Iraq

Getting back on track: A small cake factory provides skills training and an economic lifeline for displaced Yazidi women

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The Dost Bakery, a small cake factory, was established in Iraqi Kurdistan in the autumn of 2015. Dost means “friend” in Kurdish, and the bakery is indeed run by ten friends, all women and most of them displaced members of the Yazidi minority, now living in and around the Sharia Camp near the city of Dohuk.

After some initial start-up help and training from UNDP, the women now run the factory, serving the local community of displaced persons and learning practical skills that allow them to grow into roles carrying more weight and responsibility. More than 126 families benefit directly from the project along different steps of the process.

DREAMING OF HOME

In 2014 fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh, attacked the city of Sinjar. Most of the local Yazidi community were forced to flee the area. Large numbers of displaced suddenly arrived in Dohuk, moving into camps, informal settlements or unfinished buildings.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Yazidis are one of the groups most-affected by the Daesh terror. Men of the community face a choice between joining the fight or being killed. Even children are trained to fight, and women are often trafficked for sexual exploitation. Most of the Yazidis were also forced to adopt the fundamentalist religious beliefs of the group.

Beyan*, one of the bakers, comments: “Of course we would love to go back to Sinjar. That is where our life is. All we do here is temporary, we can’t build anything. We will not go back before the situation stabilizes though. It would cost our lives.”

Many of the bakers bear the physical and mental scars of facing life-threatening violence. For them, getting back on track means rebuilding their lives through work, and a feeling of purpose.

FROM BAKER TO MANAGER

Since the start of the project, 10 Yazidi women in the bakery have gone on to become managing partners in the factory business. As the women’s economic independence grows, so does their position in society and the respect they command. Many have obtained formal certification for their new skills.

Beyan: “Women were the main target of Daesh, although many men were killed as well. Women suffer rape, enslavement, trafficking, and other unimaginable horrors. We want the world to do what it can to save these women, our friends, our families, who are still there. This is our only hope.”