Celebrating Local Activists for #16 Days
To celebrate 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence we are proud to introduce you to some of the incredible people we work with we work with in Iraq.
Sozan Safar Ismail is the Founder and President of Dak Organization that supports the development of women in Iraq, a partner organization in the USAID Iraq Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response (GRPR) program implemented by Management Systems International to work with women and girls from communities in northern Iraq affected by ISIS.
In August 2014 while pregnant with her second daughter, Sozan was watching the news and hearing about the suffering and violence inflicted on Yezidi women by ISIS. She decided that she had to do something to help these women. In October 2014, 40 days after giving birth, she volunteered among a group of eight women to assist female ISIS survivors and internally displaced persons in the camps.
The group collected donations, clothes and food supplies. They volunteered for three years, to help the women in any way they could. As Sozan’s network grew in the camps, she started connecting the female survivors to organizations offering psycho-social support to female survivors and internally displaced persons.
“I was still a mathematics teacher at the time. Sometimes we didn’t have any money, and I would take out money from my salary to help the survivors. That was the beginning of our journey with Dak, which means “Mother” in Yezidi.”
Raised in a rural household in Tel Keif, Sozan was the fourth daughter out of seven children. Her family survived on very little, selling eggs and produce from the land. Her sisters, only a few years older than her, were married to their cousins at ages fourteen and fifteen.
Sozan witnessed the tragedy and poverty caused by her sisters’ childhood marriages and disruption of their education. Her sister, with whom she was closest, took her own life at the age of 22 due to depression, leaving behind a 40-day-old infant and a void that Sozan would later turn into her life’s legacy.
“I decided early on in my life that I was going to save myself from a fate similar to that of my sisters. I made it my cause to educate and empower myself and other women. I don’t want any woman to experience the suffering that my sister endured, or what I endured because of losing her.”
After only one year of volunteering and attending trainings and workshops, Sozan officially registered Dak as an NGO. It was no surprise that she strode ahead with the same fortitude and persistence that she had come to rely upon in the face of critics.
“Everyone kept telling me that I couldn’t do it, that it’s too difficult and that I will fail. But I persisted despite everyone’s discouragement because I believed in our organization’s mission.”
Since June 8, 2015, Dak has been working for women-centered development, empowerment, protection and peacebuilding by building the capacities of women from different walks of life. They are implementing a legal advocacy pilot program supported by USAID that provides legal consultation and representation to women suffering or at risk of gender-based violence including survivors of sexual violence in ISIS captivity. Sozan said, “This program is so important and there are a lot of women in need of help especially among the internally displaced persons. Legal assistance is so important to help women understand and achieve their rights.”
“Our goal is to build a healthy society free from violence and protect women’s justice and human dignity. I am hopeful that I will see the change we want in my lifetime.”