Hannaa Jassem bends over a patient in a makeshift clinic on the edge of Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, one of a handful of women in an overwhelmingly male world of demonstrations and political confrontation.
The 24-year-old works as a nurse in a hospital in Iraq’s capital during the week, and volunteers at its main protest site at weekends.
As teargas spreads outside, Jassem stitches up wounds in an open-fronted shack supported by metal poles with walls covered in national flags, banners and blue plastic sheeting.
She said her brother initially supported her decision to look after people taking part in the wave of anti-government protests that have raged across Iraq since October 1. “He was proud that his sister was a medic in Tahrir,” she told Reuters.
“But later he became apprehensive as things got more dangerous.” Almost 500 people have died in the violence.
Some politicians and influential clerics have been outraged by the sight of young women out in public during the demonstrations in Baghdad and across the impoverished Shia Muslim south.
But that hasn’t stopped Jassem. “Change is what drove me to be a medic and go to protest sites. We are sick of the current situation in terms of rights or being safe or having any security in this country.”
Since her father passed away in 2016, she and her eight brothers and sisters have had to contribute to the family income. On top of her nursing job, she also works part time as a portrait photographer.
That still leaves here the weekends for the protest clinic. “I always say that if I had enough time I would go to Tahrir every day but my responsibilities at work and home get in the way.”