My Name is Nisreen

While not featuring the documentary, Nisreen’s story needs to be told.

Growing up in Basra, Nisreen dreamed of pursuing an education, even though girls were not expected to complete high school. “We lived a very humble life, but I was so happy with my family and my life there,” recalls Nisreen. Her dreams were cut short when her father’s chronic disease left her family without money to pay for her education.

Nisreen was forced to drop out of high school. When a relative from Baghdad proposed that she marry his son, who worked in the city selling clothes and electronics, her father accepted. “My father assured me that he was a good man who came from an honorable family and who could provide a good life for us. I agreed to marry him and moved to Baghdad to live with my husband and his family.”

“In the beginning, my husband was kind to me. But my mother-in-law was abusive and taunted me, calling me a ‘girl of the provinces,’ meaning that she thought I came from a lower social class. After I gave birth to our first baby, a girl, my mother-in-law was even crueler. I felt so depressed and sad in my new life,” says Nisreen.

When Nisreen’s father-in-law died, her mother-in-law married a man who was 26 years younger than her, and more than 10 years younger than her son. The marriage upset and angered Nisreen’s husband. “He suspected that I was unfaithful to him, and he would leave the house for hours every day. When returned home, he would accuse me of cheating on him, and began beating me.”

“He beat me for a year. He would leave me badly bruised, but would apologize for his anger after each battering. Every time, I would cry and beg him to stop, but he never did,” says Nisreen.

During that year, Nisreen gave birth to a baby boy. For a few months after the birth, her husband stopped beating her, and Nisreen thought things had gotten better. But when he began to beat her again, he became more violent. “He would beat me with a belt, wiper sticks, and an empty trash can,” says Nisreen. One beating was so severe that the glands near her breasts became swollen and she had to see a doctor. During another beating, he hit her with a pestle for giving their food card to his brother.

“After my father passed away, I felt even more depressed and alone. I could not find the courage to speak to my mother and brothers about the humiliation and violence I faced every day,” says Nisreen.

One day in 2009, Nisreen’s aunt visited and suggested that she enroll in Women for Women International’s program to give her some time away from the depression she felt at home. “My husband did not want me to go, but my aunt suggested that he accompany me to the training center and wait for my lessons to finish. Then he agreed, and I was able to enroll in the training.”

“During the training sessions, it was difficult for me to interact with the rest of the group, because of my depression. In the lesson on stress management, however, I began to cry and finally opened up about my husband’s abuse. I showed the other women the bruise marks on my body. I learned that the way my husband was treating me was domestic violence,” says Nisreen.

With the support of the women in her class, Nisreen recognized that what was happening to her was not right. “My confidence grew, and I decided that I wanted to take action. I finally found the courage to tell my brothers about my husband’s beatings. I told them that I wanted a divorce, if the beatings did not stop, and if I wasn’t treated with dignity and respect,” says Nisreen. Her brothers stood by Nisreen, and went to her husband and demanded that he leave to get treatment if he wanted to save his marriage.

“Two months later, my husband came to me with his relatives, and promised, in front of everyone, that he would treat me with respect and would never hurt me again. I asked him for one thing: to buy me a sewing machine so that I could use the tailoring skills I learned at WfWI, and work to build a better future for myself and my children.”

It has been three months since that promise was made, and Nisreen’s husband has kept it and not beaten her. “With my improved family situation and the ability to earn income through my new tailoring skills, I feel more confident now to face life and the future.”