Those changes were not without pushback. The Kurdish majority area of Kobani in Syria, for instance, outlawed the practice of men taking more than one wife. But when officials tried to apply that restriction to Manbij, anger from tribal leaders led to the granting of an exception here.
Still, the Women’s House in Manbij right away began aggressively counseling wives whose husbands married a second time that they could divorce, and walk away with the children, the house and half of any property. The result has been some 200 divorces in the past year, mostly in cases of polygamy and underage marriage, said Widat Hayat an Arab woman and a sociologist who heads the research department at the Women’s House. It is an unprecedented number.
Many local men have found it difficult to reconcile the prosperity and stability the new government has brought with their own traditions.
Abdul Aziz al-Hassin, 45, an Arab shopkeeper who has 14 children, agrees that “a woman has the same rights as a man, she’s not a slave or a servant.” But he still intends to take a second wife, he said, because his current one, also 45, can no longer bear children. How will she react to that? “I won’t tell her,” he said. “It’s none of her business.”
Attitudes like that die hard.
“When we opened the Women’s House, even we didn’t believe this was going to work here,” said Jihan Mustafa, one of the counselors who coach women on their rights, and help them through divorce, spousal abuse prosecutions and legal actions to force their husbands to better provide for their children. “Now as you see, it is always busy here.”
At the Women’s House in Manbij, halls, waiting rooms and consultation rooms were crowded with men and women — with many of the men visibly angry.
Ms. Mustafa is a Kurd, as were the first women’s activists here, but now other members of the Women’s House are Arabs, and most of their clients are as well. Manbij is heavily Arab, with minorities of Kurds and others. “There is real acceptance for it, just 18 months after the liberation of Manbij,” she said.