From Finance To Frontlines, How Mawahib Is Transforming Lives In Iraq

In an exclusive conversation with SheThePeople, Mawahib Al Shaibani offers a glimpse into her work as a humanitarian leader, working at the frontline of the war-torn country, and how she works to transform women's lives amid conflicts that leave generations traumatised. 

Oshi Saxena
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Mawahib Al Shaibani

Amid the bustling world of finance, where numbers dictate success, Mawahib Al Shaibani found herself drawn to a different calling—one that led her from the corporate boardrooms of Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse to the war-torn Iraq. From being a refugee in Yemen to becoming a force for change in Iraq, Mawahib is transforming the lives of women.


In an exclusive conversation with SheThePeople, Mawahib Al Shaibani offers a glimpse into her work as a humanitarian leader, working at the frontline of the war-torn country, and how she works to transform women's lives amid conflicts that leave generations traumatised. 

How War Changed Her Purpose

Mawahib's story is one of evolution, both personal and professional. In the world of high finance with Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse, she found success but sensed a calling beyond boardrooms and portfolios.

"I started banking in the '90s with Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse. I wanted to get the younger generations and show them a much bigger scale of international banking and brokerage," she shares, reminiscing about her initial foray into finance.

Inspired by her mother's pioneering work in women's banking, Mawahib embarked on a mission to empower others, especially women, in a much larger and more profound way. "I always wanted to help," Mawahib shares, reflecting on her shift from managing money to managing lives. The turning point came when the horrors of war unfolded in Iraq. 

"I saw all the bombs falling, and I decided I want to go and help the women and children because they are always targeted in a war or conflict area," Mawahib shares relfecting on her decision to step into the heart of turmoil was driven by a deep understanding of the vulnerability of women and children in conflict zones.


A Calling to Serve

Joining the Art of Living, a global humanitarian organization, Mawahib found a higher calling. Inspired to utilize her skills and compassion to make a difference, she began her mission in Iraq in 2003. What she witnessed were the devastating consequences of war, pushing her to dedicate her life to providing trauma relief and support.

Stepping onto the war-torn soil of Iraq in 2003, Mawahib witnessed the profound impact of conflict on its people. Her commitment to making a difference led her to employ trauma relief techniques, including the acclaimed Sudarshan Kriya, to heal the wounds of war. Collaborating with the Iraqi Army, her team air-dropped tons of essential supplies and conducted thousands of trauma relief and counselling sessions for war refugees and survivors.

How She Helped Rebuild Lives

During the conversation, she reveals her firsthand experiences: "We started trauma relief, and we brought doctors from India to do Ayurveda to help them. When we started doing the training for them, they saw a big difference in the way they sleep," emphasizing the profound impact of holistic healing approaches.

Mawahib's efforts extended to empowering vulnerable girls and women, particularly the Yazidi community targeted by ISIS. Through a holistic rehabilitation process, she provided psychosocial support, vocational training, and legal assistance. The focus was not just on immediate relief but on long-term empowerment and resilience.


In her own words, "I thought this is the weakest link that I have to support, but actually when I start working with women and children, I actually knew that it is the strongest link that is for the society," underlining the transformative power that lies within the often overlooked gender of society.

Empowering People Through Education And Leadership

Mawahib's impact went beyond immediate relief efforts. She played a pivotal role in the development of a National Task Force in Iraq, comprising elected officials, academicians, judges, and religious clergy. This task force aimed to eliminate gender-based violence and promote women's rights, conducting extensive training sessions to refine leadership skills.

"We have done TLACs for them. It's called Transformational Leadership for Excellence, a program that helps women leaders on how to develop themselves and how to use new innovative ways to solve their problems," Mawahib explains, highlighting the commitment to empowering women through leadership training.

A significant part of Mawahib's work involved community leadership training programs, life skills and resilience-building initiatives, and literacy and vocational training for women. Her commitment to empowering women in conflict zones extended to addressing issues like honour killings. By engaging with politicians, lawyers, and religious leaders, she sought to change perceptions and protect women's rights.

"We started giving them training in tailoring, computers, and doing fairs so that they can sell what they have," she elaborates. Mawahib's initiatives not only mended wounds but also equipped women with the skills to rebuild their lives.


Empowering Women: From Literacy to Legal Assistance

Mawahib's impact resonates in tangible achievements, such as selecting 100 women for literacy and vocational training, establishing legal assistance, and facilitating job search skills for 68 women. Her efforts reached beyond conventional boundaries, as she collaborated with Vital Voices and the US Department of State to aid a young Syrian refugee who had endured unspeakable horrors.

"We make them very much aware of what their rights are and what they can do and how to improve it," she asserts, underlining the significance of raising awareness about women's rights.

Her efforts include addressing issues like honour killings, providing legal assistance to survivors of violence, and working towards legislative changes to protect women and children.

Enabling Self-Belief And Healing As A Driving Force

In the interview, Mawahib emphasizes the importance of hope in conflict zones. "Hope is one of the most important things I saw," she says. Working on trauma relief, vocational training, and instilling a sense of security, her approach is rooted in providing not just immediate aid but also a pathway to a better future.

Her self-belief also allowed her to navigate some of the most challenging conflict zones, including the Sinjar Mountains, where she faced the imminent threat of Katyusha missiles while delivering much-needed aid.

"One of the situations I have faced was when there were the Yazidi people trapped in the Sinjar mountain and they had no food, and we had to drop the food for them."

Breath, for Mawahib, became a powerful tool for transformation. Connecting breath with emotions, she helped individuals overcome psychosomatic disorders resulting from conflict. By addressing the internal struggles, she paved the way for not only relief but a sense of empowerment to those she serves.

In Mawahib's words, "It's hope and clarity of mind. Clarity of mind is the thing that can make you very creative and can help you come up with a lot of solutions."

Through breathing, meditation, and self-awareness, she has helped people discover resilience and hope. Her philosophy is encapsulated in the belief that a smile, inexpensive yet powerful, can be a force for positive change.

"Our smile should be cheap, and our anger should be expensive. A smile doesn't cost anything actually and can make a lot of change." she shares, encapsulating the transformative power of a positive outlook even in the face of adversity.

Mawahib's story serves as a reminder that individuals can bridge gaps. Through her efforts, she has not only rescued and rehabilitated thousands but has also sown the seeds of change for those affected by conflict. 

Mawahib Al Shaibani Iraq War Women In Iraq