Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lucinda Marshall: The War on Iraq's Women

The War on Iraq's Women
by Lucinda Marshall
Feminist Peace Network and AlterNet

The Ministry of Women's Affairs estimates that there are 8 million widows in Iraq, with 350,000 in Baghdad alone.

It almost defies comprehension that such a thing is possible, but as several recent news reports attest, the horrendous circumstances faced by Iraqi women continue to deteriorate. The welfare of pregnant women has been particularly compromised as a result of the constant bombing, curfews, lack of electricity and safe water, bombed hospitals and lack of medicine and medical personnel.

"For at least two women in every 12 who seek emergency delivery assistance here, either the mother or her child dies," Dr Ibrahim Khalil, a gynecologist at Al-Karada maternity hospital, said.

"Mothers are usually anemic and children are born underweight as a result of a poor nutrition and lack of pre-natal care," Khalil said, adding: "There aren't any official figures but we can see that the number [of such cases] has doubled since Saddam Hussein's time."

According to UNICEF,

"Iraq's maternal mortality rates have increased dramatically in the last 15 years. In 1989, 117 mothers out of 100,000 died during pregnancy or childbirth. That figure has now gone up by 65 per cent."

In addition,

"Figures compiled earlier this year by Save the Children show that in 1990 the mortality rate for under-fives was 50 per 1,000 live births. In 2005 it was 125. While other countries have higher rates, the rate of increase in Iraq is higher than elsewhere."

Another specific impact that the violence has had on the lives of Iraqi women is reflected in the alarming numbers of women who are being forced into prostitution. Because of the violence, as well as the cost of living and lack of government infrastructure, many women in Iraq as well as Iraqi women who are now refugees in other countries have had to turn to prostitution in order to feed their families. Widows are particularly vulnerable. As Al Jazeera reports,

"Prior to the US invasion, Iraqi widows, particularly those who lost husbands during the Iran-Iraq war, were provided with compensation and free education for their children. In some cases, they were provided with free homes.

However, no such safety nets currently exist and widows have few resources at their disposal."

According to Al Jazeera, the Ministry of Women's Affairs estimates that there are 8 million widows in Iraq, with 350,000 in Baghdad alone.

The Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has documented the disappearance of some 4000 women and girls since the U.S. invasion in early 2003. OWFI believes most have been trafficked to other countries and forced into prostitution. OWFI's Yanar Mohammed told CNN,

"At this point there is a population of women who have to sell their bodies in order to keep their children alive. It's a taboo that no one is speaking about."

And as one woman who had turned to prostitution told CNN,

"People shouldn't criticize women, or talk badly about them.They all say we have lost our way, but they never ask why we had to take this path."

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