About the Author: Ruth Bennett serves as the Public Affairs Advisor for the Office of International Women’s Issues. This entry is one in a series of profiles of the 2009 International Women of Courage Award recipients."A strong and credible advocate...to ensure equality is not only talked about but practiced and upheld."
In the middle of embattled Sadr City, Suaad Allami runs an NGO called Women For Progress. The NGO manages the Sadr City Women's Center, a "one-stop shop" for everything from legislative advocacy, vocational training, and domestic violence counseling to medical exams and literacy education and even child care and exercise opportunities.
A practicing lawyer with 16 years' experience, Ms. Allami works both to strengthen Iraq's small corps of female legal professionals through programs such as her highly successful Women Lawyers Continuing Education seminars, as well as to make certain that Iraqi Constitutional protections for women translate into day-to-day life. In the words of U.S. Army Colonel George Phelan, the Rule of Law Advisor and Women's Rights Advocate for the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction (EPRT) Team located outside Baghdad, Ms. Allami is "that strong and credible advocate Iraqi women need to ensure that equality is not only talked about but practiced and upheld in ground truth."
Ms. Allami is a highly visible advocate in a political climate in which voicing support for women's rights is a life-threatening act. She is one of only two women on the 40-person District Council, and has served as Chair of its Women and Children Council since 2004. She's served on the Baghdad Provincial Council and authored the January 2008 By-Laws for the entire Baghdad Province District and Qada Councils.
She's also taken a brave and personal stand against corruption, resisting the efforts of a local strongman to extort money from the Women's Center. She frequently consults with U.S. government and coalition forces, at great personal risk, outside the Green Zone. And when she learned about the extent of alleged human rights abuses at Kadhamiya Women's Prison, she boldly conducted an unannounced inspection, CNN crew in tow, without regard for the potential for backlash against her. The Minister for Human Rights shut the prison down two months later.
Ms. Allami has expanded her focus beyond the extraordinary Women's Center she's created in Sadr City. She won a USD 700,000 grant, which she used to open four additional and extremely popular centers in Baghdad. And she's submitted proposals that would bring female-taught training and education in internationally-recognized human rights precepts to all Baghdad District Councils and militia-age males in the city.
Rather than urge international engagement from the relative safety of a neighboring country, Ms. Allami made a brave commitment to remain in her homeland. Because of her work, Iraqi women are not only healthier and safer, but have the means to change their lives and their communities.