Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Iraqi widows feel lost in land that can't provide

MOSUL — Three sewing machines in a dingy apartment were all Munna Abdul Adeem Ahmed could scrape together when she set up a tailoring co-op for poor widows. She soon realised it was not enough.

More than 1,000 women from the northern city of Mosul turned up looking for work on the first day. Ahmed finally stopped registering new names after the 1,200th widow signed up.

The women were mostly young, poor and desperate for work.

Many lost their spouses during the wars, uprisings and civil conflict that have bedevilled Iraq over the past 25 years.

Now, a raging insurgency is adding to their numbers.

Behind the daily bloodshed and attacks that make headlines across the world, there is a growing population of widows.

Traditionally, Iraqi widows have been supported by their late husband's family or other relatives, but in a country brought to its knees by violence and war, there is now little to spare for the most vulnerable members of society.

“We don't have enough money to clothe our children,” said Nawal Ayob, who lost her husband during the bombings in the first Gulf War in 1991 and has since joined Ahmed's co-op. “We have no salaries, no support. How can we survive?” There are few reliable statistics on the number of widows, but the ministry of women's affairs has recorded at least 206,000 in Iraq, outside of Kurdish provinces. There are just over half as many widowed men.

Women's groups, however, say anecdotal evidence suggests the number of widows is far higher, with some estimates putting the number in Baghdad alone at 250,000 out of a population of about seven million.

“In every house in Iraq, you will find at least one widow,” said Azhaar Al Hakim, member of the Women's Alliance for a Democratic Iraq, an activist group. “In some houses, there may be two or three.”

Read the restJordan Times (News Section)

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