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Iraqi Women Fear Violence, Erosion of Rights

Women in Iraq often bear the brunt of war. After three wars since 1980, sectarian conflicts and terrorist attacks, many have lost at least one close relative. Women are concerned about their future under the current government.

By Iraqi traditions, women are considered the glue that holds society together. They are expected to take care of their families, no matter the difficulties.

Sadia Jabar is the widowed mother of six children. Terrorists in 2004 killed one of her sons because he worked for an American company. She was left with little money and a traumatized family.

"I don't know what to do, the world is collapsing in front of me. I don't know what to do. We started to sell furniture to buy medicine for my sick child. No schools. Everything is bad. And my child is sick. It is worse than death," said Jabar.

Jabar now sells her sewing with the help of a group set up to help women. But she is pessimistic about the future.

"I'm expecting it's going to get worse," Jaba added. "Some of them fear the Americans, but I think it will get worse because of the fighting and the government is not united."

Teacher Wameed Marhoon has no faith in the government and is not optimistic about what the future holds for her children.

"The biggest problems are religious conflict, corruption and politics," said Marhoon. "It's everything: politics, destruction, instability, lack of security. All of this together, plus anyone who comes to the country wants to take the money. Nobody is thinking of the people, nobody is thinking of us."

Women often are the ones taking care of their own families as well as the children of their dead relatives.

Human rights activist Sundus Abass says at the same time, religious groups are eroding women's freedoms.

"First of all they are talking about our personal freedoms, what we should wear, if we can work or not, if we can study or not, women should not go to university, women shouldn't drive the cars - these things are something which is anti-nature in our society," said Abass.

Abass's brother was shot dead in the sectarian killings of 2006. She fears a repeat of that violence.

"I think there will be more violence in Iraq, at least I am talking about the near future," added Abass.

It is the future that worries many Iraqis. They question if the government is capable of avoiding the sectarian tensions that brought the country to the brink of civil war five years ago.

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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.