifying its goals and working methods. Then, I obtained the necessary government approvals and announced the opening of its office in Sulaimaniyah in August 2013. It is run by 15 female employees and housewives."

"The association works with single women and seeks to help them attain financial independence and alleviate many social pressures," she added.

Ali continued, "This 'invisible' segment of women struggles with enormous psychological and physical suffering, because of societal notions that condemn and shame women who are not married by their thirties. This is despite the fact that, often, this [situation] is out of their own control."

Although there are no official statistics on the number of single women in Iraq, unofficial figures indicate that a high percentage of Iraqi women are illiterate. According to a statement released by the Tammuz Organization for Social Development on the International Day for the Eradication of Illiteracy, Dec. 8, 2012, 24.6% of Iraqi women are illiterate.

The vast majority of illiterate women in Iraq remain under the care of male family members and rely on them financially. This naturally subjects them to the absolute authority of their father, brother or uncle. This control comes in addition to the loneliness and isolation suffered by a single woman if she does not have a rich social environment.

Ali added, "A single woman's day revolves around housework. She exerts her energy cleaning and cooking. Our goal is to enable these women to develop themselves and allow them to learn skills and participate in professional workshops so they can find work and a source of income — so they will no longer be a burden on their families."

The association, which receives support from the Kurdistan Regional Government, is preparing a program that will provide monthly stipends as well as other activities for these women. Women can join the association by applying, and the association's employees go around distributing the form. According to Ali, "So far, approximately 70 women have joined the organization and are receiving services."

The association hopes to later expand its work to include services for divorced women and widows.

Miriam Ali is a journalist who has worked with a number of Iraqi media outlets. She is an activist in the field of women's rights and has participated in a number of courses and workshops for promoting civil action.

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