Not all Kurdish women are victims of honour!


Kurdish women meeting in London on International Women's day - 2012

I don’t mean to underestimate the harrowing accounts of honour-based violence or killings that have been reported over the years, but I’m increasingly irritated by a western oriental narrative of Kurdish women, as victims of honour. We are not all victims of honour, in fact our history testifies to this. Don’t misunderstand me here, inequality and patriarchy exists within Kurdish dominated societies, but it does not mean we are all idle victims under patriarchal systems which have been imposed on us, on the contrary we are at the forefront of challenging patriarchy.

It is convenient for contemporary writers and speakers to paint a picture of Kurdish women as weak, unable to speak or challenge inequality. In doing so, they secure themselves a platform upon which they can reinforce stereotypes in front of a western audience.

We are women of strength, and the hard work of our foremothers ensured the survival of our nation. They worked side by side with men, to ensure that our Kurdish identity survived, but they did not get the responses they should have, or the appreciation they deserved. Many forgotten, and unknown but of those that remain, they will remain in our hearts and are examples of female leadership. The female soldiers, or as we know them; Pêşmerge exemplify for much of our history, the strength of Kurdish women.

In my recent trip to Hewler, which is located in Southern Kurdistan I met countless young Kurdish activists and feminists who continued to fight for equality. They looked like ordinary girls, but in fact did extraordinary things.

To escape the world where patriarchy was given precedence, Shanaz built a wall of books around her bed. The books of Gloria Steinman and Jessica Valenti were neatly put on top of each other to form, what seemed like a house of books. Her room carefully colour-coordinated, books piled up on top of each other, not on bookshelves but on the floor, categorised and ripped in parts. ‘You keep a pretty collection, I smiled’ as I ran my hand through the books, a feminist haven for Shanaz, who had hoped to re-create a society where female leadership was prominent and egalitarianism given precedence. ‘The books nourish the mind, while society tries to destroy it’ Shanaz remarked sarcastically, and as I would come to know her in the coming months, she proved to be a thinker, and not much of writer. She did not use social networking sites, despite my pleas, but made regular efforts to educate young girls about their rights.

Her odd ways did not put me off, and I was happy to learn from her, as much as I irritated her with my continuous strain of questions, she answered them. Shanaz was the type of person that didn’t want to become socially known, but exerted influence slowly within society, without making a fuss. Shanaz regularly visited the homeless shelter houses, orphanages, children’s hospitals and elderly homes, she would make notes on their enquiries and write lists of things they requested, sometimes she would be able to deliver, and when she didn’t, it evidently made her upset.

On one occasion, one of the terminally ill children had requested to visit Paris, but the child’s condition was not suitable, and in a typical Hollywood-like attitude, where if one can’t go to Paris, they would bring Paris to them, Shanaz tried to recreate the Eiffel tower with newspapers and Christmas lights. In the end, it looked more like a tree, sprinkled with colourful dots than a tower.

That day we ended up having sun seeds in the balcony, while overlooking the mesmerising beauty of Hewler, one of the oldest cities in the world. Shanaz is one of the many young Kurdish women are who is eager to develop the prosperous Kurdish region into a society where women are treated equally, and not sexually harassed in public. She is not a victim of honour, and those who continuously perpetuate the myth that we are all victims of honour do more to harm us, than help.