Sowing the seeds of hope
As Mosul’s first female Project Manager, Mahasin is challenging traditional gender roles in Iraq with confidence, hope and determination.
As life returns to the streets of Mosul, women are increasingly empowered to play an active role in rebuilding the city after ISIL’s occupation. Mahasin, a 59-year-old woman originally from the heart of Mosul on the West bank of the Tigris River, embodies that drive and determination.
A woman in charge
A graduate in Civil Engineering from Mosul University, Mahasin is the first woman to manage a rehabilitation project in the city. Although women in management positions is still uncommon, particularly in the construction industry, she explains that overall, the situation for women in Mosul is better now than it has been for many years.
“Now we can work without any fear,” says the mother-of-four. “The whole time ISIL was here I did not work — no women could work. Even a year or two before ISIL the security situation was not good,” she continues. “Some women did work before but always with a bit of fear. Now the mentality is changing for the better.”
Mahasin now manages a team of about 30 working on the rehabilitation of the Municipality Nursery Plantation on the banks of the Tigris River in East Mosul — a job she does with confidence and pride, and one that is reflected in her beaming smile.
The Nursery, which sustained significant damage under ISIL, is currently being rehabilitated by UNDP with financial support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The plants are used to beautify local streets and surrounding buildings, like schools. Before ISIL’s occupation, the nursery produced between 250,000–300,000 plants per year.
It’s a gift for the people. Life is better with flowers and plants,” says Mahasin.
“In Mosul it’s unusual for a woman to be a project manager,” she continues. “But for me this work is very suitable. It feels good to be a project manager — I work with a nice team and I have no problems. I feel happy when I go to any project and I see women working. Women suffered a lot to be able to work again.”
Scars from the past
Like many of Mosul’s residents, Mahasin carries the memories of a traumatic past. When ISIL militants swept in to Mosul in 2014, Mahasin and her husband fled to the Kurdish region of Iraq with three of their children. A few months later, after hearing reports of ISIL taking over people’s homes and using them as bomb factories, the family decided to return to Mosul in the hope of protecting their home.
“We were worried that ISIL would take our house. That’s why we returned to Mosul. My house is everything to me and my children — all my memories — my whole life is there.”
For the following two-and-a-half years, Mahasin and her family lived under ISIL occupation, hidden away inside their home, their hopes of a quick liberation fading with the passing months. “We couldn’t even leave the premises of the house,” she says. “Winter, summer, winter, summer. Until the day of liberation, we stayed like that.”
Without access to food and water, Mahasin and her family survived on dry food such as beans, nuts and biscuits that they’d stored inside the house. “Ten days before liberation we reached a point that was unbearable,” she explains. “We thought death was better for us.”
At that point the family decided to risk their lives to escape across the frontline towards a water treatment plant they heard had been liberated by Iraqi forces. “We put a white shirt on a piece of wood and we tried to reach that point, but it took us 20 hours of walking. Every time the helicopters were above us we waved our white flag. When Iraqi forces were firing at ISIL we lay down on the ground, and then we ran towards the water treatment plant. We walked for 20 hours for this short distance until we reached the liberated water treatment plant.
“When we reached there, you can only imagine how happy we were — it was an unforgettable moment. We couldn’t stop crying tears of joy. Believe me, I need days and days to describe to you how we felt in that moment.”
With her husband now enjoying his retirement at home, Mahasin is happy to be back at work after five years, and speaks with great enthusiasm about her hope for the future. “Nowadays we are very hopeful and optimistic,” she says cheerfully. “The whole family is hopeful. We’ve returned to our previous lives — step by step, everything went back into its place. It will take maybe one more year before everything is back to how it was.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done here in Mosul. But all the time we hear that UNDP has worked on a school, a street — they work so much for my city. This makes me determined to carry on with my work and gives me hope for the future.”
About UNDP’s Funding Facility For Stabilization (FFS)
At the request of the Government of Iraq, UNDP established the Funding Facility for Stabilization in June 2015 to facilitate the return of displaced Iraqis after the ISIL conflict, lay the groundwork for reconstruction and recovery, and safeguard against the resurgence of violence and extremism.
FFS currently has more than 3,200 projects in the 31 liberated towns and districts where UNDP works helping local authorities to quickly rehabilitate essential infrastructure and services.