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Capt. Christy L. McCutchan, 32, from Dewey Ariz., who is the Iraqi Womens Engagement team coordinator with Detachment 1, Civil Affairs Team 5, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, and "Violet," who is the IWE team's interpreter, talk with the Hamed Khalid Abrahim, the mayor of Rawah, Iraq, about what was discussed during the IWE meeting in Rawah May 31. The Iraqi culture has strict rules about female and male interaction. The IWE team is an all female team that can talk to the Iraqi women. By meeting and discussing living conditions in the city, the Iraqi women can suggest changes they would like to see to coalition forces and their community.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Paul Torres

Iraqi women stop sewing and start talking

1 Jun 2008 | Lance Cpl. Paul Torres

The usual droning of sewing machines was absent at a textile factory here when Marines with the Iraqi Women’s Engagement team, Detachment 1, Civil Affairs Team 5, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, met with local female workers to discuss working conditions and other city matters.

The IWE team had also visited the city of Rawah the previous day in an effort to give the females of that area an ear to listen too.

“The goal of the IWE (program) is to give the women a chance to get together and discuss community concerns,” said Capt. Christy L. McCutchan, 32, from Dewey, Ariz., who is the IWE team coordinator with Detachment 1.

The Iraqi culture has strict rules when it comes to male and female interaction. Because of this, most of the time the women’s interests are not represented properly in the community.

The Marines with the IWE team are females who meet with women in the community to listen to what needs they have and to act as mediators between them and the local government.

“Most of the concerns of the women are infrastructure based such as having enough clean water and having enough electricity,” said McCutchan. “After the meeting, the local leadership will ask us what was discussed so that we can make them aware of what the needs of the women are.”

“Once the women voice an interest in a project, we work with the Civil Affairs Team in that area to get the project approved and to get the community to contribute,” said Gunnery Sgt. Patricia Chapman, 35, from Austin, Texas, who is the IWE team leader and projects manager for Detachment 1.

By involving the local government in the projects, the IWE is able to show the females that their community is willing to support them and so are the Coalition forces. 

“We are also trying to identify influential females within the community that could act as leaders to a women’s committee,” said McCutchan.

Eventually the women would be able to meet on their own and would have more input into what goes on in the city.

“Females are traditionally very conservative in the Iraqi culture,” said 1st Sgt. Stephanie L. Thomas, 37, from Philadelphia, who is an IWE team member with Detachment 1.  “One of the biggest challenges is convincing them they will have an impact on the bigger picture.”

By holding IWE meetings, the women were able to see that not only did they have someone they could tell their problems to, but they were being shown how to solve these problems on their own.

“It’s important that these meetings continue because in order for the reconstruction of Iraq to move forward the women need to be a part of the process,” said Chapman.


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