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|June 19-25, 2008
Back to Letters
Iraqi women without hope
by Hind al-Safar and Zaineb Naji
BAGHDAD — Firdaw al-Baghdadi has not seen her husband since he was kidnapped three years ago. Although his family paid a ransom for his release, they never heard from him again. Baghdadi, 38, who lives in Sadr City outside Baghdad, says she cannot find work and her own family is no longer able to support her.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said.
Women whose husbands have gone missing have few options in Iraq. The government refuses to provide assistance to families of kidnap victims.While no reliable figures are available, it’s estimated that tens of thousands of people have been abducted by criminal gangs and sectarian militias since the U.S. invasion in 2003, with families paying tens of thousands of dollars in the hopes of winning their loved ones’ release.
Often, however, the abductees and the money simply disappear. While government assistance is available for widows, orphans, the disabled and divorced women, it is not provided to women whose husbands have been abducted unless they can prove their husbands were kidnapped or killed, according to Azhar al-Sharbaf, a legal adviser with the government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Often, it’s impossible to provide such proof. Even those who do manage to prove that their husbands are kidnap victims receive only meager assistance. Welfare benefits in Iraq start at $65 a month for individuals and $85 a month for women with children.
That “doesn’t even cover a household’s basic needs,” Sharbaf said.
In addition, many women are reluctant to report their husband’s kidnapping to police out of fear of retaliation from criminal gangs. And given the large number of abductions, police spend little time investigating individual cases. In some instances, the police themselves have been found to be linked to the kidnappers.
According to Khetam Abdul Karim, a women’s advocate and a lawyer specializing in family matters, the only law currently on the books dealing with women whose husbands have disappeared was put in place in 1980 during the Iran-Iraq war. That law states that a wife must wait for four years after the defense or interior minister has declared an individual missing before she can even file a claim for her inheritance.
Sharbaf said her agency had backed a bill that would have provided financial support, health care and other help to women who have no other means of support. The measure, however, was scuttled by a parliamentary committee last month.
Weam Jasim, an advocate with the group Dawn of the Woman in Baghdad, said her organization has tried to draw attention to the plight of wives of kidnap victims but to no avail so far.
“Women’s rights are only slogans for politicians,” she said.
Hind al-Safar and Zaineb Naji are reporters in Iraq who write for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting.
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