Written by Sherry
Tuesday, 29 May 2007 07:13
The New York Times has a heart-breaking story this morning about Iraqi women refugees now dominating the sex trade in Syria.
Back home in Iraq, Umm Hiba’s daughter was a devout schoolgirl, modest in her dress and serious about her studies. Hiba, who is now 16, wore the hijab, or Islamic head scarf, and rose early each day to say the dawn prayer before classes.
Maraba, a suburb of Damascus, has become a hub of prostitution.
But that was before militias began threatening their Baghdad neighborhood and Umm Hiba and her daughter fled to Syria last spring. There were no jobs, and Umm Hiba’s elderly father developed complications related to his diabetes.
Desperate, Umm Hiba followed the advice of an Iraqi acquaintance and took her daughter to work at a nightclub along a highway known for prostitution.
During the war we lost everything,” she said. “We even lost our honor.” She insisted on being identified by only part of her name — Umm Hiba means mother of Hiba.
And this little excruciating detail:
Even in central Damascus, men freely talk of being approached by pimps trawling for customers outside juice shops and shawarma sandwich stalls, and of women walking up to passing men, an act unthinkable in Arab culture, and asking in Iraqi-accented Arabic if the men would like to “have a cup of tea.”
Sherry's note: If you haven't spent time in the Arab world, this won't make sense - but it is literally unthinkable. Simply meeting the eyes of a man is enough to convey the message that you are "available". I once had to stand across the street from a mosque outside Jerusalem's Damascus Gate for 45 minutes waiting for a ride. Forty five minutes of fruitlessly trying to hide behind a telephone pole with my eyes absolutely glued to the ground as man after man walked up to me and tried to start a conversation in Arabic (My standard answer being "La, la shukran") Until a pair of shoes walked up to me and started talking in Hebrew (Damn! I thought, "now its the Israelis!) and I responded in English, "I'm sorry,I don't speak Hebrew" - only to have the voice respond in familiar American English. So I slowly let my eyes travel up until I saw the gun he was carrying . . . Life on the West Bank just isn't American suburbia.)
This is one of the prices that women of all cultures and times have paid for war, poverty, societal collapse, and abandonment. Those of us who won't be pushed into such a life if we lose our parents or are born into poverty or abandoned by a spouse or never married or can't find a job in a bad economy are incredibly privileged.
And those of us who are privileged owe something to our sisters who are fighting for their lives and the lives of their children.
Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf is a Syrian nun at the Good Shepherd convent in Damascus, which helps Iraqi refugees. She tells of an Iraqi family she just met:
“I met three sisters-in-law recently who were living together and all prostituting themselves. They would go out on alternate nights — each woman took her turn — and then divide the money to feed all the children.”
More on this later.