The Hagar House – Aftercare/Recovery House for Endangered Women and Children

After more than fifteen years, Global Hope has extensive experience in Iraq and the Middle East positioning us strategically to address the most extreme cases of gender-based violence in the region. This ministry/humanitarian space is largely untouched because it takes years to develop the skills and understanding to effectively engage the most hidden and shameful elements in the society. What we have the ability and opportunity to do today, we could not have done in the early years. But today, solid government and community networks, cultural awareness and understanding, and language acquisition provide the foundation for confronting these horrific human rights violations.

What does extreme gender-based violence look like in Iraq?

Harmful practices grounded in tradition and religion lead to the pain, suffering, humiliation and marginalization of thousands of women and girls; violating the most basic God-given rights of half the population. Forced and child marriage, the exchange of girls to settle disputes, rape, physical abuse, and honor killings are just a few of the injustices they face on a daily basis. Such practices originate in entrenched discriminatory views and beliefs about the role and position of women in society. Among the most tragic consequences of these harmful practices is self-immolation (suicide by self-burning)—a growing trend in some parts of the Muslim world. According to The General Directorate for Violence Against Women (DVAW), the Kurdish Regional Government agency seeking to deal with gender violence, up to 50 women a month are setting themselves on fire to escape their abuse and despair. Most women never report the violence they endure because they fear repercussion from immediate family and the larger community. Lack of education, economic dependency, legislative gaps, and social and family pressure are driving factors in the crisis of abuse amongst these women. Minimal efforts have been made towards changing these attitudes or to provide life-saving rescue and long-term care/restoration to women who cannot return to their families or communities. They linger in prisons and temporary shelters with no hope for a life beyond violence and abuse.

In the development of the Hagar House program, Global Hope staff conducted intensive interviews with women facing extreme forms of violence. The women interviewed represented five Provinces spanning across all of Kurdistan. They were confined to short-term shelters awaiting resolution to their cases. For most of these women, repatriation was not culturally or legally possible, so life beyond the shelter seemed impossible. The lack of options and alternatives for their safety, freedom, and future compelled Global Hope to address the need and create solutions. Their stories and needs informed every aspect of program development, and the resulting strategy for combating this crisis was The Hagar House.

The Hagar House prototype program outlines a 3-month residential program addressing the following areas:

  1. Trauma Informed Care and Recovery: Trauma-Informed Care understands and considers the pervasive nature of trauma and promotes environments of healing and recovery rather than practices and services that may inadvertently re-traumatize. It is built on three primary pillars that are implemented through the house culture and various activities and services:

  • Safety: Fostering an atmosphere of safety builds trust and creates an environment where trauma-informed care and self-care can be received and women/children can flourish.

  • Connections: Positive relationships are imperative to healthy human development and help unravel the impact of trauma to bring about healing and growth.

  • Emotion and Behavior Management: Trauma undermines the ability to regulate emotion and impulse, so it is necessary to provide tools to self-regulate emotion and learn healthier patterns of behavior and connection.

  • Life Support: Holistic care addressing basic needs, legal services, medical treatment, compassionate care, and social interaction.

  • Education and Training: The Freedom Center provides a safe and culturally-appropriate environment for the women and children to learn and grow, and is the first step towards safely reintegrating into society.

  • Employment Support: Economic and financial capacity is essential to empowering women to regain personal power and the ability to influence the trajectory of their lives. Providing employment support, through job opportunities at the Freedom Center or other places of work, creates the means by which women can overcome fear, isolation and exploitation, ultimately making independence possible to achieve.

  • Reintegration or Resettlement: The reintegration of women/children into their society of origin with the internal and external tools and abilities to flourish beyond violence is the ultimate goal of the Hagar House program. In the most extreme cases where this is not possible, we will work with outside agencies and governments to resettle them in countries where a life free from violence and the threat of violence is possible.

Presently, Global Hope is building a network of social workers, attorneys, trauma care specialists, medical providers and volunteers who will make up the Hagar House team. These team members will offer their expertise on a volunteer basis or at minimal cost, and rotate into the house as determined by the program. The daily operations of the Hagar House will be run by a small full-time paid staff to include local house parents, cook, driver, administrator, and security personnel. We will start the program initially with a house designed to accommodate twenty to twenty-five clients at a time, with a plan to grow program capacity as initial success is achieved.

The impact of the Hagar House program can hardly be measured. In a nation where no residential trauma recovery program exists, this aftercare program, for many women and children, is the only alternative to a life of isolation, danger and despair. It provides a tangible solution to complex injustices, and gives a safe haven to those who have nowhere else to go. Additionally, this program can serve as a model for other organizations and groups seeking to engage this systemic crisis.