By Laila Ahmad
“We were happy even though we were poor,” says Sherine Mahmoud, 32, of her life with her husband in a mud house in the Kalar district in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. “But after the pandemic began, we started to fight. My husband was made redundant and we had so many fights. Eventually he began to beat me,” she recounts.
The roof of the family’s mud home had collapsed and Mahmoud suggested that they find another place to rent. Her husband hit her and then forced Mahmoud and her daughter to return to her own father’s house.
For two months, they had no word from him until Mahmoud heard that her partner had divorced her, without her consent or knowledge. “I don’t know where he is and he isn’t giving me any child support either,” she complains today.
Mahmoud’s family is not the only one to suffer in this way during the pandemic, which has seen jobless rates rise and families trapped at home together.
Figures compiled by Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of the Interior suggest that there have been more than 390 violent deaths – murders or suicides – during the pandemic and an estimated 20,377 acts of domestic violence committed against local women, since the pandemic began.
“During this year of the pandemic, violence against women has increased,” Fayan Saber, a civil society activist in Iraqi Kurdistan, noted. “We have recorded the highest rates of violence ever.”
And it didn’t matter what stage a marriage was at. The pandemic seemed to only bring trouble for many.
For example, Zayan Amid had been married to her husband for 20 years when the pandemic began. He lost his job and financial issues became a source of trouble for the couple. Problems began to pile up.
“We rented a new house and my husband was always at home, smoking heavily,” Amid explains. “He began to beat me and insult me but I was afraid to tell my family.”
It was only after Amid’s husband broke her nose and she had to be admitted to hospital that her family became aware of what was going on. Amid’s family took her in although her two daughters stayed with her husband.
“I miss them so much and would love to be able to see them but he really tortured me during the pandemic and I don’t want to return to that,” she says.
And then there is Bushra, who was just 15 years old when she was forced to marry her cousin, a construction worker. Bushra didn’t want to give her full name for fear of retribution from her family.
Just under a year after her marriage, the pandemic began and her husband, a construction worker, didn’t have many jobs anymore as business slowed. He began to hit her and when his family was infected with the COVID-19 virus, Bushra was happy to return to her own family’s home.