Letter from Bagdad: Out of Sight

A former prostitute tries to rescue Iraq’s most vulnerable women

One of the most eye opening article about life in the aftermath of post-war Iraq with its sex-trafficking and prostitution underworld.

The article reminds us that Iraq was once at the forefront of women’s right in the Middle East with the Personal Status Law (Law No. 188) in 1959 that restricted polygamy, outlawed child marriage and forced marriages and improved women’s rights in divorce, child custody and inheritance. Equal rights were enshrined in the Baath-drafted 1970 constitution, women’s literacy rates, education and participation in the workforce were all actively promoted through generous welfare policies, such as free childcare.

That momentum was reversed by successive wars: with Iran from 1980 to 1988, the 1990 Gulf War with 13 years of international sanctions.

The draft law (approved by the Council of Ministers in Feb 2014 but not by the parliament yet) with 254 articles based on the Jaafari school of Shiite religious jurisprudence proposed notably to legalise marriage for girls as young a 9, entitling a husband to non-consensual sex with his wife, preventing a woman from leaving her home without her husband’s permission; a husband would not be required to financially support his wife if she was either too young or too old to sexually satisfy him.

It is a “time bomb” and “considered women as just sexual tools for men, for their pleasure” says Hanaa Edwar, a prominent women’s right advocate.

As sex fuels militias because it is a source of money, the chaos and complete disintegration of the state has gravely increased the vulnerability of women and children to trafficking. Edwar added

“You don’t see that there is rule of law, that there are national institutions. You just see militias, gangsters. There is no respect for diversity, for human rights in this country”.

As always, in the horror, there is hope with few angels taking care of victims in a closely guarded secret shelter