Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Look What I found around here in Iraq, Khabat, Erbil 010411

Today we visited Khabat, a village 20 km out of Erbil to conduct a survey about widowed women. The survey is part of a bigger project that is intended to be used as a base for an income generating project. This village has refugee families from other parts of Iraq because the region [Kurdistan] is the safest area in Iraq. Some of the women are the wives of the disappeared men and are still waiting for their husbands to return and they still do not know whether they are really widows or not. But in this situation their personal status is unclear leaving them with complex problems and unable to find closure and move on with their lives. For example, there are still mass graves to be identified and excavated. Women are extremely vulnerable in this situation. Another problem is the women with husbands who left their wives.

There are several women head of households either because they are divorced or widows. This leaves a big burden for this women that often have very little or no source of income.

We arrived to Khabat and waited over a cup of tea, as we were trying to go over the lists that were provided to us. Our local contact Faisal, who works with the municipality,arrived and took us to the major's house. There, with another cup of sweet tea, where we were sorting the lists from the Ministry of Martyrs and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The major is a more accurate source of information, since he knows the women and could identify immediately, who was who just by reading the names from the list.

After the major’s house, Kak Faisal took us to a house, there was a woman called Belal, who lived with her 2 children, Mohamed and Ahmad and her mother. We sat there and had some more tea and started the survey, explaining to the woman that we were going to provide her with some training that will give her some skills for her to bring some income to the house. The woman, 26, was abandoned by her husband and left with nothing when he married another woman. She now lives on a rented house with her mother, who is a widow and receives a modest income of 200,000 Iraqi Dinars ($167). The woman only completed primary school and she forgot how to read and write.

The infrastructure in Khabat is very poor, no sewage system

Me with Mohamed and Ahmed, aren't they adorable?
As my colleague, Dastan talked to the woman,in Kurdish, I noticed his soft and sympathetic tone. The two children, 4 and 5 years old were sitting beside us as we talked to their mom. I was immediately in love with them and trying to play games and gain their friendship as I was thinking what kind of future these children will have here in Iraq. Will they be able to go to school? What about their young, and beautiful mother? Will she be able to find a loving husband that takes care about her and her two boys. It is unfortunate, but I think the answer is no! Will this generation of men continue this cycle of violence against women?

We were making a survey and were welcomed in every single house, here we went with the major, which is a very reliable source when looking for a specific set of women, young and with children to be able to provide them with training to make them self sufficient.

After this first interview, we went to the municipality and there we met with a woman that provided us with another list of women and more tea. By now I am really hungry and hoping this sugar overload helps me.

It’s all kind of confusing and sad, but I am glad to be here and have this opportunity, to see the real face of Iraqi women. There are so many things that I would like to know about these women, which are about my age, and most of the time younger than me. I look at their eyes and I see how strong they are, I mean, you have to be strong on this culture to survive all the oppression that this society imposes on women. All the pressure is on the woman, she has to be perfect in order to accepted and be able to marry, perfect in her husband’s eyes, for her own family, for her husband’s family and in the end for what?

But sometimes we faced rejection from the men living with the women, this very traditional society does not allow women to work out of the house. If they are widow or divorced, they have to move with a relative and cannot provide for themselves, making them and their children poor and vulnerable.

Sometimes I am just glad that I was not born in this kind of society, and that I don’t have to deal with this. THANK GOD!!!!Sometimes I just feel sorry for them and I am angry that we as women have to accept this, just because “it’s the tradition” or because that is what women are supposed to do. I can’t believe we are on the 21st century and dealing with these issues that are leaving women illiterate, poor and dispossessed if they are widowed or divorced. I am frustrated because there is a lot of work to do before these “traditions” are changed and women are able to break this unjust cycle of oppression that leads to poverty and violence. Maybe it will take a generation or two, to educate men as well as women but I think it can be done, it MUST be done.

These children are vulnerable in many ways if their mothers are unable to have an income.


  1. beautiful post johanna. thank you for sharing with us. I love the photos on this journey. You're amazing, keep it up sister

  2. Hey sis, Im glad you like it. Iraq has been kind of though on me, but now that I am getting used to it, Im loving it, the people, the food. Everyone has a story and they are struggling a lot, but they are the loveliest people!!!!