When UNDP Iraq consulted with Iraqi youth on how they would like to affect social change in Iraq, their priority was clear. During the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen an international surge in reports of domestic violence, youth in Iraq’s Diyala Governorate chose to discourage abuse and promote tolerance.
Part of the Social Cohesion Programme’s Integrated Reconciliation Project focuses on empowering youth and strengthening their position within society by enhancing their capacity to participate in decision-making processes and building their confidence to encourage better engagement with communities and local authorities. This year, with support from the Government of Denmark, youth groups were formed in the governorates of Anbar, Salah Al-Din, Diyala and Ninewa.
Mustafa, 29, a member of the Diyala Youth Group, says, “Social cohesion is very important in Iraq, especially in the current situation. Many segments of society suffer from marginalization, including women, youth, and children. Working to enact domestic violence law is very important to help families. As youth, our priorities are building peace and coexistence, rejecting sectarianism and ethnicity, and working together to build a better Iraq.”
The Diyala Youth Group is responsible for creating and launching the #tolerance_instead of_violence campaign on 4 May, which has been shared by over sixty social media platforms in Iraq, including local news agencies, government officials, social media influencers, and non-governmental organizations. The campaign includes a video produced by youth, stories of survivors of domestic violence to raise awareness about the issue, and a live discussion on Facebook with community police to provide advice to women.
So far, videos that echo the campaign’s message have been received from Anbar, Ninawa, Kirkuk and Babil governorates in various languages, including sign language, English, Kurdish, Syriac, Arabic, and Yazidi. Members of the Diyala Youth Group hope to see the social media campaign reach a wide audience in Iraq, a country where close to half of the overall population is active on social media.
“As a young Iraqi woman, I hope that social cohesion and peace will prevail among all Iraqis,” says 24-year-old Mariam, Diyala Youth Group Member. “This domestic violence campaign will encourage women to speak out and discuss their problems. This is a positive development in moving from submission to speaking with courage.”
Marwan, 25, who produced the youth group’s short video, says, “Working with the Diyala Youth Group will help me create change in society and prevent the spread of entrenched extremist ideas to new generations. We want to reflect a positive image of the province and establish a culture of dialogue and acceptance.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting government-mandated curfews has made it difficult for projects to be implemented on the ground, the youth groups were formed through e-mail, Whatsapp messages, and Zoom meetings. The youth groups have already identified topics for future campaigns and hope to use their creativity and communication skills to champion their causes further.
Fatima, 30, Diyala Youth Group Member, says, “Every time I join a new project or activity, I see myself changed into a better person. More tolerant and human. I believe humanity is the key to civilization and progress, and I always strive for change, even if it is small. Next, we plan to do an initiative focusing on youth empowerment, the first of its kind in Diyala.”
All four youth groups have demonstrated a keen drive to effect social change and inspire social cohesion, tasks that will encourage tolerance and unity in Iraq.