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RAMADI, Iraq (August 6, 2008) - A Females for Ramadi Council member speaks during the "Women of Tomorrow" women's conference held at the Ramadi Sunni Endowment Center August 4. The purpose of the conference was to give the women who attended a chance to discuss common issues in today’s Iraqi society and educate the women about opportunities and support that is available to them. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones) (RELEASED)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones

“Women of Tomorrow” gather for conference

6 Aug 2008 | Lance Cpl. Casey Jones

RAMADI, Iraq – (August 6, 2008) - As Ramadi transitions from an insurgent stronghold to a calm and recovering city, the women of the city are also taking steps to better their future.

More than 50 women from the emerging city gathered for the “Women of Tomorrow” women’s conference at the Ramadi Sunni Endowment Center August 2-4.

During the conference, women discussed common issues in today’s Iraqi society, and were also introduced to and officially welcomed the Females for Ramadi Council (F.R.C.).

The council will serve in an advisory role to the city’s mayor concerning issues pertaining to women and children, said Lt. Col. Sandra Rodriguez-Brown, the executive officer of the Embedded Provincial Recovery Team (ePRT) 2-Ramadi, who is partnered with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1.

Organizers of the conference shaped several lectures and discussions around opportunities that are available to women in the region, and also discussed poverty issues and steps women can take to support their families.

Rodriguez-Brown said a large percentage of women in Ramadi are unable to support themselves and their family. For some, she said, religious traditions prevent them from working, and others are lacking proper education to attain jobs.

Until recently, there has been little guidance and support for the city’s women, leading many of them simply begging for money to make it through each day.

“Many of the impoverished women only ask for money because they have no other alternative,” said Halima al-Nueimi, a 56-year-old woman from Ramadi, and the city’s department head of Women’s Affairs. “Before the event started, I told the organizers we need to find time to educate the women of Ramadi.”

“We can’t just give them money,” she added. “That will only fix their problems for a month or two. Instead, we have to teach them how to make their own money. With more educated and trained women, the standard of living in Ramadi will continue to increase.”

Al-Nueimi said she hopes the women walked away from the conference with a feeling of self-responsibility.

 “I want them to be more willing to help themselves,” she said. “The widows and the divorced women need to find a way to earn a living and rise above their current situation.”

The quality of life in Ramadi has steadily increased during the past two years, as the region has embraced peace and turned away from violence.

During that span of violence, the city was considered by many to be one of the most violent cities in Iraq. The thought of having a women’s conference would have been considered impossible.

“There’s no way we would’ve been able to hold this event a couple of years ago,” al-Nueimi said. “We couldn’t even go into the streets without being threatened by the terrorists. I would just lock my doors and stay inside my house the entire day.”

Now, Iraqi Police have assumed security responsibilities in the city and Coalition forces are serving in an advisory role to the growing force.

Iraqi Policemen from the Qatana neighborhood of Ramadi provided security for the event.

“The Iraqi Police took the lead and conducted personnel searches and secured the adjacent building, which allowed the Marines to serve as an overwatch,” said 1st Lt. Jonathan Wagner, a platoon commander with Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. “The Iraqi Police did a great job as usual.”

Just as the city has undergone many positive changes for the last couple of years, al-Nueimi hopes the women’s conference will bring about even more improvements in the city.

“I expect this conference to be the beginning of many additional changes in the future,” she said. “The women of Ramadi will change.”

The event concluded a month-long span of conferences in the city, dubbed “Conference Month” by the ePRT members. The ePRT recently held a four-day Youth Conference and a Medical Conference.