03:00 – Baghdad, Iraq

Baghdad, Iraq

In Iraq, Hawnaz gets a call that she’s needed in the office – urgently

Wake Up Call

In the early hours of the morning, I get the call. They need me in the office, urgently. It’s an emergency case and there will be a meeting to address it. As I arrive, the details of the case are explained to the team. It’s a highly sensitive situation and the individual in question is in danger. We must act quickly but carefully, deliberately. Together, we assess the situation from every angle – slowly, intentionally, we pore over the information and consider each possible scenario. 

We think through the victim’s physical state, their mental state, and the social and emotional implications of their situation. We think of the aggressor’s intentions and capabilities, their physical and mental state. We build all of this into the nuance our approach. There are many factors to consider, but the wellbeing and safety of the victim is paramount. Sometimes, after long deliberation, we decide the best course of action is no immediate action at all. On this day, we came to the opposite conclusion. As the sun began to peek through the office windows, we got to work, taking steps to extricate this individual from the situation. 

As the information manager of the Protection and Counter Trafficking Unit at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Iraq, this was just another day on the job. I often have to manage high-urgency situations like these with little notice. It’s my job to process very sensitive data, and present the outputs to the team – often, this can be quite difficult as the beneficiaries we serve don’t always want their stories to be shared with others. Over time, I’ve learned that while acting quickly is undoubtedly important in our line of work, acting deliberately – intentionally, purposefully – is crucial. Vulnerable people are at risk and each of our actions, however small, can have a lasting impact. 

Since the mid-1990s, IOM has worked with the UN and other partners to provide protection and assistance to nearly 100,000 men, women and children who were victims of trafficking. We work to remove individuals from situations including sexual or labour exploitation, slavery and forced servitude, focusing on all aspects of counter-trafficking responses, from prevention and protection to prosecution. 

While last-minute meetings like the one just described aren’t out of the ordinary, it’s not all rushing and running around. There are quiet days too. Every task, no matter how small or mundane – whether responding to an email or answering a phone call – contributes to the larger mission of helping someone in need. It’s lending a hand, saving a life, and offering relief and security to someone who has neither. I love this job, and working with IOM, because I’m able to find new meaning and purpose every day. I feel that it is my duty to help and assist the most vulnerable people. 

As a woman humanitarian in Iraq, my work hours and obligations don’t always fit within our society’s cultural norms. Together with IOM, the UN and other humanitarian organizations, I’m hoping to remove some of these stereotypes about the duties and jobs appropriate for women. I think we should work to provide female humanitarians with better opportunities in order to build their capabilities and earn more responsibility, especially in emergency missions. It is important to support these women and appreciate their efforts to improve the quality of their work.