Inflammation and stories on iraq

Rescue Stories from the Nazarene Fund
The Nazarene Fund is an organization that focuses on rescuing people in captivity. This includes victims of sex slavery, the labor trade, organ harvesting and trafficking. The Nazarene Fund trains operators to lead these missions. These operators travel to the Middle East, Africa, Haiti and other regions of the world to rescue people. Here are some of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories.

Sonia’s Story

ISIS captured Sonia and her entire family when she was only 4 years old. Her family lived in Wardya, a village in Sinjar. ISIS abducted them from their home in 2014. Sonia became separated from her siblings. Later, traffickers imprisoned her in Mosul. Additionally, a family bought Sonia in Mosul nine months later. This family treated her as a slave during the five years they held her captive. The family and Sonia disappeared after ISIS’s defeat in Mosul. Thus, the Nazarene Fund launched a search mission for Sonia. Eventually, the organization found her in an orphanage in Mosul and reunited her with her already rescued family.

Halima’s Story

The second of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories has to do with Halima, a 22-year-old Yazidi woman. Traffickers abducted Halima in Turkey. She spent six years in captivity until The Nazarene Fund rescued her in July 2020. ISIS fighters kidnapped Halima and 18 relatives from her village in northern Iraq. Halima was only 16 years old. She was then enslaved and suffered from violence, abuse and exploitation for five years. ISIS made its last territorial stand in Baghuz, Syria in 2019. Moreover, Halima resided there along with other Yazidi women and children. Later, traffickers planned to sell her as a slave or harvest her organs. Fortunately, The Nazarene Fund intervened and reunited her with her family.

Mayada’s Story

Mayada Abo Chehwan is a 50-year-old Syrian woman born in the District of Hama. Her husband is a pharmacist and she has two daughters. However, everything changed when ISIS attacked. Bombs destroyed Mayada’s home and her husband’s pharmacy. As a result, they fled their home and sold their belongings to survive. The family spent months in neighboring towns and in Lebanon. They eventually returned home. However, the shelling of the town forced the family to flee again. Thus, they sought refuge in Iraq.

One of her daughters was diagnosed with diabetes and the other with severe anxiety. Meanwhile, her husband became partially paralyzed from heart disease. The daughters experienced sexual harassment and threats that others would sell them sex slavery while they searched for jobs. Mayada was becoming desperate. Thankfully, The Nazarene Fund operatives successfully relocated the family to housing in a safe area and provided them with the care and assistance they needed. The Nazarene Fund operatives continue to support the family and are helping them immigrate to Australia.

These are just a few of The Nazarene Fund’s rescue stories. The organization strives to help people who are in desperate need of assistance. Its goal is to rescue people who cannot help themselves and assist them in maintaining a safe, healthy life.

– Marcella Teresi
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Iraq
In 2008, Gola told her story of female genital mutilation in Iraq to reporters with The Human Rights Watch. It was a story of silent pain. “My family took me and told me nothing, I never went to the doctors, my family was never concerned.”

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation or FGM has been going on for centuries. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

Iraq’s older generations believe that cutting a woman’s clitoris will ensure the preservation of her virginity and push the prevalent practice of female genital mutilation in Iraq. Additionally, the women do not receive any anesthesia beforehand. FGM consists of three types including type one which is the removal of the labia minora and the labia major, the protective layers surrounding the vaginal orifice. Meanwhile, type two is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora and type three is the narrowing of the vaginal orifice. However, all reproductive parts of a woman are important to her maintaining physical and mental health, and expulsion of one or more of these parts puts women’s lives at risk.

FGM is a silent practice that has been going on for decades. Female genital mutilation in Iraq occurs across Iraq without religious, lawful or ethical reasoning. Mutilation begins on girls as young as 3 although grown women may also experience it.

Solutions

Wadi, an NGO, finds solutions for women in crisis. In early 2004, Wadi began visiting villages after learning of the high number of women that FGM affects. After interviewing several women in the area, it found that 907 out of the 1,544 women it questioned were victims of FGM. Wadi has launched a campaign to educate women about the harmful consequences of FGM. In 2011, the parliament of the Kurdish region passed a bill banning domestic violence against women thus banning FGM. However, even though the Kurdish region has banned this practice, women’s voices are continuing to cry out against it to prevent future injustices.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

In July 2012, Wadi launched an FGM hotline to provide social, mental, medical and reproductive advice to FGM-affected women throughout the region. By mainstreaming gender rights and working on educational programs, Iraq should be able to make headway to eradicate FGM. To fully eliminate this practice, the Wadi team began to visit local villages and midwives to educate them that these mutilations do not preserve a woman’s virginity, the wounds are not self-healing and the practice causes harm that is often permanent. Hadiya, who experienced FGM at the age of 5-years-old, spoke of pain 20 years after the mutilation occurred. FGM can cause infertility, incontinence, complications in labor and even death.

 

With all endings come new beginnings. Iraq has been the home to unlawful practices and prevalent mistreatment of women, but women are steadily pushing back to reclaim their freedom and honor. Some who have undergone FGM are now refusing to let their daughters experience the same fate, disallowing their clerics from approving practices of FGM. They band together in face of an ancient ritual that tears the body apart. Gola told her story so that women born after her will not have to tell theirs.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Iraq
The Middle East has been one of the world’s hardest-hit regions to date when it comes to COVID-19. Unfortunately, Iraq has bared the brunt of the damage resulting from economic recession and humanitarian woes. Since the summer of 2019, four and a half million Iraqis have fallen into extreme poverty, increasing the total poverty rate to over 11 million. The majority of those falling into poverty are children, with reports claiming two out of every five children in Iraq live in desolate conditions. Nevertheless, despite new challenges, the international community and regional actors are preparing to jump-start new innovations to reduce poverty in Iraq.

Previous Progress

Over the past ten years, Iraq has undergone a series of changes. In 2015, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) outlined a series of initiatives designed to reduce Iraq’s poverty and hunger. From creating job opportunities to building a more robust social safety net, the CFS set the groundwork for crucial innovations to reduce poverty in Iraq.

Additionally, in 2018, Iraq worked with regional and international partners such as the World Bank to introduce a $300 million social fund designed to reduce poverty and inspire sustainable development.

While previous efforts are laudable, in the wake of COVID-19 and the recent economic recession, global and local actors need to do more to reduce Iraqi poverty. This is especially true when considering how, in 2020 alone, Iraqi poverty was expected to double to 40% of the population.

Poverty Reduction Innovations for Refugees

In an effort to reduce poverty in Iraq, many international and regional actors have banded together to create innovative approaches. For instance, the UN Agency on Refugees (UNHRC) recently launched the WASH program. The WASH program sets up water sanitation systems in vulnerable refugee camps, Iraq hosting many of them. According to the UNHRC, “The system uses a series of networked, ultra-sonic water-level sensors that are installed in the tanks of water delivery trucks as well as static water tanks in refugee settlements to provide real-time data on water deliveries and consumption. It is based on the “Internet of Things”. Physical objects are fitted with sensors in order to connect and exchange data over the Internet.

The system maximizes inter-regional coordination and saves Iraq money, all while minimizing the effect of Iraqi poverty. Although widespread across other countries, WAHS chose Iraq as one of the ‘pilot phase’ countries. They are thus allowing Iraq to harness the findings and help one of it’s largest sources of poverty, refugees.

While crumbling infrastructure and lack of access to food are primary causes of poverty, the inability to care for Iraqi refugees has hindered any development progress. In essence, in order to reduce poverty in Iraq, one must also consider poverty amongst Iraqi refugees.

Innovating Through Technology

Another innovation in poverty reduction is a medical app design to connect Iraqis to affordable medications. The military conflict in Iraq has destroyed numerous hospitals, so medical care in the country is exceedingly scarce. This lead Ameen Hadeed and developer Ammar Alwazzan to create the Pharx Pharmacy app. The app connects patients to over 200 Iraqi pharmacies. This eliminates the private medical middle man that makes drugs so expensive. Moreover, the Iraq Response Innovation Lab recently decided to sponsor the future development of the Pharx app. This will allow it to expand all across the country, far beyond urbanized areas such as Mosul.

As technological innovations become more frequent in Iraq, the fight against poverty is a primary focus for tech innovators. Take, for example, Miswag, the Middle East’s oldest online market platform. Miswag has recently taken a new direction in Iraq. They made it more affordable to buy food, groceries, clothing, books, and many other daily necessities. While initially Miswag was not explicitly designed for poverty alleviation, its growing market of 700,000 customers makes goods more affordable while allowing locals to sell their products more efficiently, which helps innovate the fight against poverty.

Looking Forward

Building more robust markets that encourage investment and innovation is crucial to continue poverty reduction in Iraq. It will also ensure sustainable growth for the long-term. Poverty is not a simple problem, and Iraq has weathered many conflicts in the past couple of years. However, if we all work together, we can make a difference.

Juliette Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Iraq
Suicide rates in Iraq are on the rise in 2020, primarily among members of communities struggling to find employment, resources, political peace and aid during the ravage of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Yazidi people, a Kurdish religious minority group, are facing an unprecedented rise in suicide rates as they relive the trauma that the 2014 ISIS raids caused in their hometowns. Here is some information about mental health in Iraq including the relationship between suicide rates, mental health and COVID-19 among the Yazidi people of Iraq.

Who are the Yazidi People?

Yazidi refers to a member of a small, monotheistic, semi-ancient religion based in Northern Iraq, Northern Syria and some parts of Turkey. The Yazidi people have been the target of various religious persecutions since their beginnings, most recently in the 2014 raids by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS.) They tend to live in isolation as they observe a strict philosophy on religious purity, thus driving them away from contact with members outside of their religious community.

Why is Suicide Prevalent in the Yazidi Community?

The majority of suicides among the Yazidi people result from poor living conditions in Internal Displacement Camps in the northern corner of Iraq. Still, the living conditions alone are not to blame. The combination of psychological trauma from ISIS captivity and limited access to basic psychological services, due to the stigma around mental health in Iraq, has unfortunately led many Yazidi people, primarily women, to search for suicide as an answer to their suffering.

How is COVID-19 Impacting Suicide Rates?

With unemployment, depression, isolationism and abuse at all-time highs during the pandemic, people across the world are leaning to harmful actions, such as suicide, as a form of relief.

Dr. Mark Reger, Chief of Psychology Services at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, states that the pandemic, along with civil unrest and economic struggles, produces a “perfect storm” for suicide risk. Among Yazidi people specifically, though, COVID-19 is causing many to relive the nightmares that the ISIS invasions caused. For many, the isolation and fear caused by either the loss of jobs or by social distancing remind them of the sleepless nights they spent in fear of kidnapping, murder or rape by members of ISIS in the 2014 attacks.

The lack of services to treat mental health in Iraq may have influenced suicide risk among the Yazidi people. There are currently only 80 active psychologists in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, while 70% of Iraqi citizens who self-report mental distress have suicidal thoughts. Despite this data being about a decade old, one can surmise that mental health in Iraq worsened over the last decade although researchers have had a difficult time updating statistics due to political restrictions.

Solutions

The following organizations are positively impacting mental health in Iraq and Yazidi communities through raising awareness, providing treatment traditionally unavailable to the community and offering financial assistance for intervention.

  1. Dak Organization for Women Development: The Dak Organization for Women Development assists in raising awareness for issues plaguing Yazidi women and girls. For example, it has initiated the 16 Days Against Violence Against Women event, which involves the holding of meetings, workshops and community-based groups to open up the conversation and discuss ways to implement change. This organization also offers psychological support for the Yazidi communities by providing support groups including ones specifically for women.
  2. Back to Life: Back to Life provides rehabilitation and treatment centers for Yazidi women and girls struggling with PTSD or other mental issues due to the actions of ISIS. In 2019 alone, it has helped more than 597 young adults or children receive psychological support and brought empowerment to more than 1,270 Yazidi women through sewing workshops.

Attention to mental health in Iraq is necessary considering the country’s recent challenges and the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, through continued support, mental health among Yazidi communities will improve.

– Johnnie Walton
Photo: Flickr

 

Seeds of Hunger in Iraq
Security conditions in Iraq have gradually improved since the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at the end of 2017. However, significant challenges persist as the nation struggles with political instability, social unrest, economic volatility and low standards of living. With the poverty rate at a steady 23%, Iraqis are in need of humanitarian assistance to fight the next uprising – hunger. In 2016, data collection concluded that 53% of Iraqi residents and 66% of internally displaced people are vulnerable to food insecurity. Current social conditions are sowing the seeds for hunger in Iraq, but the potential exists for future improvement.

ISIL and Current Conditions

The nation is facing a multifaceted food security challenge, as the years it spent under ISIL’s military campaigns exacerbated issues such as limited water supply, damaged homes and disrupted food production. Water shortages and the lack of affordable agricultural inputs continue to negatively affect the performance of Iraq’s large farming sector. Additionally, families are reporting limited livelihood opportunities, reducing their purchasing power and restricting their access to the public distribution system – a social safety net program.

With the insurgent infiltration, Iraq lost the majority of its annual wheat and barley harvests, which had once combined to contribute to over one-third of the nation’s cereal production. Moreover, ISIL expropriated over 1 million tons of wheat in 2015 and left it to rot, worsening food insecurity in Iraq. The remaining farmers are unable to harvest their crops due to issues like lack of machinery or fuel, unexploded mines in their fields and inter-ethnic retribution. If farmers and herders experience displacement or are unable to venture to their fields, the future of agricultural production will remain bleak and have strong implications for long-term food security.

The Future of Food Insecurity

Experts expect that food security conditions will keep deteriorating due to the high volume of internally displaced persons (IDPs) straining hosting communities. As of 2019, almost 2 million people remain displaced in Iraq, and over 245,000 Syrian refugees are living in or have fled toward cities in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Furthermore, a renewed COVID-19 surge in the Middle East will further test the resilience of Iraq and neighboring countries, as the pandemic could lead 265 million people to suffer from “acute food insecurity, which requires urgent food, nutrition, and livelihoods assistance for survival.”

Therefore, the United Nations is calling on governments, non-government organizations and donors to address the “availability, access and affordability of safe and nutritious foods and protect the nutrition of … vulnerable families.” For instance, the World Food Programme (WFP) is helping Iraq’s most vulnerable people strengthen their capacities to absorb, adapt and transform in the face of shocks and long-term stressors. WFP has been operating in Iraq since 1968, providing emergency food assistance and aiding the government with social service reforms. With millions of displaced Iraqis and IDPs, the WFP is providing monthly food assistance to 1.5 million displaced people across all 18 districts through cash assistance and monthly family rations.

As the humanitarian crisis endures, millions of families living in protracted displacement situations are reaching a breaking point. These families are continuing to face constrained access to basic services and critical protection risks and are in desperate need of life-saving aid.

Cultivating Progress

However, the Iraqi government has proven ineffective in resolving hunger in Iraq as it struggles to reconcile current social and economic unrest. Proactive policy-making and international aid are essential to halting the impending vicious cycle that starts with hunger and feeds back into the protracted conflict. Rather than sowing the seeds for hunger in Iraq, governments and humanitarian organizations alike have the power to cultivate hope for thousands.

– Carlie Chiesa
Photo: Flickr

Electricity in Iraq
The electricity shortage in Iraq is a major problem for ordinary citizens. Since the fall of the Saddam regime, the government has been unable to keep up with demands for electricity, a particularly painful issue during the summer’s crushing heat. The failure began when agencies of coalition forces took control of Iraq after the disposition of Saddam. A 2011 report by the United Nations indicated that the daily demand for electricity in Iraq was 6,400 MVV, while the supply of output was 4,470, creating a supply gap. “Moreover, during the summer, it was reported that demand would frequently go up in the range of 6,600 to 7,500 MVV. As a result, up to 40% of electricity demand was not being met during these critical times when people were suffering.

Understanding the Electricity Shortage

The electricity shortage in Iraq exists for many reasons. The first comes from the damages inflicted on the country over the course of various wars and invasions. A 2007 Government Accountability Office report indicated that due to the damage of the Gulf War, the production of electricity in Iraq dropped from 5,100 megawatts to 2,300 megawatts. After 2003, Iraq’s energy and electric infrastructure underwent a series of attacks from non-state actors such as Al-Qaida in Iraq (known today as the Islamic State).

Another challenge to accessing electricity in Iraq is corruption and illegal activity. Approximately half of Iraq’s national budget went into paying the salaries of civil servants. The IMF estimated that Iraq would need $88 billion for reconstruction and infrastructure alone; nearly $50 billion is going to the salaries of government employees. Electricity in Iraq is often dependent on oil revenues. U.S. State Department reports indicated that up to 30% of Iraq’s refined fuels go into the black market. There is also widespread mismanagement and mishandling of the infrastructure that provides electricity. The country loses between 30-50% of electricity in Iraq due to inadequate systems of energy. For example, some of Iraq’s electricity is sourced from power plants that date back to the 1980s and are unable to meet the massive energy demands that people expect them to.

Effects on the Ground

How does this affect the working class of Iraq? Not everyone can afford a private generator—a now booming business in Iraq that closes the gap between public demands and government deliverables. Buying those private electricity services is simply not an option for many of Iraq’s poor, which makes life extremely intolerable for these families. Some have reported that they cannot use a fridge, wash clothes or even store food without it going bad overnight. These conditions of corruption, political gridlock and poor living conditions are the cause of massive protests in southern Iraq, one of the country’s poorest regions. The heat only fuels the anger of the protestors.

Finding Solutions

While the situation might seem hopeless, there are those working on solutions to the problem. In 2019, the government announced plans to privatize electricity, which could combat the issue by reducing the deficit and stimulating economic growth. Others suggest that addressing problems directly might alleviate conditions. They suggest tackling the country’s corruption and reliance on unreliable infrastructure. Oil energy production is also a solution that can bankroll the electricity demands.

The most important thing is to ensure the efficient use of these resources and to prevent their trade on the black market. Some of the country’s neighbors are also helping provide electricity. The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (including Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) are moving forward on a deal to provide electricity to Iraq and distance it from the Iranian supply. Regardless of political implications, the effort is still helping Iraq manage its electricity shortage.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

Yazidi CommunitiesHaving been targeted by ISIL during its military campaign in 2014, the Yazidis have gained significant international attention over recent years. However, few knew much about the importance of Yazidi communities to the overall stability in Iraq before their genocide.

Who Are the Yazidis?

The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking minority located primarily in northern Iraq, where about 400,000 lived as of 2014. They have traditionally kept to themselves but experienced ethnic and religious persecution from both Saddam Hussein’s regime over the years as well as ISIL most recently. Such oppression crippled Yazidi communities as their members dealt with the economic fallout and social setbacks resulting from trauma. The novel coronavirus poses a new threat, and the consequences for peace and security in Iraq will be manifold — especially if the Yazidis are excluded from Iraq’s COVID-19 economic recovery strategy.

The COVID-19 Crisis

The spread of COVID-19 has hurt Iraq and its people on a grand scale, as it has in the rest of the world. Yet, despite a low number of cases in northern Iraq, Yazidi communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus due to safety measures taken by the Iraqi government. In Sinjar, where many Yazidis in Iraq live, most of the working population must travel for jobs located outside of the city or are farmers who rely on visiting other cities to sell their crops. However, this way of life is no longer possible under the imposed movement restrictions. Yazidis cannot leave Sinjar for employment, and farmers cannot travel to other cities. Therefore, many Yazidi communities have essentially lost all means of income.

The emergency measures have also adversely impacted the Yazidis on the healthcare front, as access to healthcare has been reduced. Those requiring medical attention can only receive it four hours away in Mosul, taking an ambulance so that they can cross various checkpoints throughout the province. Along with the long trip, some Yazidis do not seek treatment in Mosul because of the language barrier. These factors have further ostracized the Yazidis economically and socially, thus risking an increase in regional poverty.

The Resurgence of Poverty and of ISIL

Poverty’s resurgence in Yazidi communities because of the novel coronavirus has myriad implications for peace and security within the Middle East. In addition to trauma following the end of ISIL’s occupation of Yazidi land, the pandemic has created a mental health crisis within Yazidi communities. Those who previously received counseling at mental health facilities are no longer able to obtain that help due to COVID-19. Some experts are even predicting that 25% of Yazidis will require mental health care after the pandemic subsides.

Others have raised concerns surrounding the return of ISIL during this period of instability. Iraq’s government has acted on this issue militarily and can continue to fight ISIL’s revival by providing economic aid and building necessary healthcare infrastructure in Yazidi communities.

Humanitarian Solutions and NGOs

Ultimately, northern Iraq’s stability will not be achieved through military success alone. The long-term solution will be humanitarian. Following the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as developing better infrastructure, will lead to extraordinary progress on other pressing problems in Iraq, like reducing poverty and improving health.

Giving non-governmental organizations, like Yazda, a bigger role in community building is another way to strengthen Yazidi societies. Yazda focuses on helping Yazidis in various ways. It has already helped thousands obtain mobile medical services in addition to providing hundreds of mental health and socioeconomic assistance and supporting hundreds more in their pursuit of criminal justice.

For now, Baghdad is focused on reopening its urban and economic centers. However, including Yazidi communities in the reopening process during and after COVID-19, as well as supporting them to become more resilient in tumultuous conditions, will be crucial in preventing future conflicts and eliminating poverty in Iraq.

Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Access to Healthcare in Iraq
Iraq, a nation that war and devastation have plagued, has a healthcare system in a state of crisis. Doctors are fleeing the country and drugs are running low. Of a nearly $107 billion budget in 2018, only about 2% went to Iraq’s health ministry. As a result, healthcare quality is very poor, and women’s access to healthcare in Iraq is particularly limited. Many doctors attempt to purchase supplies and technology from private manufacturers, but laws require that the government provide all medical supplies.

Violence Against Women

About 96% of Iraqi citizens do not have health insurance, but 85% of women over the age of 15 are unemployed and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. Iraq’s long history with misogyny, honor killings and religious ideas promoting the use of violence against women exacerbates the situation for Iraqi women, 37% of whom will experience violence from a partner or acquaintance.

Women in Iraq have little to no access to female-centered health such as OB-GYNs, counseling and crisis centers, which are generally secret or hidden. WHO has called the issue of violence against women a “global health issue of epidemic proportions,” and has created effective measures so that doctors can become more aware of abuses. In Iraq, where women are unlikely to see doctors sensitive to women’s issues, there is no guarantee of receiving assistance.

Access to Education

Another issue affecting women’s health is a lack of female doctors due to a very low rate of education among girls in Iraq. Unfortunately, little data is available to measure the number of girls who attend in school in Iraq — which is itself proof of the lack of attention to girls’ education. As of 2010, according to the last published report about female education in Iraq, only 44% of girls were enrolled in school. The report also revealed that 75% of girls dropped out before the end of primary school, and only 25% of girls who stayed in primary school made it to intermediate school.

Women’s lack of access to education has proven to be a direct link to child marriage and the exploitation of young women. About 33% of girls who have to marry have no education, and 13% only have a primary school education. Girls who are educated are more likely to recognize the signs of abuse, which gives them a chance to escape, pursue careers and experience lower risks of poverty.

US Efforts to Help

The Girls Lead Act (S.2766) aims to make education more accessible for girls in nations like Iraq. This bill will strengthen young girls’ involvement and participation in education, specifically in math, science and politics. A lack of women in leadership roles is a major factor behind misogyny and sexism in developing nations, as well as in women’s health. According to the bill, “Despite comprising over 50 percent of the world’s population, women are underrepresented at all levels of public sector decision making. At the current rate of progress, it will take over 100 years to achieve gender parity in political participation.”

Writing to leaders in support of the Girls Lead Act, participating in initiatives to ban child marriage and raising awareness of gender-based violence are key ways to increase women’s access to healthcare in Iraq. These efforts may be the greatest chance that Iraqi girls have at living a prosperous life.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr

forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan
In Iraq, a 1987 law entitled the Personal Status Law and Amendments stated that a person may not marry until age 18, however, they could marry with judicial consent at age 15. Nevertheless, 24% of girls marry by age 18 and 5% marry by age 15. In Afghanistan, the numbers are just as shocking. In fact, 35% of girls in Afghanistan marry by 18, and 9% by age 15. The consequences of forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan are detrimental to the development of a young girl’s identity and safety, and they shed light on issues with child marriage around the globe.

Child Marriage in Iraq

Child marriage is often the result of extreme poverty or religious beliefs, and because of these factors, it is at its highest in the Middle East. In Iraq, one in four children lives in poverty, making them extremely vulnerable to forced marriage. When families receive offers of money in exchange for their child, they often accept in order to feed the rest of their family. The girls that enter these marriages often suffer abuse and rape, or become pregnant; then in some cases, they experience divorce and end up on the street. Women over age 15 are also vulnerable to abusive marriages because 85% do not work and cannot financially support themselves.

In Iraq, child marriage is not criminalized and many often consider it normal or protect it. Recently, the rate of “pleasure marriages” has skyrocketed as well. Pleasure marriages are temporary marriages that have religious approval and often occur either so the man can obtain money from the girl’s family or for sexual exploitation of the girl before the marriage ends and the wife experiences abandonment. This is detrimental to young girls in poverty and rural communities, as their family often abandons them after paying large dowries to the man’s family.

Child Marriage in Afghanistan

Forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan is an unfortunate commonality, largely because of religious beliefs but also because girls lack opportunities for independence. In Afghanistan, although there are laws in place that make it illegal to marry anyone under age 18, they rarely experience enforcement. A 2017 study by UNFPA stated that girls who complete secondary school are less likely to be married under age 18, but unfortunately, the most recent data reflects that only 44% of girls in Afghanistan enter primary school. Only half of those girls then go on to secondary school. The lack of education that leads to poverty does not only take away a girl’s chance to experience growth and independence–in Afghanistan, it makes her all the more vulnerable to a forced marriage.

The effects of child marriage on a girl’s health and well being are detrimental. Girls under 15 years old are five times more likely to die in childbirth, according to the Women’s Health Coalition. Just as devastating, a child born to a child bride is 60% more likely to die in their first year of life. Girls forced to marry often cannot access healthcare because they have signs of abuse both physical and sexual. Because of this, the risk of STD contraction is very high.

Combatting Child Marriage Globally

Forced marriage in Iraq and Afghanistan affects too many young girls. Girls Not Brides is an international organization working to enforce the sustainable development goals that are necessary to end child marriage, starting with poverty and hunger. Girls Not Brides outlines steps in its Theory of Change and monitors change frequently. The organization’s website allows people to email and call leaders in support of enforcing the legal age of marriage. Thanks to organizations such as that, child marriage now is declining in the world. In 2016, the percentage of women married before the age of 15 globally was 7%, as opposed to 12% in the 1990s.

There are also fact sheets and visuals to use on social media. In the U.S., the Girls Lead Act, or S.2766, is in need of support. This bill would provide funding for education initiatives for the millions of girls worldwide. This bill also focuses on the lack of girls in politics, science and technology; it will fund programs to make these fields of study more accessible. Beginning with education and stable living conditions, girls living in poverty won’t have to fear losing their futures.

Raven Heyne
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in Iraq
Decades of conflict in Iraq have effectively destroyed what was once the center of human civilization. Many view Iraq as a country very costly to the U.S.—another war from which the U.S. must recover. However, the international community’s job is not done. Today, millions of Iraqis are displaced and suffer from food insecurity, a problem that the government has struggled to control. This article will delve into the background of food insecurity in Iraq and what various groups are doing to combat it.

Governance Issues

The oil industry accounts for 90% of Iraqi government revenue. The crash of oil prices caused a $40 billion deficit in the Iraqi budget, cutting this revenue in half. Iraq’s government has been unable to properly fund various institutions. Combined with a 66% rise in population since 2000, this has placed immense stress on the country’s food supply. Constant conflict and the corrupt management of resources have hindered any ability to keep up with this population boom. USAID labels just under one million Iraqis as food insecure. The World Food Program, however, estimates that this number is closer to two million.

While much focus is on obtaining aid from the international community, Iraq has not necessarily focused as much on reforming its own institutions governing agricultural industry networks. Iraq’s State-Owned Enterprises are involved in every step of food production, processing and distribution. The government attempts to distribute food products and support the industry through its bloated Public Distribution System (PDS), which in 2019 cost $1.43 billion, and its yearly $1.25 billion effort to buy wheat and barley from Iraqi farmers at double the international price. Despite these expensive programs, Iraq still ends up importing 50% of its food supply.

Inefficient growth, processing and distribution methods and a reliance on food imports place Iraq in a delicate position. They are susceptible to global food chain supply network failures and the threat of a budget collapse due to the crash of oil prices. Such an occurrence would likely cause the food system to implode without the current level of government intervention. These governance issues, on top of decades of conflict and displacement, have exacerbated food insecurity in Iraq.

The Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many of the aforementioned issues confronting the Iraqi food supply. Cases in Iraq have skyrocketed during May and June as Iraqis faced the decision of staying home without reliable state support and suffering from lack of income or holding onto their jobs and risking infection.

The pandemic has worsened the already pervasive levels of poverty and food insecurity. Inefficient state institutions and bureaucracy have combined with the pandemic to display the fragility of the Iraqi food supply. There have already been severe shocks in the global supply chain. For a government that relies on imports for 50% of its food supply, this pandemic could cause the crisis of food insecurity in Iraq to spiral. The Iraqi government has faced issues of governance for decades. The pandemic has only emphasized these issues while placing millions of Iraqis at further risk of conflict and disaster.

Humanitarian Efforts

The stark problem of food insecurity in Iraq has caught the eye of many different aid organizations, both in the U.S. government and the intergovernmental level. USAID, the primary U.S. foreign aid organization, has spent years trying to help meet Iraqis’ basic humanitarian needs, especially in the face of seemingly endless conflict. USAID has provided almost $240 million in emergency food assistance to Iraqis since FY 2014. This money goes toward food vouchers, food baskets and cash for food, all under the coordination of the World Food Program (WFP), which the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) established with the UN General Assembly.

USAID has also supported WFP efforts to create an electronic distribution platform for Iraq’s PDS, which would allow Iraqis to update their locations, use biometrics for identification and improve overall access to food supplies. The WFP, in turn, supports 280,000 internally displaced Iraqis and 76,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq, providing monthly food support mainly through cash transfers. It also provides local, healthy food for over 324,000 schoolchildren in Iraq. The organization is currently looking to expand cash transfers and food access to over 35,000 refugees and 10,000 internally displaced people in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAO has worked with the WFP in Iraq by focusing on agricultural sustainability. To improve food security and Iraqi self-reliance, the FAO has supported livestock production through capital, seeds, fertilizer and resources to counter disease. It also uses “cash-for-work activities” to enhance local markets and support infrastructure in addition to its efforts to promote labor-saving technology to counteract food insecurity in Iraq.

Looking Forward

Poor food access has been an issue for many years, but the pandemic is making the situation worse. Constant conflict and a lack of effective governance are both serious obstacles to creating a stable food environment for Iraqis, but there is a significant commitment from the international community to shore up Iraqi agricultural sustainability and provide support to individual Iraqis. While many are still in dire need of access to food, organizations like these provide hope for the fight against food insecurity in Iraq.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr