By Walaa Al-Taee
In the upcoming months, Iraqi MP Jamila Al-Obeidi will present polygamy law to the Council of Representatives that would grant a financial reward to married men who choose to take another wife.
Mrs. Al-Obeidi, not only believes the bill would be instrumental in solving Iraq’s problem with the growing number of widowed and divorced women, but she went on to give a televised interview calling married women who opposed the bill “selfish.”
Many female MPs have already denounced the bill, claiming that giving men a sum of money to take on a second wife is “insulting to Iraqi women” and equated the bill to “trafficking” by offering women no other choice than to wed for money. Moreover, MP Hanan Al-Fatlawi argued the new bill would “objectify women.”
Some have also come out in support of the bill citing that it is in line with Islamic Sharia, which states “financial hardship” as one of the few acceptable reasons for marrying more than once. While Iraqis tend to be more monogamous than many Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, polygamy is still nothing new in Iraq and has become more common with the increasing number of widows in the country, the result of decades of wars. Iraq’s government offering financial support in exchange for second-marriages would not only further increase polygamy, but would not help women’s socioeconomic status.
Others fear the bill, which encourages taking on more than one marriage in exchange for income could in fact serve to challenge Iraq’s family dynamics, leading to disintegration and problems. Nada Al-Khalaf, a school teacher, says that the bill could further domestic abuse as well as be used as a fraudulent scheme where a man can marry and divorce as much as he likes while still obtaining government income.
In oil-rich Iraq, the biggest problem the country may be facing is not widowed or divorced women, but rather the large shortage of jobs and lack of employment opportunities for both men and women. In a country where the unemployment rate has risen to 16% and many Iraqis are now living below the poverty line. Khalaf: “men can hardly be expected to support their own families let alone take responsibility for a second family.”
Um Mohammed, one of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi widows, says that she struggles to feed her kids who go to bed hungry on most nights. Her husband lost his life in the battle against ISIS, but she has yet to receive word from the Iraqi government about financial compensation for her loss. A widow’s monthly income is 100,000 Iraqi dinars (roughly $85 USD) whereas each child receives just 15,000 Iraqi dinars ($13 USD) – not enough to buy food, medicine, and clothes.
“I would work,” Um Mohammed says, “I would look for a job and provide for my family, but who would hire me?”
Rizan Al-Sheikh Daleer says; “the key to solving the problems of widows and divorced women lies in spreading awareness among women. Through educational and vocational training, women will be able to find jobs, achieve economic and social independence, and support themselves and their children.”
Iraq has a strong history of human capital and a great need for skilled workers. Scholarships for women to learn typing, sewing and manufacturing goods. Al-Khalaf says “This is where the Iraqi government should focus funds, not people’s domestic lives.”
In a society dominated by men, Iraq’s parliament should be pressured to consider far better solutions than just polygamy. Implementing work programs, which train women in the workforce and help empower them, will be a much more sustainable program to deal with Iraq’s growing gender imbalance. Additionally, offering direct compensation and better financial support to women left widowed by war will help them build their own future rather than leave them dependent on another male. Iraq should also help encourage more women to take up government positions as well as restoration jobs to help rebuild a more prosperous Iraq that considers the interests of all stakeholders in the country.
(Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.)
Walaa Al-Taee is an independent photojournalist and social advocate for women’s rights in Iraq. She has investigated issues concerning refugees and internally displaced individuals residing in Iraq and the United States.