“Yes, we provide reproductive health services… birth control? No, no, but things like… delivery.”

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

This quote is from a representative of Caritas, the [Catholic] charity contracted by UNHCR to provide all medical services to Iraqi refugees, and it very nearly made my head explode, so I hope it hasn’t lost its impact by being typed.

It’s an example of the kind of hidden problems that face refugees here – it’s not just that people aren’t living in their homes anymore, it’s that access to many basic functions is disrupted. And not all needs can even be discussed openly, which makes it even less likely that they’ll be filled. A representative of the Jordan River Foundation, the main NGO dealing with women’s and children’s issues from within Jordan, became visibly uncomfortable when I asked about contraceptives. “Birth control, no, we don’t provide that. I think maybe other people do. But you know, you can’t just talk about contraceptives like that. You can talk about it differently and bring it up when you’re discussing other things, like, well, things like, reproductive health, you know, things like that.”

Right… This leads, I believe, pretty naturally into a conversation I had with an aid worker today about one of the families we were distributing coats to:  “Yes, this family has a lot of children. Ten. By the same woman!”

Conflict affects women severely, especially Muslim women in Arabic cultures. Many women feel they should not do certain things on their own, like visit the UNHCR or the police station. Strict gender roles only work (I mean functionally, not on a philosophical/personal level, which is a different story) with a strong social network, and women who are separated from their neighbors, families and husbands face extraordinary stress. Not only that, but Iraqi families in Amman are not allowed employment, and more than half the children aren’t in school – imagine your whole (large) family stacked in a couple of poorly heated rooms, all day every day, running out of savings if you have any, with no real hope of returning to your normal life. We’re lucky, in a way, that we chose such a developed and well-educated country to attack, because my opinion and that of everyone I’ve met in the last two weeks (except my Blackwater friend) that Iraqi people are incredibly intelligent and easy to work with. But illiteracy, domestic violence, and poverty are on the rise, so what is the next generation going to be like?

Today is my last day in Amman, although I plan on continuing refugee work and hopefully blogging. So just one more gender quote. It’s from a [female] professor at the University of Jordan, and it managed to repel me from teaching, practicing law, and having a family all at once!

“I think women should do all the teaching at the law school, because they have families at home, so they will not be distracted from teaching by their careers and wanting to get ahead at their firm.”

P.S. I don’t have the heart to close with that. I’ll go back to Najlaa for something better: “There are two kinds of happiness, the kind where you get happiness for yourself and the kind where you make happiness in others. You are feeling this second kind, I can tell.”

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.