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The culture of marriage in Iraq: Interview

Author: Ghid Moayad Published: 25/03/2021

Our new writer Ghid Moayad conducted a series of interviews with young women, refugees and a religious leader to learn more about the reality and the pressures of marriage in Iraq.

The overwhelming pressure of marriage in the Middle East and especially in Iraq has been the reality of women’s daily lives for many years. Young girls suffer from this problem and have no other way to escape from it. Furthermore, in Iraq the legal age for marriage is 16 years old. This article focuses on the culture of marriage in Northern Iraq for women of legal age to marry and for under-aged children.

In the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, being a woman or a girl is a challenge. There are two main reasons why girls in this region get married. Firstly, because they feel it is the only way for them to survive in the harsh environment with its failing economy and war. Secondly, some marry, voluntarily or involuntarily, because it is part of their culture and is imposed by their family.

Interview: Aesha a University Student

Aesha, aged 29, studying business at the American University of Iraq Sulaimani, AUIS. She wanted to finish her studies, become independent and not get married. However, her father forced her to leave University in her final year because he wanted to follow the religious culture of Iraq. In Iraq, girls are not meant to get an education or work. At her age, some might say that in Western culture it is advised to get married so why is there a problem here with the instance of Iraq. Well, as mentioned in Iraqi culture the girl until she is married is under the authority of her father then under her husband’s. Therefore, once the woman is married, she is no longer a burden to her family. Eight years later Aesha returned to University and graduated. After graduation, once again, her parents strongly advised her to get married.

“I just want to satisfy my parents because they allowed me to go to University instead of getting married.” - Aesha -

Aesha’s case is unique in her family, her older sisters were forced to get married when they were between 12 and 14 years old, like many other young girls in the country. Despite this, Aesha has become a model for girls in her community, her academic achievements have inspired many girls around her.

Role of religion in Iraq

Iraq has one of the highest rates of underage child marriage in the world, the reason being the predominant rule the Sharia law in Iraq. Sharia is an Islamic and religious law which is part the Islamic tradition of Iraq, whose population is 99% Muslim. It is derived from the religious principles of Islam, particularly the Qur’an and the Hadith . This is compounded by the harsh economic situation in Iraq which has led to poverty, and marriage has become one of the solutions for women to survive. It is estimated that 24% of young girls under the age of 18 are married. The Iraqi people visit religious leaders on a daily basis and some of them follow these leaders solely because they have been raised to do so. Therefore, they have been brought up to think and learn in one way and see one perspective only, the religious one. Furthermore, religious leaders influence the politics of the country and have high roles in government.

Interview with Hawnaz, 22, at University studying English

Hawnaz, 22-year-old woman studying in English in Sulaymaniyah is very religious, her parents arranged a marriage for her. She tried to escape from the reality of her culture, but she couldn’t. Hawnaz is in her early 20s and loves to learn and travel, but she is living in a closed community. She has always wanted to follow her dreams and do what other normal girls in the Western world does freely. Her family started to convince her to get married and start a family, which Hawnaz refused. But in the end, she had no choice, as her family supported her financially for many years. Hawnaz was very open to talk to me about this issue, but suddenly with her eyes filled with tears she asked to go outside. She is very interested in education and said “This is my thing, a pen and a notebook.” Hawnaz`s marriage affected her life, she is now just a servant in the house, she says “Marriage is a big responsibility and all I do is just cook and clean.”

Her long envied life which revolved around education is now evolving around cooking.

Women in the Middle East face daily struggles and criticism about the way they dress and the way they think. Many girls are not aware of marriage especially in their early years. The Iraqi society is structured in a way which often puts women in a vulnerable position and therefore they need a male protection. Moreover, Iraq is a country of extreme poverty and when families receive offers of marriage in exchange for their child they are inclined to accept in order to have food for the rest of their family. Leaving marriage an unavoidable solution for many women.

Interwiew 3: Sheikh Saman, pro-marriage.

Sheikh Saman, who is an official Mullah in Abu Baker Al-Musanif Mosque. A Mullah is an educated Muslims trained in religious law who often holds an official post. He said that girls “can get married at the age of 13 or 14 in hot areas and in cold areas at the age of 17 or 19.” Asked “if the girl is not aware of what marriage is, should she still marry?”, he said was like yes it is okay. The Sheikh continued to talk about the rights of wives and the things they should do. He stated that “Wives should obey and listen to her husband no matter what and the husband should be the leader of the family and if the wife didn't listen to him, he should divorce her.” His comments resonate with many men and families in Iraq.

Interview 4: Head of NGO which protects women’s rights

The Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights, is a humanitarian organization in Sulaymaniyah. Jîyan is the Kurdish word for life. The manager of the women’s support group is Vyan, she said that there were many child marriages when the Foundation was first established. She said that it was quite normal for the girls to get married at a young age. However, after the Foundation was set up, things “changed”, Vyan and her team started organising seminars and share information about the consequences of child marriage. Early marriage rates did change and the region of Sulaymaniyah has the lowest rates of child marriages in the whole country.

As the Iraq War began in 2003, poverty rates rose rapidly, and this led to high rates in child marriages. Vyan says “The war changed the Iraqi society so much”. Follwed by the ISIS crisis, which started in 2013, the refugee rate increased. The refugee crisis changed the whole Iraqi community, especially people who migrated from Qasmishlo in Syria, and Mosul in Iraq. Young girls in camps have started to get married whether they like it or not. Maria and Nozheen came as refugees to the camp in Sulaymaniyah. Their dire economic situation raised fears that their families would push them to marry. Vyan and her organization started going into the refugee camps to build relations and trust with people who came from farms and small cities and villages. In order to better support young girls and women. The girls in the camp were quite scared to share their stories.

“The girls are afraid of the interview because they live with their husbands families and cannot tell the reality of their situation” - Vyan of the Jiyan Foudnation in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

She adds that “Many girls regret getting married at that age, because they are usually stuck in the house”. These young girls are curious to learn and work; they do not want a life of submission to a man.

In my opinion, people need more education and influencers in the community to stop motivating and convincing men to marry a minor. I believe that child marriages are unethical.

Ghid Moayad is a final year student at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, with a major in Business administration and minor journalism. Linkedin Ghid Moayad | LinkedIn


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