As Iraq rebuilds, its diverse cultural groups face the challenge of learning how to live together. But this isn't always easy--especially for women, who often don’t have chances to travel far from home and meet peers from different backgrounds. Women also have limited access to the web, making it tough for a Kurdish science student, for example, to start a Facebook or Google group that reaches out to her Arabic-speaking peers.
But according to Hassan Ibrahim, an outreach manager for US-based non-profit Mercy Corps, "women are the key to building stronger communities” in the ‘seam’ zones of Iraq--areas where Kurdish and Arab families live side by side and tensions can run high. “Women lead community organizations that are well respected and have large followings,” Ibrahim explains. As a result, they’re well positioned to be agents of social change.
Iraqi women also use mobile phones on a daily basis. Cheap, prevalent, and safe to use within one’s own home, mobiles have quickly become another key to improving local community relations.
Leveraging this technology, Souktel and Mercy Corps launched a new SMS information service for women this month, focusing on ethnically mixed regions of Iraq--like Ninewa and Diyala. Called “Supporting Effective Advocacy for Marginalized Groups” the project’s acronym plays on the reality of the ‘seam’ regions and aims to bring female leaders from Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen and Yezidi communities closer together--so they can jointly lobby local governments for their rights.
Through the service, multi-ethnic workshops, seminars, and small community projects will all be organized via SMS. "The info system will also let Mercy Corps poll local women and youth on specific issues, giving them the chance to voice their views and opinions,” explains Souktel’s Lana Hijazi, who oversees Souktel’s mobile services for women.
The launch of this service in Iraq coincides with the growing trend toward mobile applications for women in the developing world. In October, the U.S. State Department kick-started its own “mWomen” program. This month, Scientific American magazine published a feature article on women and mobile technology, highlighting Souktel’s work in the sector.