Despite the risks, Sarin Abdallah is determined to keep sheltered women safe

Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Sarin Abdallah works as psychosocial counsellor at Erbil Women’s Shelter. Photo courtesy: Erbil Women’s Shelter

Sarin Abdallah, a 33 year-old psychologist from the Sulaymaniyah Governorate in Iraq, visited a women’s shelter* in Kurdistan for the first time in 2012 while accompanying a colleague who was doing research on the facility’s services. Because the center was located in the district where she grew up, Sarin quickly developed a connection with it and applied for a six-month internship. After the internship, she was appointed as a psychosocial counsellor at the shelter.

Established in 2009, the center is one of four women shelters supported by UN Women’s regional programme “Strengthening the Resilience of Syrian Women and Girls and Host Communities in Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey,” funded by the European Union, the EU Regional Trust Fund in response to the Syrian Crisis (the EU Madad Fund). This project, run by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, aims at helping and supporting women survivors of violence. This includes shelter, psychosocial counselling, legal aid, case management and referrals. The shelter usually hosts between 40 to 60 women and girls, including refugees.

It has been almost eight years since Sarin Abdallah started working at the shelter. “Ever since, I have been very attached to the shelter. I believe in its mission to help women in need.” Sarin said.

She says she loves her job because it has given her the opportunity to develop her skills through on-the-job experience and trainings so she could help other women.

But apart from the rewards, this job also carries risks. Not only for survivors, but also for the shelter workers. By giving shelter to survivors of violence, Sarin has put her own life at risk. In one case, she received threats from the family of a survivor who took shelter at the center. The family did not want Sarin to offer their daughter counselling and a safe place to stay.

“Her family thought that I had encouraged her to come to the shelter. The family attacked the shelter and the police had to intervene to protect me. I was living in fear and afraid of venturing out. Even when I went out with my husband, who is a policeman, I used to sit in the backseat for fear of being seen by the girl’s family.”

But such threats have never discouraged Sarin from helping women in need. Both her family and husband have been supportive, encouraging her to stay in Erbil and continue to help women in need.