In conversation with Ohood Hamoody Al-Ta'an – Deputy Head of the Anti-Trafficking Unit, Ministry of Interior, Baghdad, Iraq
Ms Ohood, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. In a couple of sentences, how would you describe yourself?
I respect systems, and I abide by the law. I have the will and the desire to continue to improve and develop my skills. And I do so based on a plan. I like to explore more about social issues and to find grassroots solutions. And I try to encourage my family and my community to follow the law. I'd describe myself as a strong-willed person.
What did you want to do when you were younger?
I've always wanted to work in law enforcement, and I've had great encouragement from my father to do so. Even though I graduated with a bachelor's degree in social science, I continued to study and obtained a law degree. Currently, I'm working on earning a higher degree in social science.
Who was the most influential person in your life?
My father was the person that influenced me the most. He always encouraged me. He was the only one to encourage me to join this field of work. He challenged everyone to support me in my work. He has inspired me to do the work I do.
What impact do you think you have had?
I try as much as possible to support women. To encourage them to join law enforcement. I've helped many women in my family to overcome difficulties in their lives through the experiences and exposures I've had through my work.
I've worked in different departments within the Ministry of Interior, and I've worked on supporting other women. I’ve focused on creating an environment that is more accepting of women. I think my work and other peoples work has helped to change the situation for many women. We hope to continue this positive change.
What do you say to people who underestimate you and/or women in general?
There will always be people underestimating women, especially in law enforcement. I face that too. But women have proven themselves to be more law-abiding, with a higher sense of integrity. The stereotypes are fading away, but it's a slow process. We still have work to do.
What motto do you live by?
I rely on my faith in God to guide me. I follow the law and depend on the law, and I've faith that the most challenging part has passed already. I'm capable of facing whatever will come next.
What communication style have you adopted throughout your career, and why is/was it effective?
When dealing with everyone, my co-workers, my team, and my supervisors, I believe in two things: respect and humility. If we all treat each other with respect and humility, the world will be a better place for all of us.
In your own words, what do you believe makes a good leader?
A good leader is someone who builds trust amongst team members. When there is trust and respect, a leader can lead more efficiently.
Tell us about a time when you have worked on addressing human trafficking.
I've been working with the anti-trafficking unit for five years. I work with the victims. The most important thing when working with victims is to build a connection. To gain their trust and give them the confidence that they can overcome what they've experienced. In one case I dealt with, the victim had to overcome many psychological challenges due to her experiences. I worked with her patiently and always made her feel respected. I explained the options still available to her. I drew an image of a life she could have and lead if she had hope. An important factor to understanding when working with victims is the need to find common ground. To be humble and humane when dealing with those that were trafficked. It's a lengthy process, but it's worth the time and effort.
What steps have you taken as a leader to ensure the organization you work for facilitates women's career advancement?
Iraqi women are strong. We've faced and overcome many challenges and difficult times. So, we know we can succeed, but we still need support from our peers and our management. We need encouragement to overcome gender discrimination that is still alive in the workplace. We, as women, must be very patient to work in this environment. We need to keep that in mind. Still, we can overcome, and we can change these ideas about women. And it's up to us to prove ourselves. Overall, society still doubts women, and not only in Iraq but everywhere.
What would you say to a male colleague that has reservations about working with/for female colleagues?
I'd say to him: "Give us a chance and support us. You'll see us thrive and your own work improve. You'll see victim cooperation improve because we all know that in Iraq, when female investigators and social workers work with victims, this is much more likely to lead to successful investigations."
At the institutional level, what reforms need to be implemented to address gender imbalances?
Some harmful traditions and ideas about women in the workplace are still alive, and gender discrimination still exists. Reforms need to happen and be implemented in a manner harmonious with our society's traditions.
What is your personal vision for the promotion of women in your organization?
No matter our educational background or specialization at work, all women must have some awareness about their rights under Iraqi law. Whenever someone must deal with confrontation or a challenge, it's essential that they know their rights and how the law will protect them.
What impact might your story have on others leading organizations tasked with addressing human trafficking and migrant smuggling?
I think the important thing for me is to emphasize the point about legal awareness. To help everyone see that women belong at all levels and in all sectors of society. That women don't only play a role inside the home or very specific jobs, but that woman should be everywhere.
Ohood Hamoody Al-Ta’an holds Bachelor’s in Social Science and Law and is currently studying for her Master’s in Social Science. Over the last 20 years, Ohood has worked for the Ministry of Interior and, since the last 5 years, worked in the anti-trafficking unit of the Ministry of Interior. To date, Ohood is the Deputy Head of Unit as well as the team leader of the studies and research division within the unit.