What do Iraqi women want? Husbands

So says a nonprofit that has broadened its services to matchmaking for widows

Published October 10, 2009 7:06AM (EDT)

What would improve the lives of the estimated 1 million Iraqi women widowed in the war, some of whom have taken to begging, prostitution or searching through garbage just to feed themselves and their children? What could possibly remedy such dire circumstances? A nonprofit by the name of Al Ethar says it has the answer: husbands.

In 2006, the group decided to expand its services beyond healthcare and financial support to matchmaking, ABC reports. Um Omar, the woman pulling strings behind the curtain, pairs up interested single men with widows looking for a second husband. If they hit it off after meeting, well, then that's that. The organization supervises the union  every step of the way as though it were a financial transaction, which it is in large part. The idea behind the venture is best summarized by one of their success stories, a woman by the name of Iman who remarried two years ago after her husband was killed: "All these widows, all these children," she told the BBC. "Who else is going to take care of them?"

As one might expect, the push to remarry hasn't gone over well with traditionalists who see it as taboo. Still others see it as exploitative: Hanaa Edwar, an Iraqi feminist activist, says energy could be better put toward creating opportunities for women to be self-sufficient. "Women should feel they are capable of doing what men can do. They can protect their children without a man in the family" -- or they could if opportunities were realistically available to them. Samira Al Musawi,  head of Iraq's Women and Child Committee, compares the matchmaking to "selling and buying women."

Of course, remarrying isn't just about money. Umm Fatima told the BBC that remarrying would make her and her children feel "more secure," both financially and emotionally. "They miss their dad," she said. "And when they meet men sometimes, they want them to give them a hug." In a similarly heartbreaking moment in the article, the male author gets up to go after interviewing a widow and her 3-year-old daughter. The girl begs him: "Please stay with us."

These women and children are in survival mode. It's easy enough -- and certainly righteous -- to argue for growing Iraqi women's presence outside of the home by working to make it culturally acceptable and by creating more economic opportunities. Only, I fear that will be about as easy as bringing "freedom" and Western democracy to Iraq. 

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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