Liberating Iraqi Women

Liberation, GOP-style.

Sometimes, the “assholes” tag just isn’t enough.

By day the road that leads from Damascus to the historic convent at Saidnaya is often choked with Christian and Muslim pilgrims hoping for one of the miracles attributed to a portrait of the Virgin Mary at the convent. But as any Damascene taxi driver can tell you, the Maraba section of this fabled pilgrim road is fast becoming better known for its brisk trade in Iraqi prostitutes.

Many of these women and girls, including some barely in their teens, are recent refugees. Some are tricked or forced into prostitution, but most say they have no other means of supporting their families. As a group they represent one of the most visible symptoms of an Iraqi refugee crisis that has exploded in Syria in recent months.

According to the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, about 1.2 million Iraqi refugees now live in Syria; the Syrian government puts the figure even higher.

Given the deteriorating economic situation of those refugees, a United Nations report found last year, many girls and women in “severe need” turn to prostitution, in secret or even with the knowledge or involvement of family members. In many cases, the report added, “the head of the family brings clients to the house.”

Our little foray into Iraq has displaced millions of people. It has killed hundreds of thousands. It has left women and girls with few options — and so they do what they have to do to survive. If they survive.

But the ever-so-moral Republicans are really helping Iraqis, right? The half-million people they’ve slaughtered, well… that’s collateral damage. A necessary sacrifice. The millions of refugees? The massive displaced populations? An unfortunate occurrence, but certainly worth it in the quest for democracy. The total lack of true democracy in Iraq, and the fact that the women who still live there have fewer rights and liberties now than they did under Saddam Hussein? Well, as long as they aren’t forced to wear the burka like those poor, oppressed women in Afghanistan, everything is a-ok. The Iraqi women and girls pushed into the Syrian sex trade? Clearly girls who just need a little Christian guidance, and certainly not the fault of our noble missions in the Middle East. I’m sure some faith-based organization will be dispatched soon enough.

But, sure, stay the course. What could go wrong?

I am, however, heartened to read about the amazing work Iraqi women are doing.

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6 comments for “Liberating Iraqi Women

  1. Bitter Scribe
    May 30, 2007 at 10:19 am

    IIRC, women turning to prostitution was a problem during Iraq’s war with Iran, too. Apparently many of the widows of men killed in the war had no other means to survive.

    Same shit, different war. Except this time it might actually be worse: The women this post refers to have been forced out of their country as well as rendered destitute and desperate.

    Just another entry on the long, long list of reasons Iraqis have to hate us.

  2. May 30, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    i am involved in anti human-trafficking work. our focus is on people trafficked across borders for prostitution. i am disheartened by some in this cause who want to launch a crusade against pornograpy, when the root cause of all this misery is poverty and disempowerment. prostitution follows war, it happens everywhere every time. the bush adm likes to court the religious right by making speeches against human-trafficking, and taking tough poses that shut down harm-reduction programs that give AIDS prevention to prostitutes. the iraqi people did not choose this time or this way to get rid of their dictator, yet they are on the front lines, women and children first.

  3. May 30, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Always a new war telling the same old story. Do we every learn?

  4. Morningstar
    May 30, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    thanks a ton for posting this jill. there are so many disgusting aspects of the war on terror, but the feminist issue has been kind of sidelined lately.

    the right wing lambasted the taliban’s treatment of women as soon as it got trendy to do so, but ditched the cause as soon as the taliban was out of power. things are perhaps even worse over there now, since there is absolutely no law and order.

    in iraq, the neocons love to fall back on the traditional: “anything’s better than saddam” BS, when the reality is that there was stability and a certain degree of safety under him.

    the other interesting side to this, is the discourse some on the right and even left use regarding women in the ME. some men want access to muslim women’s sexuality; they want more skin shown on the streets and were reveling when osama bin laden’s niece posed in maxim (or whatever men’s magazine it was).

    a few other guys joke about how arab/muslim men just need more porn and sex to turn them away from violence.

    so, in a way, prostitution in the ME is something they might even cheer and ecourage.

    sickening. :(

  5. Harrison
    June 2, 2007 at 5:44 am

    One of the posters referred to the “war on terror”. Although I agree with her statement, “thanks a ton for posting this jill. there are so many disgusting aspects of the war on terror”, the Iraq debacle has nothing to do with the war on terror, except for the blatherings of the idiots who got us into this mess and those policymakers and their media toadies who support it.

    Still, please keep up the good fight, Jill & Co.! I keep hoping that enough voices raised in anger will help turn the country around. Call me a dreamer… :)

  6. Meg
    June 2, 2007 at 8:52 am

    A friend passed this on and I hope you don’t mind me commenting, as my area of research is displacement related to development and sex work.

    Remember when Iraq was supposedly “liberated” and billions of dollars of aid poured in because it was the fashionable place to support, never mind DRC, Malawi and other countries in dire need. What happened to that money? I can only assume any infrastructure that was replaced was long ago the victim of a truck bomb. Why was none at all put aside to deal with the displaced? Rule #1 war causes displacement – women are worst hit in displacement – with few other options, many turn to sex work or transactional sex (sex for food etc.). Was this knowledge just ignored? An acceptable level of “collateral damage,” perhaps.

    The article talks about these women as “one of the most visible symptoms” of the refugee crisis. Sadly they’re not visible at all and that article doesn’t do much to improve their visibility. By closing with the head of the family bringing clients (and I would be interested to know what constitutes “many cases”) they displace the blame onto “those type” of men. What is lacking is information of who is truly to blame… the U.S. for ignoring the problems, the Syrians for not safeguarding the refugees (I think Jordan has maybe been better at that), the International Community.

    But I would also be wary, Ninjanurse, of assigning the blame solely to poverty and disempowerment. In this case it seems pretty obvious, but the true root of sex work is demand… without demand supply wouldn’t exist. Some believe that pornography creates demand because of the way it portrays women. Conflict often creates a unique scenario, yet from my own research in Southeast Asia I know that the poorest are not often those trafficked, but the “relative poor.” They frequently come from deprived backgrounds, however a whole host of factors are in play from growing consumerism, to increasing family status, to gender inequalities that prevent them from going to school, to culturally entrenched roles that obligate daughters to care for families, etc. The list is long and complex. In the U.S. and Canada, past abuse and addictions are big considerations as well. But I agree that tackling pornography seems an odd choice of frontline response.

    I’d be interested to know where all this extra demand is coming from in Syria (including whether or not male displacees are using this as an outlet for their own frustrations) and if women’s bodies are being used simply as a tool to feed families or to finance the more costly task of rebuilding. Can I ask the source of the article?

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