Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — Wedad can’t bear to live this way much longer. Disgusted by the work, she can hardly stand it. Wedad is a prostitute in Iraq.
Sectarian violence claimed the life of her husband three years ago. Unable to rely on her family, Wedad tried getting a job to support her three young daughters, but found the men interviewing her didn’t want her for her work skills, only her body.
“It was extremely difficult to make the decision to do this, because nobody goes into this wanting to do it,” she said hesitantly. “My situation forced me into it because I couldn’t find a job and the government didn’t have a job for me.”
For Wedad, who is using a false name to conceal her identity, the difficult circumstances could not be overcome. So she took a step she never would have thought imaginable and became a prostitute.
Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi womens’ rights activist, estimates there are thousands of women like Wedad working in the sex trade in Iraq. Most are too afraid or ashamed to come forward and ask for help.
“She is looked at as an outcast in the society, and nobody to be respected and nobody to support her,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed, whose Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq tries to help women like Wedad, said many Iraqi women enter this life because they have no support systems and no way to make a living.
Prostitution is illegal in Iraq. According to Mohammed, a typical prison sentence for women convicted is three to four months in jail, but their customers are rarely, if ever, arrested.
When the women get out of prison, they generally have nothing to look forward to, Mohammed said. “On the day she is released she finds her pimps, the people who exploit her, waiting for her at the door,” Mohammed said.
“In many of the cases, this is what happens. In other cases, she simply has nowhere else to go. She is either a widow or an orphan of this war, and she has no alternatives.”
Wedad, one of those war widows, lives in constant fear of being found out, more because of the shame she would face from her family than the punishment she would face from authorities.
“I won’t be doing this forever; it’s impossible,” Wedad said. “My girls are still young, but when they get older, I can’t…” she stopped in midsentence, overcome by emotion.
So far, Wedad has been able to keep her work a secret, but her daughters are getting older and more curious. They’ve started to ask her where she’s going. “I’ll say I’m going to the doctor or I’m going to the salon, that I have an errand to run,” Wedad explained.
“But sometimes, when they know I’m going out and they ask me to get them something specific like food, it’s really hard for me to tell them I’m going to get it for them because I don’t have the money. It’s just really hard.” Wedad’s voice trailed off and she began to cry.
After her husband’s death, Wedad did everything she could to avoid this outcome. Now she does everything she can to get through it.
According to Wedad, she is only able to perform by pretending she is giving herself over to her clients as a “dead body”.
It’s a coping mechanism that allows her to feel as little as possible, so she can shield herself from as much mental anguish and pain as possible.
Wedad clings to one hope: that her daughters will not have to end up doing what their mother does.