Tuesday, July 24, 2007

[wvns] IRAQ: Women give up jobs, marriages

IRAQ: Women forced to give up their jobs, marriages
Source: IRIN, Iran


BAGHDAD, 30 May 2007 (IRIN) - When Suha Abdel-Azim, 38, received a
letter from her boss saying she had to stop working for security
reasons, she couldn't believe it. After three years as an engineer for
a local company, she was fired without compensation.

"I was shocked when they told me I was being fired. I was an excellent
worker and had done many fantastic and profitable projects but they
didn't want a woman with them any more. They tried to explain, saying
it was too dangerous for the company to employ women: the company had
received threats," Suha said.

"I tried to convince them that I could work from home. I have two
children to bring up, and have been alone since my husband was killed
by insurgents in 2004 for working for a foreign company, but in vain.
They just sent me home," she said.

Suha is now unemployed. She has been trying to find a job but as a
woman she is finding it difficult.

"When they see my cv [curriculum vitae] they get excited but later
they say they cannot employ me because I'm a woman and it could be too
dangerous for them. Most of the local construction companies in Iraq
now have only men working for them," she said.

Unemployment affects children

"In about 14 percent of families in Iraq women are the main
breadwinners, and often they care for a large number of children. The
increase in unemployment among them just means more children without
support," said Sarah Muthulak, a spokeswoman for the Baghdad-based
Women's Rights Association (WRA).

"Discrimination against women today is unprecedented. They are being
sacked because of their gender; that is unacceptable," she added.

Women say they are being threatened for working outside their homes
and in places which are mostly patronised by men.

"Insurgents and militias want us out of the work environment for many
reasons: Some because they believe that women were born to stay at
home - cooking and cleaning - and others because they say it is
against Islam to share the same space with men who are not close
relatives," Nuha Salim, spokeswoman for the Baghdad-based NGO, Women's
Freedom, said.

Forced to divorce

For other women in Iraq the problem goes beyond unemployment. With
spiralling sectarian violence, they are being forced to marry men from
their own sect even if they were in love for years with a man from a
different sect.

"I was in love with a colleague in my college for more than three
years. My family were going to accept our marriage but last year when
my cousin was killed by [Shia] militants, my parents prohibited me
from marrying him," said Nur Abdel-Amir, 23, a Baghdad resident.

"For two months now I have been in a forced marriage. He is from my
own sect but I don't like him and nor does he love me but we don't
have a choice. If I refuse I would die and so I will have to live the
rest of my life with a man whom I cannot imagine sleeping with," Nur
added.

Nuha from Women's Freedom said the problem is serious and getting
worse. What is happening now in Iraq is a far cry from in the days of
Saddam Hussein's regime when it was safe to marry across the sectarian
divide.

"There are cases of women who are being forced to sign divorce papers
after being threatened by their husband's family because they were of
a different sect - even if they had been living for years in harmony
or if innocent children were involved," she added.

Women teachers face threats

Women have also been prohibited by Shia militias from teaching other
women. The threat has become real after two teachers - one in the
mostly Shia Sadr City district and one in Kadhmiyah neighbourhood -
were killed after giving lessons to illiterate women near their homes.

"They were brave women who stood up against the violence, and tried to
promote education among those who had never had the opportunity," Nuha
said. "They were killed just because they wanted to help other women
to read and write."

In many villages, girls have been taken out of school and forced to
stay at home without education.

"Girls and women don't need to read. They should be good mothers and
housewives. The schools are just imbuing them with new and modern
ideas that are inconsistent with Muslim women's duties," said Khalid
Hassan, a Mahdi Army officer in Muthana Governorate.

"We have threatened all teachers near our villages, telling them to
stop teaching, especially teaching women and girls," Hassan said.

WRA's Muthulak said many women activists' organisations in Iraq are
developing projects to offer free education to women, but most of them
have been threatened recently and will probably be forced to stop
working for security reasons.

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