Social constraints in Iraq prevent a lot of women from earning money – the men put food on the table by going out to work while women take care of children and the home. But by leaving the house, men are often more exposed to the dangers of car bombs, kidnappings and assassinations. As a result, most of the victims of violence in Iraq are men – leaving the women to dress in black and mourn them.
According to Iraqi tradition, women must dress in black for at least one year of mourning after the loss of a husband, father, mother, or any other family member or relative.
A source in the Iraqi Ministry of Women's Affairs told me recently that because of the various wars since 1980 – the Iran-Iraq war that lasted from 1980 to 1988, the first Gulf War in 1990, and the U.S. invasion in 2003 and its aftermath – that there are approximately three million Iraqi widows and the numbers are increasing.
Smile dissipates quickly
That stunning statistic may explain why I was so astonished when I recently visited the Iraqi Tourism Board to see some old friends and contacts.
I went in smiling because I hadn't been there for while and was excited to see my old friends, but the place had an eerie feel to it. It looked darker – and it was. In every room, when I popped in my head to say hello, there were women dressed in black from head to toe.
As a cup of coffee was placed in front of me, my curiosity finally got the better of me. I asked if a colleague had died or something? A woman covered in black responded, "They killed my husband and burned my home. So we moved to a Sunni neighborhood; stress and grief killed my mother a week later."
I turned my head to the woman next to her and she said, "They killed my brother in front of his wife and children…just because he is Shiite living in a Sunni neighborhood."
The smile I had on my face when I arrived was long gone. I actually felt ashamed that I had a smile on my face to start with. So, I chugged down my coffee and quickly left.
* The names of local journalists are not being used to protect their identity.