And others pay for them 

The US can well–afford its  misadventures since  its always someone else who pays for them — Iraqi women, for example

Under the UN sanctions, casualties include not only Iraq’s self– sufficiency and its modern, secular society, with its advanced medical and educational systems, but also the progressive lives of eight million Iraqi women, who find themselves forced into social contracts which they thought ended a century ago.

In the long struggle between Iraq and the US, Iraqi women have been the most harmed of that nation’s beleaguered masses. Like men, of course, they’ve lost opportunities and seen their living standard plummet. But they’ve also been forced into social contracts which they thought ended a century ago.

Seven years of sanctions have desiccated more than bombs could. The casualties include not only Iraq’s modern, secular society, with its advanced medical and educational systems, self–sufficiency, university research, and child vaccination programmes, but also the progressive lives of eight million Iraqi women. 

Before 1990, Iraq had an exemplary policy of educating women and opening the professions to them. Before the Gulf War, women were found in all sectors of life. But in the years since then, those gains have been reversed. It’s well–known that women everywhere endure a double victimisation during war.  

As far as we know, Iraqi women were not raped — not directly. But as a result of war conditions ignited by the sanctions, they’ve lost many of the rights they had — even under Saddam Hussein. And let us be clear. The UN sanctions, now in their eighth year, are a terrible form of war. The economic embargo on Iraq, policed by the US, is proving to be the most punitive and strictly enforced in human history. 

Well over a million civilians -– mostly children — have perished, all of them needless deaths created by a lack of food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of children are stunted or retarded due to disease and malnutrition, while war–related pollution and contamination has pushed up cancer rates. At least four million Iraqis have fled the country, seeking refuge elsewhere.

An unreported effect of the sanctions — and another reason to consider them a weapon of war — is the social disruption they’ve created. Over the past seven years, Iraq has experienced a complete economic breakdown and class upheaval.

As a result, fewer jobs are available to women. With the collapsed economy, unemployment rose. To secure work, men travelled to other parts of the country or emigrated in search of work. Employers also began to give priority to young men for the few available places. Even so, inflation (a 6000 per cent increase since 1990) is so high and salaries so low that families haven’t been able to manage.

To help their parents, young men delay marriage. And any boy with dreams of emigrating in search of a new life (according to reports, 2,00,000 single men have already left for New Zealand) isn’t likely to marry before leaving. So, Iraq’s male–female ratio is now unbalanced and young women find themselves without a choice of partners. 
Within Arab society, women are under immense pressure to marry, especially if they have no profession. Meanwhile, sexual contact outside marriage is hardly possible. The chronic dilemma has intensified, increasing already overwhelming burdens. 

Societies have different ways of absorbing strain. Sometimes the adjustment is positive, sometimes not. In Iraq’s case, coping with the gender imbalance created by the sanctions has led some families to adopt polygamy as a solution for their daughters’ limited marriage prospects. To secure their daughters a future as mothers and some kind of economic security, parents are offering their daughters as second, junior wives. The marriages are legal.
Arranged by the family, they generally involve an older man already supporting a wife and children. The first wife objects and protests, but many men welcome such arrangements. Though sanctioned in Iraqi religious law, for many decades polygamy wasn’t practised in most parts of the country. In fact, multiple wives were discouraged by both the state and educated society. Today, however, due to social upheaval, a woman has less leverage to refuse a second wife. And parents who never would have allowed it in their youth see polygamy as a solution. It’s a desperate strategy to help their families cope with the intolerable conditions all Iraqis face.          

(Third World Network Features. The above article first appeared in Toward Freedom
(March/April 1998, ‘Back to the Margins’).
(Barbara Nimri Aziz, a New York–based journalist and anthropologist, 
has followed developments in Iraq since before the Gulf War ).  



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