Iraq’s Female Nurses Struggle for Equality

By Wassim Bassem for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Social media user Kamal Rahal expressed his wish for Iraqi nurses to “get married and have a happy life” on the “Iraq Nurse” Facebook page.

Rahal did not make this wish out of the blue. It was the automatic reaction of Iraqi society’s harsh disapproval of female nurses and devaluation of their work.

Nurse Hassan Hatem, from Hilla in the center of Babil province, is looking for a woman to marry. It is only natural that he consider his colleagues at Hilla General Teaching Hospital, but, he told Al-Monitor in a Jan. 4 interview, “I was not able to marry a colleague who I used to love because my family refused our marriage.” He added, “I sought to persuade my father of the marriage but he categorically refused the idea of letting me marry a female nurse.”

Hatem attributed his father’s refusal to the fact that society still considers a woman who works as a nurse to be rebelling against moral values and the social customs that prohibit women from staying overnight outside the household or to have physical contact with men, even patients.

This conservative social idea holds that a woman’s work place is in the home, and Iraq’s culture of shame classifies women as “weak” individuals who must be kept isolated. The reluctance of many Iraqi women to work despite widespread unemployment, especially among women, is causing a shortage in Iraqi hospitals and prompting the Iraqi Ministry of Health to recruit nurses from India.

Nursing was introduced in Iraq in 1933 and according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health records, there are currently no more than 40,000 Iraqi nurses, 75% of them men.

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