Even in a war zone, women are worried about not going shopping, not going out, not having sex, balancing work and home, or having to leave the country to find a husband (interesting the admission of a "need" to find a husband?) because all the men are getting killed and are too stressed out to get it up.
Surely these "women's issues" are pressing concerns in a country where men are dying, or afraid of dying, every day, right??!! Surely somebody needs to bring to light these "important" bushit issues in a country ravaged by war and terrorism and an unstable government??!!
Is it just me, or in a country where all these men are dying (and admittedly some women too)... shouldn't shopping (or the limitations thereof) be, well... not even a consideration? Apparently it is not just western women who are obsessed with materialism and vanity to the point of it overriding, oh, say, a dead husband?
This is off MSN BTW, if anyone cares.
Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2007 2:04 PM
Categories: Baghdad, Iraq
By Michele Neubert, NBC News Producer
Taking advantage of a brief lull in the action while some of my male colleagues were out on a military embed, I tried to follow up on a promise I'd made to myself when I arrived on this latest assignment to Iraq - to try to find out who is the Iraqi woman circa 2007?
Unable to stray too far, I started by chatting with some of the Iraqi women in the compound where our hotel is located. On another occasion, when it was just too dangerous for me as a Westerner to venture out, I asked our female translator, Rose, to do some of the leg work for me. I also persuaded her to make some pretty embarrassing phone calls.
What I found, while perhaps not exactly the in-depth take on female society I'd hoped for, offers a small taste of the everyday lives of some Iraqi women. The headline, should you choose to stop reading now, is no sex, too much food and no future.
Shams, the 24-year-old woman at the security desk in the lobby of our hotel, made it adamantly clear that she believes she has no future in Iraq.
"The only way I have a future is if I come back with you to England," Shams said. "There is no hope for the women of Iraq. And with all these killings, we'll be left with no men. The only way to secure a husband is to leave the country."
And it's not just the future - it's the now. Shams' youth has been severely compromised by the security situation. It's too dangerous for trips out, so there is no way to meet boys on dates and the only recourse for friendship and intimacy is via a cell phone or the Internet. The highlight of the week for her is a visit to a girlfriend who lives next door.
"I miss everything we used to have in the old days [under Saddam]," Shams said. "The going out to restaurants or hanging out with friends eating ice cream till 3 a.m. These days, with the curfew, I have to be home by 7 p.m. max."
And then there is the shopping. "We all go clothes shopping in one safe area, which means everyone ends up buying the same things, so it looks like a uniform," she complained. Although she admitted that like so many of her Western contemporaries, she still manages to spend most of her salary on clothes.
Or what's left of it after she's paid $200 of her $500 monthly salary to the taxi driver who brings her safely to work. Other friends who earn less simply cannot afford to get to work. "So they stay at home, unable to practice the professions they've studied for," she said.
Working 9 to 5
But at the bank, I did manage to meet a lively group of ladies who still manage to practice their profession. While the male manager hovered around nervously trying to inject his presence into our conversation, we ignored him and chatted away.
We hit the usual topics of the dangers of simply getting to work, frustrations of infrequent shopping trips, the nightmare of juggling home-work-cooking with power and electricity being scarce and money always being incredibly tight. Again, I was hit by a wall of hopelessness.
"The situation is worse than ever. It's spiraling right down," said Aseel, the 26-year-old single woman of the group and office siren who had regrettably just started wearing a headscarf because of the deteriorating situation. "Only God can help us," she said.
That was exactly why her married colleague, Hoda, 28, started wearing a headscarf three years ago. "I thought, I better play it right by God," she explained. "I've given up on the future."
"It's the worst possible thing, not having anything to look forward too," Hoda said. "Most people spend all their money on food. They just sit inside, in front of the TV, during curfew and eat. It's the only pleasure we have left," she said, reminiscing about the days when they could walk in the park, go to a club, have a swim.
And on that note, I waited until the male boss left the room and broached the subject of sex. Was the situation taking its toll there, too? I'd read that the birthrate in Iraq had dropped by six percent since 2003, so something must be up.
Menal, a 24-year-old newlywed blushed and conceded that, yes, like everything else, her sex life was suffering.
Hoda was more forthcoming. "Because we are both so stressed - the desire for sex, as for so many other things in life, has diminished."
Looking on the bright side, Hoda added, "The only good thing is where I was once worried about my husband cheating on me, now I don't think he'd be up to it. And even if were, there would be few willing partners!"
Meantime, Suha, a 32-year-old housewife, told us over the phone that she and her husband quarrel all the time because of the situation and that the depression it brings is impacting their sex life - big time.
"I just don't go out. I spend all my day eating and sleeping," she explained. "I can no longer afford a hairdresser, and even if I could, it would be too dangerous to go there. Some people were kidnapped at the pharmacy round the corner the other day, so that's now a no-go, too. There are no social visits, and it's so bad that I couldn't attend my uncle's funeral. It's got to the stage where I change my clothes three times a day just to pretend I'm going out."
Suha also shared a total mistrust of Iraq's newly elected politicians, even the women. "These women don't take the needs of the normal Iraq women into consideration," she complained.
Ladies who lunch
I asked Rose, our translator, if she'd mind asking a few questions at the up-market Alwiya Social Club, a middle-class bastion in downtown Baghdad. There the tempo was a little more upbeat.
Zainab, a 36-year-old professional who was lunching with her friend, Hyam, believed the role of women was actually improving. "Now at least we have women in parliament, ministers and ambassadors. Unlike under Saddam when we didn't even have a parliament," she pointed out.
Hyam, 43, and the mother of three, was also more optimistic.
"We hope that the role of women in politics will improve the lot of Iraqi women. I have to hope, otherwise I couldn't live," she admitted
And her life at home seemed not too bad either. "I manage to get out to some social events and the hairdresser is right next to my home, so I go whenever I want. I work out at home on my exercise bike and when things get too much, we go to Kurdistan for a break."
What about sex? Well even for Hyam it's a no-go. Now that's a real leveler.