“I was a victim,” said Halima*. “My marriage is the worst memory of my life. But if I had stayed single, I were not going to be comfortable either.”
Twenty-nine years ago, when Halima was just nineteen years of age, her family arranged her marriage to a man whose sister was to be married to Halima’s uncle. In Iraq there is a marriage tradition called exchange marriage when one female member is married off in exchange of a bride for a brother or an uncle.
When her parents asked her if she would agree to the arranged marriage, she immediately said yes. Halima was not only a victim of an arranged marriage, but she was also a victim of an abusive mother. Her mother was treating her badly and abusing her for a long period of time. Halima decided it was better off to leave the house at the earliest opportunity. As the eldest of all her siblings, Halima left school when she reached third year of high school to take care of her two younger siblings. Halima today remembers regrettably her being dropped out of school. She loved school and reminisced how well she was doing in the classes. Her dream was to be a teacher one day.
When Halima got married, she moved to live with her husband in her in-laws’ family house. While the house was big, it was relatively small for the large number of family members. The house had four rooms: Halima’s and Hayder’s*(Halima’s husband), her father in-law’s family of four, her brother in-law’s family of eight, and her seven sisters in-law shared a room. The house was old, weary, and the animals they bred shared the yard.
“When I was in my father’s house, we were doing very well financially. Then I came to live with my husband and his financial situation was very poor. Something I have never seen before in my life. My father provided us with everything. But after getting married, I had nothing. I got exhausted.”
Hayder was illiterate and didn’t have a job. Halima began to sell the only few pieces of golden jewelry she had as a gift from her father and bought a grocery carriage for Hayder so that Hayder would work to get a little income. But it was not enough for the family and Halima then started to learn tailoring. “So, I started to tailor to support myself because as a married woman with children, I was ashamed of going to my father’s house every time asking for money.” Halima started to tailor using the sewing machine of a neighbor, and, in exchange, she gave the neighbor half of the income she gained on each piece.
Over the years, Halima had five children, and throughout the years, she moved in and out of several rental homes after leaving her in laws’ house. Halima experienced difficulties with each move and stay. But Halima was smart. One day she decided to participate in money savings group with women in her neighborhood. A savings group is a practice to allocate an amount of money aside periodically with a group of participants and after a certain period, one of the participants gets the sum and thus each cycle a participant has her turn to collect the sum. Eventually, Halima collected a good sum of money. She used the money to buy two pieces of land. A few years later, prices of lands in Mosul went up, so she sold her owned pieces of land and bought a house of four rooms for her family of seven.
Halima today is 48 years of age. Halima’s two sons dropped out of school because Halima couldn’t afford their school expenses as she was tailoring most of the time to make ends meet for the family. And as Hayder couldn’t read and write, he couldn’t help his sons with homework. Her two sons eventually got married and one of them moved out of the house to live in his grandmother’s house. Halima shared, “I didn’t have time to teach them. They needed stationery and clothes, and I didn’t have any. I told Aisha* (Halima’s eldest daughter) to continue her education and not be like her brothers.”
Hayder has been abusing Halima and his daughters physically and psychologically. Aisha, postponed her final exam of bachelorette for three years because she suffered and endured much abuse from Hayder. One day while Halima tried to defend Aisha from Hayder’s assault, Hayder broke three fingers of Halima. When the police asked Halima at the hospital what happened, in fear she said she fell down. As a consequence to the bad treatment of Hayder, Aisha left the house and moved to live with her grandmother.
Hailma said, “He even hits me on the streets. I don’t have dignity anymore. My youngest daughter is in third year of primary school. She is not allowed to play with children in the neighborhood.”
One day Halima’s son applied online on her behalf for an opportunity for a tailoring course program that World Vision Iraq was implementing in Mosul. When Halima was selected, her husband was suspicious but eventually agreed to Halima’s determination to participate. Halima participated in a fifteen-day tailoring course and was eventually made trainer at World Vision Iraq’s center for tailoring.
“Now there is a change in my life, I go out a little and get away from him for four hours a day. Psychologically I am feeling better as I am going out and seeing people. My husband has changed a bit but only by fifty percent. Noor from World Vision Iraq came and gave him awareness sessions on the rights of women and violence against women.”
Today not only Halima exercises some independency having her own income and the freedom to go out, but she is also able to help her children with their educational needs as she registered her daughter and son to private classes. Halima said, “Before I didn’t have money to do that. Because we did not have a fixed income at home. There were many things I couldn’t do for them. It is true that I was tailoring, but the income that came from tailoring was not fixed.”
Halima continued, “I love education, and I get very happy when my children succeed. It is the happiest thing in my life. I don’t want them to suffer like the way I suffered in my life. Education is a weapon for a woman. Hayder wanted to marry Aisha off, I rejected the idea. I told him you should not marry her off and that she should continue her education. I didn’t allow her to get dropped out of school. If I were to continue my education, my situation would have been different. I wish if I had continued my education and had not gotten married.”
She is not only helping her children with educational needs, but she is also mobilizing her neighborhood. Halima said, “Now many girls whose parents were not allowing them to go out, are now coming here to enroll in the course. Noor from World Vision Iraq went to their homes and provided them with awareness sessions (on the rights of women). There is a single woman in her thirties whose parents were not letting her go out at all, we convinced her parents to allow her to join the course and now she is enrolled. She thanked me and told me that she was doing better now.’”
Halima continued, “What was most surprising to me was the psychosocial support sessions. I became more comfortable. When you open yourself to someone, you become more comfortable.”
Noor, the Case Manager at World Vision Iraq, who works closely with Halima, said, “We held sessions for her at her home, at the center and in group with the family. Halima got closer to me. We cannot make a change in a day and night, but there is a change in her husband. Halima started to confide in me her problems. Halima does not want anyone to experience what she went through.”
Each month Halima meets with twenty-five women to train them on tailoring. She does not only train them on tailoring, but she also encourages the women to take psychosocial support sessions to benefit the way she benefited. Noor noticed that Halima started to talk with the women about their rights, about violence and child marriage issues.
To date, since her appointment as the tailoring trainer, Halima has trained and shared experiences with 120 women who attended her class at World Vision Iraq’s tailoring center. Through the project for survivors of violence against women in Mosul and Hamdaniyah, we provide case management services and recreational activities as well as climate-resilient livelihoods and business development trainings to 582 vulnerable women like Halima.
Halima shared at the end, “My dream is that my young children achieve high. This is my dream. I don’t have any other dreams. My dreams are long lost.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.