Editor’s note: Ferdos Majeed was the first recipient of the Andi Parhamovich Fellowship in 2009.
Before 2003 Iraq was isolated from the world. The country possessed little knowledge of a democratic system, a functioning civil society, a multi-party political system or human rights, especially as they applied to women. As a lecturer at a large university in Iraq, I was speaking with young people every day who expressed their eagerness for freedom of speech. I kept hoping that we would have all of that one day, and I was looking to learn everything I could about democratic systems and human rights. In 1998, my family was forced to go to the polling station to vote for Saddam Hussein. I wanted to express myself and vote according to my political beliefs, and I saw that my parents were filled with fear for my safety as a result. After this experience, I realized how much democracy is essential and important for our lives. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, I dreamt about what having human rights would look like and how it would feel to practice democracy, to go to the polling station during an election and vote for the candidate that represents me.
After 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein, I started working with NDI as part of the governance team in the Iraq office. This was the first step toward making my dream come true. NDI allowed me to be part of the process of implementing democracy in my country. Through my work with NDI I have participated in several trainings by experts from all over the world and have met people from many different cultures. The non-stop learning I've experienced within the NDI environment has given me continuous joy.
Through NDI’s work, I realized the big role that women play in building democracy.
Our work in Iraq with women in political parties, NGOs and in the government was a necessary part of our first step toward democracy. Iraqi women wanted to create change, but first they needed information and training. Through NDI’s work, I realized the big role that women play in building democracy.
I worked with women from different political parties in Iraq to build a women’s caucus as well as issue-based coalitions. I became the team leader for large groups of different women’s NGOs in Iraq, organizing across an entire spectrum of different activities, including empowerment programs and advocacy campaigns to lobby the government to improve the education system in Iraq.
When Andi Parhamovich came to Iraq, she was so excited to work with Iraqi women and support them in gaining leadership positions. Of all her many wonderful characteristics, this is what I most admired about her: she left her safe life and family in the U.S. to come to Iraq and to make a difference. When her convoy was ambushed and Andi was killed, all of us were shocked and at a loss for words. Andi was a brave person with vision and passion that touched the hearts of everyone she met. When the Fellowship was announced, I applied to be the first Andi Parhamovich Fellow because I saw it as a way to complete what Andi had started through her work in Iraq.
Through the three-month Fellowship in the U.S., I was able to meet people who worked toward democracy and women’s participation. One of the projects that I designed as part of my Fellowship was the "Young Women’s Leadership School,” which connected twenty young ladies from different political parties and civil society organizations from all over Iraq with other Iraqi women in Parliament and political parties. It was a very successful program because it was something new in our culture, and it provided young women with much-needed mentors.
After the Fellowship, I felt a change in the way I perceived the political process in my country. I kept my connections with NGOs and women in leadership – including some women in Parliament who had been through our nationwide training academies – in order to know what they had achieved and to keep myself in the loop.
Now, almost ten years later, I am still involved as a trainer with women’s civil society organizations across Iraq. I provide participants with trainings in leadership, advocacy campaigns, negotiation and how to sustain work at an NGO after a conflict situation. In addition, I continue to provide women’s NGOs with NDI resources so they can use them during their trainings and pass them along to other NGOs that may need them.
I believe that my continuous work with women’s organizations in Iraq is a worthy memorial to Andi and her sacrifice here in Iraq, and I'm proud to be a consultant at the Andi Leadership Institute for young women. I continue to support the Andi Foundation with information they need related to NGOs or participants from Iraq for their events. Above all, I'm very proud that Andi's family consider me as a member of their family.