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International Twinning Project for Iraqi Women Scientists, Engineers, and Health Professionals
March 2008

Historically, Iraqi women enjoyed many opportunities to participate in scientific research and teaching. But now, war, societal disruption, and incursions into the rights of women—particularly professional women, have changed that situation. Because the majority of Iraqi women scientists, engineers, and health professionals are now cut off from their institutions, colleagues, libraries, and laboratories, women members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and Institute of Medicine (IOM) are building an international network to provide professional and moral support to these colleagues. Election to one of these three organizations is a very high honor that is awarded to a small number of scientists, engineers, and health professionals. The twinning project is chaired by Maxine Singer (NAS/IOM), Vera Rubin (NAS), and Myriam Sarachik (NAS).

The concept of this network is, in brief, to match up “pairs” of Iraqi woman with professional woman colleagues in the international community who share their professional fields in science, engineering, or health. (If this initial project is successful, and private funding can be found, it could be expanded to include many other fields such as law, education, and the arts and it could become a much broader program that would work with other organizations whose activities compliment that of the network.)

For the time being, however, the project’s admittedly modest goals are to provide Iraqi women colleagues—those remaining in Iraq and those who have taken refuge in other countries—access to news of current developments in their fields, including scientific papers, breaking developments in their field, information on relevant international meetings, and moral and collegial support. Women scientists, engineers, and health professionals affiliated with national academies worldwide are invited to participate in the network and to help expand and strengthen it.

During this initial stage, the project is being run by the Committee on Human Rights of the NAS, NAE, and IOM. The effort to establish this network has benefited from consultation with a variety of knowledgeable individuals including an Iraqi Higher Education Delegation (Washington, DC, July 2005), the cultural attaché at the Iraqi embassy (Washington, DC, February 2007), Iraqi doctors living in the country (Sri Lanka, April 2007), the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies, UNESCO, and several NGOs. This program has not and does not plan to solicit U.S. government funding.

In early 2007, a letter was sent to all women members of the three U.S. National Academies describing the fledgling effort and soliciting interest. In response, more than 70 women scientists, engineers, and health workers expressed a desire to be “twinned.” Iraqi women colleagues who have been consulted have welcomed the project. More than 50 Iraqi women scientists have asked to be involved; so far 13 pairs of women have been established and they are now communicating as circumstances permit. In the coming months, we will continue to “twin” the Iraqi women who have already contacted us and reach out to more Iraqi women as we further publicize the project.

This effort involves only women, in part, because as difficult as the current situation for all Iraqi scholars is, the problems fall particularly hard on women. Also, we believe that Iraqi women participants will feel more comfortable corresponding with other women, particularly in terms of receiving moral support.

Click here for a list of the various fields in which the international women volunteers have expertise

Any Iraqi women, particularly those living in Iraq and Jordan, who are working in these areas and would like to receive professional support from a high-level professional woman in the same or a similar field should contact:

Carol Corillon at the Committee on Human Rights: