Suit­ors, hus­bands spurn Mid­dle East women dis­fig­ured by war

Kuwait Times - - NEWS -

AMMAN: Ahzan was shop­ping in a mar­ket in the Iraqi cap­i­tal of Bagh­dad when an ex­plo­sion ripped through the street, lift­ing her off her feet and shat­ter­ing her lower body. As the dust set­tled, Ahzan saw parts of her body strewn across the ground. The 33-year-old’s left leg was so badly in­jured, the doc­tors had no choice but to am­pu­tate. It was the start of more pain and mis­ery, she said. Rup­tures in her ab­domen and leg never healed, and of­fers of mar­riage quickly dried up.

“I had sui­ci­dal thoughts, I wanted to die. I just wanted to stay at home all day do­ing noth­ing,” Ahzan said through a trans­la­tor at a Medecins Sans Fron­tieres (MSF) hos­pi­tal in Jor­dan’s cap­i­tal Amman. As an am­putee re­quir­ing on­go­ing med­i­cal as­sis­tance, which has brought her to the MSF hos­pi­tal, Ahzan is seen as a bur­den on her com­mu­nity. For women young and old, be­ing dis­fig­ured or maimed by con­flicts in Mid­dle East is a stain that stig­ma­tizes them for life, health work­ers say. Many are shunned by so­ci­ety, di­vorced by their hus­bands or deemed un­fit for mar­riage and mother­hood.

“Peo­ple make me feel dis­abled, like I’m not a whole per­son who can be de­pended on,” said Ahzan, who asked that her full name be with­held for pri­vacy. Ten years af­ter the bomb­ing, Ahzan, now 43, re­mains sin­gle and child­less. A mark of shame for women in her cul­ture, her sta­tus is also a source of de­pres­sion, she said.

MSF staff at the only hos­pi­tal in the Mid­dle East to per­form com­plex re­con­struc­tive surgery on vic­tims who have been blown apart and dis­fig­ured by con­flicts, say the stigma fe­male pa­tients en­dure when they re­turn home is far worse than for men. Some young women will drop out of school or uni­ver­sity out of em­bar­rass­ment, oth­ers are os­tra­cized by fam­ily and friends. This iso­la­tion, com­pounded by their phys­i­cal ail­ments, can se­ri­ously af­fect their men­tal health, MSF says.

Since it opened in 2006, the hos­pi­tal has trans­ported and treated al­most 4,400 pa­tients from Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Gaza, free of charge. Around 60 peo­ple, mainly young men, un­dergo com­plex or­thopaedic, fa­cial and burn re­con­struc­tive surgery at the hos­pi­tal each month, ac­cord­ing to MSF. They also re­ceive psy­cho­log­i­cal care and coun­sel­ing dur­ing their stay. Clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Yafa Jaf­fal, who is treat­ing Ahzan for de­pres­sion as she re­cov­ers from surgery to treat the wound on her leg, said pa­tients who have un­der­gone am­pu­ta­tions can at least hide their miss­ing limbs with cloth­ing. They can learn to use pros­thetic arms or legs to gain au­ton­omy again.

But con­vinc­ing women with se­verely dis­fig­ured faces to move on with their lives is near im­pos­si­ble, she said. “Many of them have trou­ble deal­ing with their chil­dren af­ter the in­jury ... be­cause some­times the chil­dren don’t rec­og­nize them,” Jaf­fal told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. “This is so dif­fi­cult for a mother - to say ‘hello’ to your child and they re­ply, ‘No you’re not my mother’.”

It is also com­mon for hus­bands to divorce their wives, tak­ing their chil­dren with him, or to marry a sec­ond wife, said MSF men­tal health worker Mun­taha Mashayekh. “I can count on my fin­gers the fe­males who stay with their hus­bands af­ter she is in­jured, es­pe­cially those who have been burnt. They lose their lives,” said Mashayekh, who coun­sels fe­males pa­tients at the hos­pi­tal.

As part of their re­cov­ery, women at the hos­pi­tal are of­fered classes in ap­ply­ing make-up to help cover their fa­cial scars and burns, as well as dance ther­apy to boost their self-es­teem and con­fi­dence. Mashayekh takes the women to lo­cal mar­kets so they can start in­te­grat­ing into so­ci­ety again. “You have to be con­fi­dent in your­self, you are a hu­man be­ing and you should be re­spected,” she said. “It will take time for so­ci­ety to ac­cept them, but we are try­ing.”

It will be a few more weeks un­til Ahzan is phys­i­cally well enough to re­turn to Bagh­dad from the hos­pi­tal in Amman. But as the pri­mary carer of two older broth­ers with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, she said she will not have time to rest and re­cover from the op­er­a­tion. It is a strange bless­ing in dis­guise, she said, as their con­di­tion has helped her feel use­ful again and ac­cepted by her fam­ily. “I forced my­self to walk again, to do things on my own and be in­de­pen­dent to look af­ter my broth­ers,” she said. “I feel like I’ve gone from be­ing a dis­abled per­son to some­one who func­tions wholly.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.