Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Wives Take Revenge as Husbands Forced Out

A new class of homeless has emerged in Sulaimaniyah – men who’ve been kicked out of the marital home.
By Aman Khalil

Saeed Muhammed lies on a piece of cardboard in the shade of a mosque, squinting as dust swirls around him.

“I had everything when I was young. My wife and children and my children respected me,” he said. “When I grew old, they kicked me out.”

Muhammed, now 56, with a long white beard and mustache, spends his nights on the city’s streets. He said his wife urged his sons to force him out of the house. Now his only family memento is a picture of his youngest son.

“This is my smaller son, he’s 16-years-old,” said Muhammed. “I miss him a lot because only he treated me well.”

Muhammed has company on the streets. He is part of an unfortunate fraternity of men who have been forced out of their homes, either because they can no longer provide for their families or because they treated them badly when they were younger.

Many sleep in mosques and public areas at night and beg during the day. They are sometimes derided by people passing by and often suffer from poor health because of exposure to the elements and a lack of decent meals and proper hygiene.

Abdullah Maroof, 49, the father of three daughters and two sons, said his wife kicked him out because he couldn’t give her the money and house she asked for. Maroof, a clothes vendor, said his two sons are now married and also want nothing to do with him.

“For the men who have been pushed out of their homes, the blame is on the wives,” said Maroof. “Bad wives make children bad, too.”

Rostem Hama-Murad, 60, told a similar story as he sat begging outside a Sulaimaniyah mosque. He said he suffers from diabetes and hypertension and had medical documents spread out before him to prove he needs treatment.

“May God not afflict any man with a bad wife,” he said. “A bad wife forced me on to the streets. When she doesn’t need you any more, she kicks you out.”

But the wives insist the men are only getting what they deserve.

Saeed Muhammed’s wife admits that she made her husband leave, because he is old and sick and no longer able to work. “I’m fed up with serving him so much,” she said. “He didn’t respect me when he was young, so why should I serve him now?”

Civil servant Sergul Yousif, 45, said she kicked her husband out, because he didn’t pay attention to his family in his younger days.

“When he was young and had money, he sometimes wouldn’t come home once a month,” she said. “He wouldn’t spend money on us. He went to live in Baghdad. Now that he’s grown old, he wants me to spend money on him.”

Mriem Hama-Kareem, 48, has been living alone since she threw her husband out of the house a year ago.

“My husband doesn’t have a job,” she said. “I raised my children with my salary working as a civil servant. I’ll never let him come back, because when he had money, he married another woman, and when his new wife kicked him out, he came back to me.

“I don’t want him, so I pushed him out.”

Shadan Tofiq Abdul-Rahman, social development director in the ministry of labour and social affairs, acknowledged the phenomena, but said there are no statistics on how many men have been affected.

She said the ministry offers monthly pensions of 40,000 dinars (27 US dollars) for homeless individuals, who can also stay at a facility for elderly and disabled people, established in 1997 by the directorate of the social care department.

But Abdul-Rahman said many don’t want to stay in the home, “Partly it’s due to their low level of awareness and partly to their love of freedom of going around, because they think their movements will be restricted in the home.”

Instead, they take their chances living on the streets.

“From sleeping in wet places, I’ve been infected with diseases and my kidneys are in bad shape,” said Omer Salih, 61, as he lay in the Sulaimaniyah public garden. “I can’t do any work. I was dismissed from my home because I’m sick.”

Aman Khalil is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.