Women in Iraq


Women in Iraq

“It’s best if you are seen and not heard today,” my mother would say that to me just before we enter the sophisticated parties and get-togethers with my fathers co-workers because I was such a young child and needed to learn everything that I know today about respect, where my place in society is, and how to up-hold that status. In America, children are the only ones who, in public places and are expected to be seen and not heard. The same kind of theory is applied to women in Iraq. They are not to be seen by any strange man, and when seen by men, they are to be fully covered, except their eyes, with an abayah, and not to be heard. The women in Iraq are supposed to stay in the house all day, cook, clean, do the laundry, have kids, and are to be faithful to their husbands, per “Guest of the Sheik, An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village,” by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. In this novel, Fernea talks about the requirements and expectations of a perfect bride, women, and/or wife, and how they act and behave in a village in Iraq.

For most if not all of the women in Iraq, the most important thing to them is their husband. They love him to death, and have never even seen him before the wedding day. The match is most always made between cousins and/or made within the same family. Then the man pays the father of the prospecting bride and they have a marriage ceremony. Laila tells BJ, “The grooms smiles meant that indeed everything was all right; the girl was a virgin, the man and his mother were satisfied.” (Fernea, 148) When the groom goes to check out the bride, if the groom does not like the bride or she is not a virgin, he has the right to have one of her relatives kill her. The bride is not to eat before the wedding because, “…She and her husband will have a big meal together. If he is a good man, he will bring her fruit and sweets and sherbet.” (Fernea, 139) In this quote, Laila, a friend of BJ’s is explaining to BJ that is custom for the wife to be not to eat before the ceremony because it is custom to have a huge meal with her husband the first night of marriage and that the bride will know on the first night of marriage if her new husband will be a good one by bringing her fruits and sherbet on their first night together. The brides wear a white dress, and before the wedding sit in their dress on a white covered mat facing a wall, or away from the guests and family. After the ceremony they have a party to celebrate the newly-weds, which included dancing and music. Some men will take on two or even three wives, which is seen as a very respectable and powerful man in that village if he can provide for all of his wives equally and love them equally as well.

There are different customs and traditions that women in Iraq live by. One of them is that Women in Iraq are always covered from head to toe in a black sheet wrapped around them, called an Abayah. This was the only decent way that women were to be seen by men. In the beginning of the novel, BJ’s husband tells her, “My dear B.J., you don’t need to wear your abayah in your own private garden.” B.J. is unsure of what she can and cannot do when she arrives in the Iraqi village that she is going to be living in and seems to be proving her ignorance in Iraqi customs and traditions. Only when the women went out side their own homes and walls were they expected to wear their abayah and be covered. Another one of the traditions in Iraq is that the women must cook more then enough food for the meals. B.J. learned after the first meal, why there was always more then enough to eat. Fernea writes,

When the old man returned, presumable for the tray, almost creeping to the