The social workers at Mercy Hands play a major role in providing protection to vulnerable groups targeted by Mercy Hands, such as refugees, stateless people, and IDPs, especially in the fields of domestic and gender based violence (GBV). Violence is prevalent within the Iraqi community but it is more prevalent within vulnerable sects of the community such as IDPs, refugees, and stateless people.
"Majority of victims of GBV and domestic violence are women and the perpetrator is usually a male family member", said Ms. Mariam, one of the social workers working at Mercy Hands. Ms. Mariam continues to say, "one of the major challenges facing our work is how to reach out to the victims (of GBV) and earn their trust, because the perpetrator stays close to the victim and the victim is usually hesitates to report on him because of fear of revenge".
However, the protection team at Mercy Hands, under the leadership of Eng. Ahmed Sameer, has come up with creative solutions to this challenge. The social workers visit the targeted communities with the lawyers, and as the lawyers conduct their legal sessions on representatives of the targeted communities (usually men), the social workers will take this opportunity to sit with the females of the community in a separate room and listens to them.
Ms. Mariam says, "After I give them the sense of safety and trust, I meet with each woman separately and encourage her to speak the truth and admit if she was a victim of violence". This way has proven to be successful, as many women victims have started to talk and asked Ms. Mariam for help.
Ms. Mariam tells the story of one of those women, "a Palestinian refugee who lives in Baghdad with her husband, who is an Egyptian citizen, and their two children. I met her at the city hall of one of the neighborhoods in Baghdad where her husband and other refugees were receiving a session on legal aid presented by our lawyers. Just like with the other women, I sat with her in a quiet room separated from the others. The signs of depression and deep sadness were showing on her face, and she was looking at me with fear and confusion. I introduced myself and the work I do within Mercy Hands, then I asked her how she was doing and if she had any problem that she would like to share with me, but her answer was negative and she denied having any problem. I tried to reassure her and make her feel safe by saying that everything she'd say will remain confidential and promised that her identity will be anonymous. After a few futile attempts, she suddenly started crying and said her husband had been mercilessly beating her up. She feels alone, helpless and hopeless. She cannot confront her husband, her family does not support her, and she cannot ask others for help because she fears the "shame" and she believes no one can help her. I spent a long time listening, guiding, and advising her. I also connected her to one of our lawyers to educate her about her rights and consult her on legal options. Till today, the lawyer and I still talk to her. She feels better because now she knows her rights as a victim of domestic abuse and she is aware of the laws that were put to protect her. She also knows that she is not alone in this, as there is a team of lawyers and social workers standing behind and supporting her.
The social workers at Mercy Hands are planning to provide more services to the victims of domestic violence and GBV. They are currently reaching out and coordinating with the psychological support units at the Primary Health Care Centers located in areas of high concentration of refugees, stateless people, and IDPs, in order to connect between the victims and these facilities. They are also reaching out and coordinating with the Community Police units at the nearby police stations in order to open a direct channel between the police and the victims. Moreover, the social workers will contact governmental and non-governmental organizations active in women issues to inquire about the presence of any women shelter that victims of domestic violence or GBV can go to if they do not feel safe. In order to maximize the outcomes of this effort, the social workers are working with the information officers of the protection department at Mercy Hands to develop a "Guide for Victims of Domestic Violence and GBV" that will include all information regarding resourceful available for those victims.
Last but not least, the Director of protection department, Eng. Ahmed Sameer, is planning for a new initiative that will connect all victims of domestic violence and GBV to each others in the form of a network. Through that network, the victims will exchange information and provide psychosocial support to each others. The social workers will manage this network and they will also facilitate the support group sessions that are conducted within the network.