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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Prostitution & Iraq

A couple days ago, Salon featured a story on the influx into Syria of young Iraqi women who must turn to prostition to support their families.

From "Unveiling Iraq's teenage prostitutes":

"It's a serious problem because there are young girls doing this -- 11, 12, 13 years old," says Abdelhamid El Ouali, the representative for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees who's based in Damascus. "It's amazing at first. But when you fight for your life, what are you going to do?"

The Syrian government and UNHCR put the number of Iraqi refugees in Syria at roughly 700,000. Syrian police either lack data or won't release any figures on prostitution, which isn't surprising considering the closed government. The U.S. State Department's 2005 "Trafficking in Persons Report" acknowledges the problem, but officials have no clear sense of its magnitude. According to the report, "There have been some reports that indicate Iraqi women may be subjected to sexual exploitation in prostitution in Syria at the hands of Iraqi criminal networks, but those reports have not been confirmed."

The dangers to Iraqi women are not localized among the refugees. With the rise in popularity of Shia political parties that are attempting to adopt the Iranian model of government, the female population is slowly being sidelined. As far as I know, the most vocal Iraqi feminist to reach our shores is the pseudonymous blogger Riverbend. Here is an excerpt of a very moving post from February:

Groceries and Election Results

I shook my head and sighed. “So do you still think the Americans want to turn Iraq into another America? You said last year that if we gave them a chance, Baghdad would look like New York.” I said in reference to a conversation we had last year. E. gave me a wary look and tried to draw my attention to some onions, “Oh hey- look at the onions- do we have onions?”

Abu Ammar shook his head and sighed, “Well if we’re New York or we’re Baghdad or we’re hell, it’s not going to make a difference to me. I’ll still sell my vegetables here.”

I nodded and handed over the bags to be weighed. “Well… they’re going to turn us into another Iran. You know list 169 means we might turn into Iran.” Abu Ammar pondered this a moment as he put the bags on the old brass scale and adjusted the weights.

“And is Iran so bad?” He finally asked. Well no, Abu Ammar, I wanted to answer, it’s not bad for *you* - you’re a man… if anything your right to several temporary marriages, a few permanent ones and the right to subdue females will increase. Why should it be so bad? Instead I was silent. It’s not a good thing to criticize Iran these days. I numbly reached for the bags he handed me, trying to rise out of that sinking feeling that overwhelmed me when the results were first made public.

I'll be posting portions of my email correspondence with Riverbend at The Liberal Avenger over the next few days. The most relavent topic to the post is the subject of muta'a, or pleasure marriages, which is simply a legal form of prostitution that is supported by some Shia clerics.