Giving women a second chance; inauguration of the first shelter for GBV survivors in Baghdad

9 March 2018
The first women shelter in Baghdad. © UNFPA Iraq/Salwa Moussa
The first women shelter in Baghdad. © UNFPA Iraq/Salwa Moussa

Women and girls are among the first to make sacrifices during humanitarian crises. This was no exception in Iraq where sexual violence was used as a weapon of war during the three-year period when ISIS occupied large parts of the country. During that period, women and girls under ISIL suffered from discrimination, sexual slavery, forced marriages, rape, gender-based violence, verbal and psychological abuse.

Survivors of gender-based violence often describe their lives as dark, sombre, and shameful. They blame themselves, become introverts and in many cases become victims of complete withdrawals. It takes a lot of courage for women to make the first step to leave an abusive partner and seek support.  Women escaping gender-based violence, therefore, need a haven, a temporary shelter to secure their safety and mitigate risks and threats to their lives. 

Women shelters are very limited in Iraq and inexistent in Centre and Southern parts of the country. To this end, the United Nations Population Fund in Iraq has supported the Government to set up a women shelter where gender-based violence survivors will find physical protection, psychosocial support, guidance, awareness, and recreational activities.

“At a time when the country is rebuilding itself from devastation and destruction, women are expected to knit the society back together,” said one of the social worker at the newly opened shelter. “To do so, women must feel safe, secure, and empowered. This housing facility does not only provide protection but will help those feeling broken and helpless to rise again.”

The shelter, the first of its kind in Central and Southern parts of is located in Baghdad and consists of 10 bedrooms with eight beds each; one room for counselling, one room for psychosocial support and can accommodate up to 80 survivors at ago.

Discussions are currently ongoing with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to duplicate this prototype across the country. “It is critical that the model of the Baghdad Government-supported Women shelter is replicated across the country, and especially in areas with displaced and returnee population, to provide more than just a safe place for women and girls at risk or survivors of sexual violence, but also to enable them to rebuild self-esteem, and to take steps to regain a self-determined and independent life”, says Ms. Pramila Patten, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.


UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, delivers a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

For more information or media inquiries please contact: Salwa Moussa, Communications Analyst,