FALLUJAH, Iraq — Nada Hatem Farhan toys with a heart-shaped red pen at the small desk in her bedroom and talks about the gap between the life she expects to have and the one she really wants. She doesn't think any politician running in Sunday's parliamentary elections will have an effect on her future.
"There are many things I want to do, but our society doesn't allow one to become a lawyer or a journalist," says the 19-year-old 12th grader. Instead, she says, the plan for her is a more respectable route for a woman in this conservative city: She'll go to teachers' college.
An only child, Nada has been raised in the home of her maternal uncles, who make all the major decisions affecting her life.
"I would love to study law and become a lawyer," she admits. "But if I were to graduate from law school, what would I do? Even if I became a lawyer, where would I work? The profession is considered more for men than for women."
On the wall of Nada's room is a photo of her father, who died the year she was born. Next to it, in her parents' wedding photo, her mother's curly hair cascades onto an elaborate Western wedding dress.
When her maternal grandfather died, Nada's other relatives pressured her mother to remarry. As is often customary, her mother had to leave Nada to start a new family.
Nada has been engaged for a year to her cousin. As occurred in many families, her fiance left the city after the U.S. 2004 assault here and dropped out of school in Grade 9. He now works with his father's transport business.
"So far the plan is 1/8that3/8 I finish high school, and then I have to get married. But I want to finish college," she says.
Poor security and the lack of jobs are keeping young people, and particularly young women, out of university, she says.
"The families are afraid — because of the security issues they don't want to send them to a place that is far away and also there is no incentive because even after they graduate, what about employment? There is no motivation for the families to allow them to go to school."
Nada says government officials have come to her school to encourage students to vote, but she's not sure what the point would be:
"Since the occupation we have not witnessed 1 percent who are thinking of Iraqis and not just of themselves and their own interests," she says.
(Jane Arraf reports for the Christian Science Monitor. The Monitor and McClatchy operate a joint bureau in Baghdad.)