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In Najaf, the Holy city of Shi’ite muslims, war has killed thousands of people and left many widowed. At the front of Najaf’s cemetery there is a special space dedicated to radical Shi’tes who died during the uprising against American troops in 2004.
Dijla’s husband was killed in the crossfire. He was a taxi driver. To survive and bring up her 4 children, Dijla – which means tigress – has had to fight against prejudice. With the help of Al Amal association, she set up a small beauty salon in her home, but not without difficulties. She doesn’t usually wear a veil at home; but didn’t want to show her face or her children’s faces on television, for fear of compromising years of work.
Dijla explained: “Even just talking about my salon creates problems. When you want to go and buy products for the shop, you have to go to the wholesale market. And there you find only men, there’s no space dedicated to women. My customers ask for products which I have to go and find in places where the sales assistants are men, and our society doesn’t like this kind of thing.”
Dijla’s in-laws also disapprove. “I wanted my daughters to keep studying, and they wanted me to stop them. They told me to stop working, and said that they would take care of us. But I refused.”
Dijla can’t afford to draw attention to herself by advertising her salon. But the word has spread amongst women, and business is brisk. She would like to expand.
Dijla said: “Each time I take a step forward, I take a risk. But I don’t see it as a risk. It’s a statement, and my subborness carries me forward. When men die, they can rest in peace. But widows then have to carry a huge burden. The men leave them behind with the children. They have to support the family on their own. And I’m not the only one.”
40 years of war and sectarian violence have left over a million widows in Iraq. Most struggle to provide for their children. A minority get a small pension from the State.
Not Rashida. She lost her husband four years go in a fight between rival tribes over land rights. She and her two sons live with her brothers and sisters in law. She relies on them, and sells clay ovens which take days to make, for 5 euros a piece.
Rashida can’t get any help from the State because, brought up and married according to tribal rules, she has no paperwork to prove her identity or status as a widow. Her wedding certificate was lost in 2005 when the family had to flee sectarian violence in Mahmoudia, near Baghdad. She has lost hope of ever sending her boys to school: “They won’t enrol them at school because they have no IDs. I hoped they would study and learn things like the others. It’s better than staying here like this. I want them to learn a trade. But without school, they can’t read or write. They know nothing of life, what hope can they have? For their future, for their life, for anything? I wish them the best, but I don’t think it will ever happen.”
Faithful to her husband’s memory, she refuses to remarry. She says the war has destroyed her life: “I hate war. It is because of war that we had to leave our homes. Because of war we became nothing. Because of these problems which never end. The government doesn’t want to let us settle down or build a house. They always come to harass us and tell us we don’t own this place. And why do we have all these problems? Because of the war.”
To make a few extra pennies, Rashida sometimes works in one of the nearby brick factories. She doesn’t want to be a burden to her brothers. She just wants a less physically exhausting job and to live in peace: “The most important thing is having stability. I want peace of mind, and I want to stop being less than nothing until death. I wish we could live in our own house, buy clothes, go out like everybody else, and not just spend life between the factory and the clay…”
They are simple dreams, which with her children, give her the strength to keep going. “My courage comes from my ignorance. I’ve always lived in obscurity. I’ve suffered. Everything closed up on me. I had to be the way I am. I have never known anything good in my life, I’ve always had to face misery and hunger. Everything closed up on me, I had to fight, and even more than that.
Men make war, and women bear the consequences. Women stay behind them with their ignorance, and their suffering.”
This month, Women and War goes to the Democratic Republic of Congo where we meet Masika, Noella, and Caddy.
These three women survived the horrors of war, and are now struggling for justice, dignity, and peace.
Join us every month in Women and War, to follow the stories of women all over the world, fighting for a cause.
Radio has often been used as a weapon of war in Africa. Caddy Adzuba is a journalist for Radio Okapi in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At all costs, she uses her voice to call for peace.
Caddy Adzuba is one the most popular voices at Radio Okapi, created two years ago by the UN and the Swiss foundation Hirondelle. Day and night, she travels round the province of South Kivu, describing the realities of a society scarred by war.
Caddy said: “For me, media is a tool. I use it as a voice. A voice for the voiceless, to speak up, to denounce abuse, and to sensitise people too.”
Her determination began when she was a teenager. In 1995, a few months after the war broke out, like thousands of others she and her family were forced to leave her home town, Bukavu.
She described her experience: “I walked through the forest. For a week, alone. I didn’t know where my parents were, if they were dead, where my brothers were, were they dead? I had no idea. But I saw people die. In all the chaos, everyone was just looking for a way out. Everyone was just looking to escape. I will never forget that. I will never forget.”
Though the war has officially ended, for Caddy it’s still on-going; as long as armed groups rampage across the eastern part of the country there can be no peace.
Caddy said: “The war is not over. Every day, there’s an attack. Every single day. Villages are ransacked, people are chased out of their homes by armed groups. And they take refuge in town, in tiny shacks containing families of 15, 18, 20 people…
Poverty enrages her. But her main concern is the trauma that so many women go through. Today she’s interviewing survivors rescued by an NGO based in Bukavu which helps women rebuild their lives and repair their minds through therapy and professional training.
As a radio journalist, and an activist with several NGOs, Caddy speaks out against the violence which continues against thousands of Congolese women, and against its causes: “Raping women was a weapon of war. These armed groups don’t rape out of sexual desire. No, if you want to destabilise a region, you go to war, you clear the population out. And then you start mining and you steal the resources. And that goes unnoticed. The Congolese people’s tragedy is their mineral resources. And you have multinational companies and powerful politicians behind all that, all over the world.”
Illegal mineral trafficking at the expense of local populations is often denounced by human rights organisations. In 2002, a UN report spelled out how the country was being pillaged by neighbouring countries, with the complicity of 85 multinational companies.
Needless to say, Caddy’s message isn’t universally popular. She has received death threats, and has been attacked at home several times. She has even had to spend time in exile, with two female colleagues. Two other journalists at the radio station were murdered. But she came back to her country to continue her work. And the threats continue.
But so does Caddy’s determination: “When you think of all of your colleagues, relatives, aunts, all your friends, who have died. You ask yourself: what have you done, to be alive today? I find my strength when I wonder how come I didn’t die back then? Why was I spared? And what can I do to help? How can I contribute, even in a very small way, a tiny way, to build peace in my country?”