After IS, Mosul's women lead the fight against coronavirus

Still recovering from Islamic State rule, Mosul's women lead the fight against coronavirus
5 min read
With Mosul's health system still struggling to recover three years after liberation from the Islamic State, women in the city are leading the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
A statue named the Girl of Spring restored in Mosul after IS rule. [Getty]
Women in Mosul have been leading the response to the deadly coronavirus as it sweeps across northern Iraq, aiding the country's fragile health system as it struggles to cope with the pandemic. 

Mosul was liberated from the Islamic State (IS) in July 2017 after a hard-fought nine-month battle waged by Iraqi forces and a US-led coalition devastated the city's infrastructure and medical facilities, which IS had previously used as military bases and weapons factories. 

lack of support from the central government has forced local organisations in Mosul to take responsibility for rebuilding what has been destroyed since 2014. 

Iraq's economy depends on foreign countries for imports - largely from China - but since the coronavirus pandemic that trade has partially stopped, putting Iraqis in the challenging position of both fighting the pandemic and finding alternative means to replenish medical supplies. 

Aseel Subhi, in her mid-50s, works at the Jud Humanitarian Organization for Development and Construction, a local NGO based in Mosul which focuses on empowering women.

She spends up to eight hours a day sitting behind sewing machines to produce disposal masks and medical gowns to equip local markets and pharmacies.

A lack of support from the central government has forced local organisations in Mosul to take responsibility for rebuilding the destroyed city

Subhi is not just a worker, but also trains the new female employees to teach them the art of sewing. "I have been working in the organisation for a year, and empower women to improve themselves to be 'productive women'," she told The New Arab. 

"To continue our work, we want the government to provide us with enough electricity to help us in doing our jobs and produce enough quantities of masks for people in need," Subhi said. 
Read more: 'We are here': The LGBT activists on the frontline of Iraq's revolution 

Providing electricity was also a key demand of the recent protest movement in the country, along with fundamental rights, jobs, an end to corruption, and freedom of speech.

But after Iraqi security forces responded with brutal violence, many felt it was time for a wholesale change of the current government.

"We are here to help our country and the city of Mosul in this crisis to battle the new IS," Subhi added. 

The masks are produced by a local NGO based in Mosul which focuses on empowering women. [TNA/Azhar Al-Rubaie]

"Despite the difficult situation we work under, at least women are allowed to work and go out, as it was forbidden under the rule of Daesh". 

Layla al-Barazanchi, the head of the organisation where Subhi works, said her NGO had responded quickly to the pandemic to produce disposable masks and other critical items. 

"Luckily, we have enough raw materials to sew masks and other necessary items to contain the virus infection. We are doing our best to cover the city's demands. We sell masks at a price so that individuals can buy them easily," she told TNA. 

Barazanchi founded the NGO after Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, was officially freed from IS on 10 July, 2017. It specialises in supporting widows and divorced women by teaching a trade that will benefit them in their lives and help support their families. 

We are here to help our country and the city of Mosul in this crisis to battle the new IS
-Aseel Subhi

"Since Iraq announced its first coronavirus case, our NGO has only produced face masks and medical bedsheets," Barazanchi said. 

Aseel and other workers are paid a monthly salary of around 500,000 Iraqi dinars ($420) to support their families. On average, they produce more than 500 masks a day, which they sell for 250 dinars ($0.20) per mask. 

"We never fear as long as we are following the precautionary measures: wearing protective masks, gloves, and avoiding shaking hands," workers told The New Arab. 

Read more: Can Beijing's mask diplomacy win hearts and minds in the Arab world? 

Iraq's total confirmed coronavirus cases stand at 1,031 with 64 reported deaths. In Mosul, only five confirmed cases have been reported. 

Like other Iraqi provinces, Mosul's authorities have imposed widespread measures to contain the virus. Schools and universities are suspended, public places and coffee shops are closed, parties have been cancelled, and security authorities have announced curfews for the foreseeable future. 

Aseel Subhi works at the Jud Humanitarian Organization for Development and Construction, a local NGO based in Mosul. [TNA/Azhar Al-Rubaie]

"I am so happy to see local NGOs and youth initiatives unifying to contain the deadly Covid-19. Women have done such an incredible job in making masks which meet medical standards and requirements," Bashar al-Taie, a doctor specialised in family and community medicine, told TNA. 

Mother of three Ruqaya Rasheed, another worker in the NGO, said that she joined after losing her husband during the battle to liberate Mosul from IS.  

"After the government abandoned us, this NGO welcomed us to work and help us stand. My colleagues and I work like a beehive to produce disposable masks. Containing coronavirus is the responsibility of everyone". 

Read more: The Iraq Report: Coronavirus fight slowed by government paralysis 

Mohammed Salim, 35, a local resident from Mosul told The New Arab that while the masks are vital in protecting people, local businessmen have hiked up the prices due to high demand, with not all citizens able to afford them. 

"I am worried about coronavirus due to the fragility of medical services in the state's hospitals, which have been devastated since the city was liberated from the old virus, IS," Salim said.  

"The curfew has brought me back to the IS period, but we can contain the virus if people follow the medical instructions". 

Azhar Al-Rubaie is a freelance journalist based in Iraq. His writing focuses on a variety of issues, including politics, health, society, wars, and human rights. Follow him on Twitter: @AzherRubaie

Abdulmuhaimen Basel is an Iraqi journalist reporting on local issues in Mosul. Follow him on twitter: @Mohaimen90