A group of female activists from Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, north and east of Mosul, launched a monthly magazine called Women of Nineveh on March 8, International Women’s Day.

The Nineveh governorate, in northern Iraq, is an incredibly diverse province that hosts communities of Arab Muslims (Shias and Sunnis), Christians, Turkmens, Assyrians, Kurds, as well as Yazidis, Shabaks, Kawliya, Mandeans, and Armenians.

The northern province was also the site of some of the worst atrocities experienced under the rule of ISIS, particularly targeting ethno-religious minorities and women. Its people engaged in the fiercest fighting to uproot the extremist group from its self-declared caliphate.

The publication’s goal is to give a voice to the women of Nineveh Plains and challenge disinformation that spread during the ISIS occupation.

The new publication’s goal is to give a voice to the women of the Nineveh Plains region so as to present them as they are, and challenge disinformation that spread during and after the ISIS occupation.

“Under the ‘caliphate’ women couldn’t go out, and they [ISIS militants] were controlling every aspect of their lives,” Rasha Wahab, a former journalist and one of the magazine’s founders, told Inside Arabia. Through the monthly, she along other female activists from the area want to show that it is “normal for women to not cover,” in contrast to what ISIS taught people.

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Yazidi women refugees from Nineveh in 2015 (Photo courtesy Peace Insight)

After ISIS’ defeat in the province, women have gradually become involved in work outside the home and social life.

Wahab, who is originally from the governorate’s capital Mosul, explained that prejudices lead many in the region to believe that anyone who was living in Mosul during the time of ISIS is in one way or another associated with the terrorist group.

The magazine initiative came from activists from the Peace and Freedom Organization (PFO), an Iraqi NGO that works to improve relations between northern Iraq’s different ethnic and religious groups. The Dutch NGO PAX  supports the project financially.

“We realized women in Nineveh Plains and Mosul have a lot of stories, but they didn’t have the chance to tell them,” Sangar Y. Salih, PFO’s Executive Director, said to Inside Arabia.

“We wanted to provide a space for these women to make sure their voices are heard,” he continued.

The organization gathered around 10 female members of its peace committees located across the Nineveh region to be trained in headline writing, conducting interviews, and article structure.

Enthusiastic and with bags of experience in journalism, Wahab, who works as PFO’s Gender Advisor, ran a training session for the magazine, together with veteran journalist Rezgar Suleiman, in the Kurdistan regional capital, Erbil, in February. Activists and journalists from across the area’s different sects attended the training and wrote articles for the publication’s first issue. The writers were mostly women.

Women in Nineveh lack access to and representation in the media.

The gender advisor noted that women in Nineveh lack access to and representation in the media. “There is this mentality of not accepting women working in the media field, or even talking to reporters about their issues,” Wahab said. This is especially true for women in villages, some of them are uneducated, or cannot read or write. She added that there is no real independent media in Iraq, especially in the Nineveh region.

Map of the location of Nineveh Iraq

Map of the location of Nineveh in northern Iraq

PFO intends to reach out to rural women by including images and photos in the magazine to attract their interest with the hope that their children will be able to read articles to them.

The free printed monthly consists of 300 copies for each issue, and volunteers are in charge of distributing it throughout the region.

Since the first edition went out, Wahab has gotten positive feedback with a lot of women sending her Facebook messages, wanting to write for the magazine, or even share their personal stories anonymously.

The first issue covers a range of topics such as the story of a Sunni imam who helped Christian and Shiite families that stayed behind in Qaraqosh after ISIS took over; how a girl helped her father financially by selling handcraft products during the time of ISIS; how to protect women against phone and online threats; the effects of video games on children; basic information on the coronavirus; and women’s fashion in the Assyrian town of Bartella. The last page contains contributions from two men who wrote about women’s issues from their perspectives.

One major purpose of the publication is to increase understanding among the women of different religious sects in the northern Iraqi area by dispelling rumors and tensions post-ISIS. For example, some Christians accuse Shabaks of taking their homes, others believe in incorrect ideas about the Yazidis such as belief that they worship the devil.

The monthly publication seeks to inform about a peaceful, diverse region through the voices of women.

The monthly publication seeks to inform about a peaceful and diverse region through the voices of women from the various ethno-religious communities, rejecting extremism in all its forms.

“The magazine is led by people from this area speaking about their own communities,” Salih pointed out, “it’s a source of information not just for people but also for local decision-makers who can learn more about women.”

PFO’s director hopes to have a wider variety of people on board through the project, beyond the activists from the organization’s peace committees.

The project has funding to run five issues of the magazine. The next one will include, among other content, the profile of a female civil servant from the women’s department in Bartella, an article about voluntary groups helping with disinfection of public areas, and the common aspects of everyday life among the diverse religious groups.