Friday, October 09, 2009

What War Brings: widow and abandoned elderly

Photo: The shame of Iraq's pariah widows

BBC News, Baghdad

March 8, 2008

Her husband and three brothers were killed. Her parents were already dead. Her house was burnt down. She was pregnant at the time and lost the baby. But, in the months that followed, Nadia Hussein had to endure much more. Now she lives at a refuge for women in the centre of Baghdad. She spends her days feeding the pigeons and cooking. It's a place for her to escape the many dangers widows face in Iraq.

WHAT WAR BRINGS: widows and abandoned elderly

This post is probably just pointing out the obvious: men get killed the most when wars and occupations come to your hometown, thereby leaving widows behind (and oftentimes orphans, as this post covered).


The years of violence in Iraq lead to a massive increase in the number of widows, and as their numbers increased the ability to help decreased from the breakdown of society. In the past, widows were looked after by extended family, or neighbors or the neighborhood mosque. But those resources were overwhelmed, and the occupying forces did nothing to help the situation. One in eleven women between ages 15 to 80 are estimated to be widows, per the report below from February 2009.

Iraq’s War Widows Face Dire Need With Little Aid

Her twin sisters were killed trying to flee Falluja in 2004. Then her husband was killed by a car bomb in Baghdad just after she had become pregnant. When her own twins were 5 months old, one was killed by an explosive planted in a Baghdad market. Now, Nacham Jaleel Kadim, 23, lives with her remaining daughter in a trailer park for war widows and their families in one of the poorest parts of Iraq’s capital. That makes her one of the lucky ones. The trailer park, called Al Waffa, or “Park of the Grateful,” is among the few aid programs available for Iraq’s estimated 740,000 widows. It houses 750 people.

Another report puts the number of widows between one and two million.

Iraq has million women social time bomb

Moussawi, basing her estimate on a Ministry of Planning report from mid-2007, put the number of divorcees and widows close to 1 million of a total of 8.5 million women aged between 15 and 80. Narmeen Othman, Iraq's acting minister for women's affairs, put the number as high as 2 million in a country of 27 million people. Whatever their number, both parliamentarians say the women who have lost male family members since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq are increasingly lacking the means to provide for themselves.

Iraqi widows yearn for new lives

Nearly three decades of war, brutal totalitarianism, invasion, occupation and insurgency in Iraq have left behind at least a million widows - and several million children without fathers. That was the conservative estimate earlier in 2009 by Iraq's acting minister for women's affairs, Narmeen Othman. She believes there may even be two million widows. Under Saddam Hussein, despite the brutality of his regime towards so many of Iraq's people, war widows were looked after by the state. Now, they are mostly hidden and vulnerable. It's been called Iraq's cultural time bomb.

Most widows end up begging on the streets, or waiting outside mosques for handouts, or can be seen going through garbage. Many are homeless, and many have children. Some have turned to prostitution, or joined up with the insurgents. The article linked above says that only 120,000 Iraqi widows get any kind of state aid. Some are forced into unwanted marriages. The problem seems to be deeper than just poverty. There is also a high level of shame for the widows, and their society’s attitudes about the many widows shows disrespect for their rights.

The shame of Iraq's pariah widows

They accept what has happened to them as the "will of God". Indeed those who campaign on their behalf say one of the hardest things is getting the widows to think that they deserve better lives. "It's not just about legislation," said Hana Adwar, a campaigner for women's rights. "The problem is the way people behave inside the family. The question is how to change attitudes and behaviour towards them."

………There's talk of passing new laws, and finding extra money for the hundreds of thousands of widows. But campaigners say what they need more than anything is more respect in Iraqi society.

Recently, an Iraqi blogger (and friend of mine) decided to do something to help Iraqi widows. She raised some funds to buy four of them sewing machines, so that they can become self-sustaining. She came to my home town (as my guest) and we raised $850. She and her son contributed some more money to achieve this goal. Here is a link to the pictures of what became of the money that was raised and donated locally.

There was a story out today on a program to get Iraqi widows to remarry. Some Iraqis think this is helpful, some say exploitative. The pictures of the widows, along with personal information like the number of children she has, are put into a book where prospective future husbands can look at it. I am not sure if this is a good approach or not, but people do find love in the oddest of ways.

Finding Husbands for Iraq's Widows

Some Iraqi men disagreed with Al Musawi. Fadhil, a man in his mid-30s, said, "We always hear cases of people getting married through Internet sites, so it's not a problem to have a woman's picture showcased in a photo album. "It's better having a man looking after [a] widow instead of leaving her alone, facing hard-life circumstances in Iraq," he added.

I have only run across one story about what has happened to the elderly in Iraq. If there is more than one center to care for them, I do not know about it. I suspect most elderly in Iraq are cared for by their families, but there are probably an awfully high number how have fallen into poverty and homelessness due to the violence that was unleashed by the US invasion.

The abandoned elderly are war’s other victims in Iraq

The guests of the Mercy Home for the Elderly, a residence for indigent senior citizens, come from across Iraq and include Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Christians. Funded by prominent Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Hussein al-Sadr, the two-story stone building, opened in November 2006, houses 43 men and women who have nowhere else to go.

…… Manager Hadi Hamid Taie says his guests are mostly victims of the violence and economic hard times that followed the American-led invasion six years ago. “This phenomenon is new,’’ Taie says. “According to our religion, it is not permitted to abandon your parents. On the contrary, Islam requires that you take special care of them.’’

The overall population of this home for the elderly has gone done recently, since the violence has gone down and conditions are improving. Some have returned to their families. But people still continue to arrive, due to poverty, instability, and the ongoing violence.

A recent blog post by an Iraqi journalist working for McClatchy’s talked about the need for more homes and services for Iraq’s elderly. The part of the post quoted here deals with homeless elderly who live in the street. This post also describes some recent people who were found living in a cave, in hovels in the desert, or a hand-made shelter made of tires.

Homes for seniors and others

Many old people in Iraq live in the street because the severity of life. Some of them were wealthy and due to circumstances lost their wealth and some are abandoned by their beloveds. Anyhow life obliged them to live in streets as vagrants in rich country like Iraq . It is normal to find such cases in many countries but here in Iraq the new regime came raising the slogan of human rights that were violated during former regime. Six years passed after the collapse, and there are only 5 nursing homes in whole Iraq to taking care of these old people - the same number that was found during Saddam's time.

The problems of the widow and abandoned elderly in Iraq are not being addressed by their government or by the occupation forces. And the same holds true for Afghanistan.


There are an estimated one and a half to two million war widows in Afghanistan, making the problem much worse than in Iraq. But even less has been reported on these widows. They are living in desperate poverty. None of them get assistance from their government. The chances of re-marriage are slim. This report is from 2007.

Forgotten women turn Kabul into widows’ capital

Every morning Gul, who was widowed when an American bomb hit her house in 2001, leaves her two daughters to go begging on the streets of Kabul. "If I'm lucky, I'll make about 50 afghanis (80p), enough to buy two pieces of bread," she says. Kabul, it is said, is the widows' capital of the world. As many as 50,000 women like Gul live in the city, and many make their home in the abandoned buildings that dot the suburbs, often living in horrific conditions. In a nation with a fractured infrastructure and, at £125 a year, one of the lowest per-capita incomes in the world, many widows are left without relatives able to take them in or offer even modest financial support.

Sometimes they stand outside government buildings with pictures of their deceased husbands. They are ignored. They are ignored by the NATO and US occupation troops, giving lie to the idea that those troops went there to bring freedom or better conditions to women. The following report is from 2008.

Bleak prospects for estimated 1.5 million widows in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has one of the highest numbers of widows (proportionate to the total population) in the world, owing to the armed conflicts that have bedevilled the country for over two decades. There are over 1.5 million widows out of an estimated 26.6 million people in Afghanistan, according to Beyond 9/11, a US-based nonprofit group that provides direct financial support to Afghan widows and their children. Some 50,000-70,000 widows live in Kabul alone, it says.

This report says that about 90% of the widows have children, and the average ago of an Afghan widow is 35 years old. They often have no means of supporting themselves, reducing them to beggars.

The group known as Beyond 9/11” is quite amazing. I saw a movie about them earlier this year, and their goal is to help Afghan widows become self-sufficient. The group was founded by two women who were made widows from the attack on 9/11.

I could not find any reports on widows in Pakistan. I am sure there are more of them than there were a few years ago. I hope they are getting the help they need.

If you support the continued occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan, or the bombing of Pakistan, then you support WHAT WAR BRINGS: widows and abandoned elderly.

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