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February 16, 2004
Hilary F. White



Karbala, Iraq. The Zainab Al-Hawra'a Center for Women's Rights opened on February 16. The purpose of the Center is to assist widowed, impoverished, and vulnerable women as they improve their lives and those of their children. The Center will help enable the women to participate in a free, democratic Iraq.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), attended the opening. He toured the facility, seeing the Center's restaurant, internet café, sewing room, library, and day care. Ambassador Bremer met privately with the board members, then he spoke to the more than 250 people who attended, including women and their families. In his remarks, Ambassador Bremer said:

"Your future is full of hope…we in the Coalition are committed to supporting women's rights in Iraq."

During the former Regime, Iraqi women would never have dreamed of meeting to discuss their rights as individuals. The husbands, fathers, and sons of many of the women attending were killed by the former regime. So many men in South Central Iraq were killed, women represent more than 60% of the population. The Center provides an opportunity for women to claim back their freedoms and focus on their futures as leaders and valuable participants in the reconstruction of a free Iraq. Ambassador Bremer provided encouragement to the women as they work for a democratic Iraq:

"Iraq is back, and its future is not destined by the chains of a dictatorship. Iraq is full of hope, and I know you will succeed."

One of the Center's many success stories is an Iraqi woman who began volunteering after the Center hired her husband as a security guard. She assists at the reception desk and today brought her young children to the opening. She has said the following about the Center:

"This Center has changed my life. I used to be depressed. Now I am excited when I wake up in the morning!"

The women want financial independence and political involvement. To achieve these goals, the Center will provide the following income generating activities: daycare, catering, restaurant, internet café, production of clothes to sell in the local market, and electrical appliance shop. The Center will also offer the following educational and assistance programs: women and children’s nutrition classes, health classes, cooking classes, sewing classes, literacy programs, library, widows program, English classes, computer classes, and democracy and advocacy sessions.

Located in a former Ba'athist building, the women named their new Center after the revered Zainab Al-Hawra'a, the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammad. This Women’s Rights Center is the third to open in the South Central Region, which represents approximately 12 million people. The Coalition Provisional Authority and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) worked with women from all across Karbala to establish the Center. In the coming weeks, more Centers will open as well.

Learning about freedom and responsibility in a democratic society are essential as Iraqis move toward a sovereign government. The Center represents another important step forward for all Iraqi women as they participate in a free, democratic Iraq.



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