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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

In Iraq, divorce rates soar even as stigma persists for women

More than 73,000 divorces were pronounced in 2021 by the courts in the country of 42 million people, largely the same as the number in 2018.

Just a year into her marriage, Manal became one of the tens of thousands of Iraqis every year who divorce in a deeply conservative nation where break-up rates have risen.

For Manal, like many other women, the reason was clear — her husband’s financial dependence on his family’s business meant that “he couldn’t take any decisions of his own”.

The 33-year-old has divorced eight years ago from her ex-husband, who is also her cousin and who worked for his father’s appliance shop.

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Not only did he depend on his family for money, but the couple also cohabited with her in-laws.

“He wasn’t financially independent, which caused family problems,” she said.

Her reasoning echoes that of tens of thousands of Iraqis, according to data published by the country’s Supreme Judicial Council.

Iraqi authorities cite wider economic difficulties, early marriages and infidelity encouraged by new technologies as other key drivers of divorce rates.

More than 73,000 divorces were pronounced in 2021 by the courts in the country of 42 million people, largely the same as the number in 2018.

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This is up from an average of just below 51,700 per year over the period 2004 to 2014, a decade that saw one in five marriages end in divorce, according to the council’s website.

It’s better to divorce

A study published by the Supreme Judicial Council on the causes of divorce cites “living with the spouse’s family, leading in many cases to negative interference in the relationship”, in tandem with “the spouse’s financial dependence on his family”.

It also cites difficulties finding employment and “infidelities due to the internet”.

Premature — often child — marriages are also a driver of divorce. A total of 4,092 adolescent girls were divorced in the two years to the end of 2021.

Veteran feminist Hanaa Edwar also pointed to “financial pressure on families” as a cause.

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“This creates a psychological burden and problems,” she said.

And Iraq was not spared the surge in domestic violence that came with the coronavirus pandemic — though Edwar salutes women for increasingly finding the courage to leave.

“There is an awareness among women that if violence persists in their lives and their children’s lives, then it’s better to divorce.”

But in a deeply patriarchal society like Iraq, a divorced man and a divorced woman are not equal.

On top of the often arduous battle to gain custody over their children, women are frequently exposed to “sexual harassment” by men who believe they have the right to make sexual advances towards divorced women, Edwar lamented.