This week, REED sat down to a Zoom chat with Kalim Ul Masih, the Head of Mission in Iraq for the Swiss-based NGO Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP). Our conversation with Kalim was focused on how NP helps women who are victims of conflict in Iraq. Our conversation was especially poignant, as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict was marked this past June 19.
Kalim has worked in the humanitarian field for over a decade in countries all over the Middle East and Africa. As of now, this is his third time living in Iraq. Born to a Finnish mother and Pakistani father, Kalim asserts that working in the humanitarian field came naturally to him due to his global upbringing. After working in conflict zones, development and peace-building activities, taking a position with NP was a natural next step for Kalim. He says he was specifically drawn to NP’s specialized nature of their mission work.
NP’s mission in Iraq was established in 2017 in the midst of an ISIS stronghold with the purpose of implementing unarmed civilian protection in the area. The organization mainly focuses on the most vulnerable IDPs in South Mosul both inside and outside IDP camps, which are most often women and young girls. Specifically, NP provides protective accompaniment to access services, such as legal assistance and health care and moves alongside local actors to monitor protections from an insider’s point of view.
The security apparatus looks at [women] as not having the same rights as anyone else would have.
But often local conflicts get in the way. In some IDP camps, the locals discriminate against IDP families feared to have familial connections with ISIS. This invites discrimination and further repression of their rights in the community. “The security apparatus looks at them as not having the same rights as anyone else would have,” Kalim says. Ethnic and family-related tensions are also major concerns.
This is why, Kalim, says “We… always adapt our strategy. Since we are still outsiders [to] the family unit and the community, we need to gain an understanding [of them] first.” This understanding involves hiring local men and women to explain to their communities what NP is doing to help women participate in society and how it is beneficial to them. They also make sure to work with local government leaders in this endeavor.
But still there remains the “invisible side” to post-conflict societies – the women who are disallowed from leaving the home, their existence and needs completely unknown. Kalim appreciates this issue and says that is why NP focuses on achieving far-reaching improvements in order to eventually reach these women.
Despite the challenges, Kalim celebrates the practical and substantially positive impacts of his work. “We are able – with quite basic actions – to improve [refugees and IDPs’] quality of life and prevent violence and conflict from being an over-arching presence in their lives,” he says. He champions the “human approach” NP utilizes, which he credits as bringing long-term solutions, focused on relationship-building. “I do enjoy the challenge of following up on how government[s] will handle IDPs and their return to their areas of origin,” he says.
Kalim understands, first-hand, the positive impacts of relationship-building and cultural sensitivity. While he was working with another organization, their 8 million dollar humanitarian project was at stake when an Iraqi tribal leader with immense power did not want to allow them into the area. After months of begging him to allow them to help the local population, the leader agreed to meet with the team where he berated them yet another time. Kalim worked up the courage to tell him that him and his team were merely “guests” in his area and would like to help his people but also make up for any misunderstandings. By a stroke of luck, it worked. “When you’re a guest in their area, they feel obliged to help you.” The leader invited them for dinner the next evening and the project was a go.
For more information on Nonviolent Peaceforce, visit their website at http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org.
Disclaimer: REED is in no way affiliated with Nonviolent Peaceforce. This article is for educational purposes only.