Iraqi Women Struggle to Find Suitable Marriages Decades of war have left many Iraqi women without husbands. Now the violence of post-Saddam Iraq is making it even more difficult to get married. Many women now resort to relationships of necessity in a society that places a very high value on the institution of marriage.

Iraqi Women Struggle to Find Suitable Marriages

Iraqi Women Struggle to Find Suitable Marriages

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Decades of war have left many Iraqi women without husbands. Now the violence of post-Saddam Iraq is making it even more difficult to get married. Many women now resort to relationships of necessity in a society that places a very high value on the institution of marriage.


More than 25 years of wars and conflict in Iraq have taken their toll on a generation of Iraqi men. Men of military age are also men of marriageable age. And their loss means that young Iraqi women have fewer chances to marry and start families. In a culture where marriage and family are the highest aspirations for both women and men, that's a disaster.

NPR's Isra Abdulhadi reports from Baghdad.

ISRA ABDULHADI: The wedding is at Mona's(ph) house and here she is, fussy as usual, to have everything perfect for Dua(ph) and Iya(ph).

Ms. MONA: (Speaking foreign language)

ABDULHADI: She wants to know why the bride is so late. And that brings up a question for me. Why is marriage so late for so many of us Iraqi women? It's been a problem since the 1980s, when Iraq led so many young men in the war with Iran. All the conflict and turmoil since then have only made it worse, until a woman today is left with very few chances to marry.

Ms. SABRIN: (Through translator) Of course, and this fear haunts all young women in Iraq, that they will never be married if they get too old.

ABDULHADI: Sabrin(ph) and her sister Wisdan(ph) are waiting for the wedding to begin. They're both beautiful and they don't have to cover up so much around close friends. So here they are in jeans and tight blouses, full makeup and gleaming black hair.

Sabrin is 19, already married for seven months.

Ms. SABRIN: (Through translator) The rate of marriage is falling recently, because of the current circumstances. Marriage is very rare now.

ABDULHADI: She says her friends all agreed that it's better for a woman to get married as soon as she can. Otherwise, she may miss her chance.

Ms. SABRIN: (Through translator) For example, I have a cousin who had many suitors in the past, but she kept rejecting them and she's over 30.

Ms. WISDAN: (Through translator) I believe that 30 is the perfect age for marriage. Early marriage is a great mistake. The older a girl is, the more aware she is about marriage problems.

ABDULHADI: That's Wisdan. She says that because she was married at 14, to a man who was 22 years older. She's divorced now, after having three kids. Sabrin disagrees with her.

Ms. SABRIN: (Speaking foreign language)

ABDULHADI: But they make up when it comes time to get ready for the party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of ceremony)

ABDULHADI: Mona's final with (unintelligible). Her son, Beet(ph) has come with a CD of Iraqi songs and the entertainment. Gypsy dancers in tight gowns that show off a lot.

(Soundbite of music)

ABDULHADI: That song did a big hit right now. It says, oh mom, I was stung by Scorpion. Oh mom, if only you could see her. Praise be God who made her that beautiful.

Here comes Sayer(ph). She's 32, still not married. Maybe it's because she's on the chubby side, not so beautiful, despite her long bleached blonde hair. She's friendly, though and confident, not weighed down by shame about not being married at this late age.

Ms. SAYER: (Through translator) I dreamed of the dreams of any girl, to have stability in her life with the man she wants.

ABDULHADI: Why is it that some girls succeed in finding a husband and others don't?

Ms. SAYER: (Through translator) It could be a matter of cleverness or good personality. But mostly, it's a matter of luck and predestined state.

ABDULHADI: (Unintelligible) luck and fate. That's what a lot of unmarried woman say to explain their predicament. Other routine answers - either the girl's family rejected suitors because they weren't financial or social equals, or because the marriage offers came from extended family members like cousins.

That's not exactly what happened with my old friend Ahmad(ph). We meet over an ice cream a few weeks ago. I've known Ahmad for years. So I'm going to respect her request not to give her real name. She was the good-hearted, the funny, the daring, this Ahmad.

She was never afraid to voice her opinions without looking over her shoulder, the way most of us did. In some ways, Ahmad is sorry she's left the others, some suitors, some rejections.

Ms. AHMAD: One of them - one of them was older than me. He is a doctor, but he is about 45 years old and I was 25. I said to me I have to find another chance for me. But otherwise now that I am wrong.

ABDULHADI: Was Ahmad trapped back then? She had an oval face, fair complexion, hazel eyes and full lips. A baby face that would appeal to many men, but there was a certain childishness. The way she laughed - not to mention that she laughed for nothing. She could never be said to have that charming, feminine obscurity, and there was something else.

Ms. AHMAD: I was from the kind of romantic woman, which wanted to meet a very romantic young man, yes. And I was affected by the Egyptian films.

ABDULHADI: You know that kind of film. It's all about star-crossed love and heaving bosoms, beautiful young women and smoldering young men.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Foreign language spoken)

ABDULHADI: And of course, happy endings. When the soulful young man proposed at last.

Ms. AHMAD: Some of them, I couldn't accept them because I say to you that I want to have someone.

ABDULHADI: Would she accept now? Would she be willing to do as some women do and be a second wife to a man who was still married to his first?

Ms. AHMAD: Yes, I prefer to be a second wife for a man. That man was just with me, fair and good man. Why not? Better than I be spinster.

ABDULHADI: What about the so-called pleasure marriage? Would she consent to be a man's wife only for a specified time. Would a divorce that was already preset by contract?

Ms. AHMAD: Yes. I had about that kind of marriage. As long as I'm educated woman, I do not accept such kind of marriage.

ABDULHADI: As we sat in the restaurant, I was thinking that the years hadn't just stripped Ahmad of her youth and her beauty, but her spirits, her challenging tone and her daring character. She sank in the deep chair with a sense of loss and profound lonliness.

(Soundbite of music)

ABDULHADI: Now though, you can forget about that.

(Soundbite of music)

ABDULHADI: Here come the bride and groom hand-in-hand. She's pretty, dressed in a dark red gown. Her husband is not so handsome - a young man in a dark suit and tie. He looks shy, she looks happy, victorious, now that she won't be (unintelligible). For now at least, even (unintelligible) seems to have forgotten her worries. She's smiling and (unintelligible) along with the rest.

(Soundbite of music)

ABDULHADI: After all this, maybe you're wondering whether I'm married. I'm not. Why not? (unintelligible) like (unintelligible).

Isra Abdulhadi, NPR News, Baghdad.

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