Iraq: Nafisa Ridwan, Iraq - "Mine is a dirty and miserable life"

BAGHDAD, 21 May 2007 (IRIN) - Nineteen-year-old Nafisa Ridwan says she was forced to work as a sex worker to feed her younger brothers after her father died in an attack in the capital, Baghdad. With her mother seriously sick with a heart condition and without anyone to look after the family, she had to resort to prostitution after failing to find other work.

She gets enough money to feed herself, her mother and three younger brothers, and is able to buy medicine for her mother.

Nafisa says she cries every time she sleeps with a man but feels happy when she sees her brothers - Muhammad (16), Mustafa (14) and Khalija (10) - eating.

"I was studying literature at college when my father died a year ago. Desperately broke and with my mother's health deteriorating every day, I was forced to leave university and find a job.

"I tried looking for different kinds of work but in Iraq being a woman is really tough. With no money to buy food, someone told me he would give me money if I slept with him. I was reluctant at first but later when I saw that things were getting worse and we were going to be evicted from the house we were renting because we were late with the rent, I decided to accept the guy's offer and I have been a sex worker since then. At the time, I was a virgin and saw my precious honour [virginity] being taken for miserable dinars. But I had no option because I couldn't let my mother or brothers starve.

"The neighbours don't know about my job, as my mother told them that I work in a restaurant. My mother knows the truth and has accepted it because she doesn't want her sons to starve. I hate my work but this is the only way for us to survive. The country's situation drove me to this life. Women in this country are nothing and are discriminated against all time.

"It is hard to find clients but the first person whom I slept with helps me. Sometimes when I find no punter and I need money to buy food for my brothers I go to some markets in different districts of Baghdad and offer my services to the shopowners. There I always get at least some five dollars to buy food.

"Usually, I get paid about US$10 per client although sometimes I find someone willing to pay a little bit more. Rarely do the men use condoms. Most of them refuse, saying that they do not need them and I have to accept because I need the money.

"Sometimes I get scared that insurgents or militants will kill me when they discover that I am a sex worker as I know of many girls who met this fate.

"Mine is a dirty and miserable life. Constantly I get hit by someone who forces me to do whatever they want in bed and sometimes it is painful but when I think of my small brothers or when I imagine my mother in a coffin because she lacked medicines, I immediately forget the pain and prefer to be hurt than to see them dead.

"I used to dream of a marriage with a white dress, flowers and a good husband. But now I'm marked all my life and will have to be content with different men who will just use me and then drop me either at home or on the street where they found me."