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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.


Young Iraqi women aspiring to political careers are getting a boost from a new Young Women’s Leadership School launched recently with the help of NDI Iraq staff member Ferdos Majeed.

Majeed came to the U.S. for three months in 2009 as NDI’s first Andi Parhamovich fellow, named to honor Ms. Parhamovich, who was killed while working for the Institute in Baghdad in 2007. Each year the fellowship is awarded to a young woman — selected from NDI local staff or a partner organization – who is deeply involved in strengthening democracy in her own country.

The leadership school helps women, aged 18 to 30, build their leadership, outreach and communications skills. We talked with Majeed, who worked with Ms. Parhamovich, about how the fellowship helped her prepare for the leadership school’s opening and the rest of her work in Iraq.

How did this fellowship change your work?

Before the fellowship, I was looking for ways to expand my information, to add to the work that I was doing at NDI. When I got to America, I met with people and organizations — specifically women’s organizations — that gave me information that I couldn’t get from any other part of the world. For example, the Women Under 40 PAC explained how it connected young women with more senior women to prepare young women for political life. That was something really different. And that is just one very small example.

Were there specific things you learned in the U.S. that you’ve brought back to use in your work in Iraq?

One thing I learned, which we are doing in our program, is to include younger women — those who want to start on the first steps of political life — and we try to show them the way. I’m very proud today to have that program, because that was really the first thing I wanted to do when I got back to Iraq. Now we have 28 women from different parts of the country in the program. They are very excited about the training and with their political life in general.

How do you feel about the future of Iraq?

I am optimistic. And why? Because at least now we have hope. Developed countries like America and countries in Europe that have democracy now — they didn’t get it in one night. It took them a long time. I believe we are in our first step to democracy. It’s difficult because we have been through a difficult time with the dictatorship, and we have a lot of challenges to our democracy, like corruption, lack of experience with our political parties, absence of rule of law, absence of civil society and local leadership, and the interference of neighboring countries. But still we have hope, and this is why I am optimistic.

“I am optimistic. And why? Because at least now we have hope.”

Before, we were living with no change, and there was no hope — we were in a kind of closed box. But now, even with all those challenges, I am very optimistic that one day we will have democracy, maybe not in my generation, but for the next generation.

What do you see as the benefit of the fellowship?

When the fellows get back to their home countries they have to think about what to do next, what their new role is. I hope they find that or, better yet, travel to other countries to teach what they’ve learned and to get more information. I’d love to see future fellows rotate to other offices in other countries to share their experience from Washington, D.C., and to get new ideas from other countries.

I believe that the fellowship is a seed, and that seed should grow not in one place but in different places. I believe Andi would be very happy to see these seeds grow all over the world.


Pictured above: Ferdos Majeed

Published March 11, 2011