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Letter from Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan

Feminist Perspectives
Choman Hardi

Founder and Director of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the American University Iraq Sulaimani

11 October 2022

Kurdish women have been and are at the forefront of protesting the patriarchal state in Turkey, Syria, and now Iran. The patriarchal-political-religious order against which they fight explains the protests as ‘foreign’ and staged, and responds with violence.

Choman Hardi, founder and Director of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the American University Iraq Sulaimani, in Iraqi Kurdistan, joined protesters in her hometown in Bashur, but they were quickly intimidated, teargassed, and shot at by security forces. She circulated a letter to her sisters in Iraqi Kurdistan to tell them to be hopeful, be outraged, and join the fight against patriarchy. You can read the original post, in Kurdish.


Be Outraged!

“One cannot be what one cannot see”

We live in a different age, an age where women are the generators of change. In Kurdistan’s Bakur (southeast Turkey), Rojava (northeast Syria), Rojhalat (northwest Iran), and greater Iran, women are leading the liberation movements. They fight to free themselves from the oppression of colonialism, dictatorship, patriarchy, poverty, and injustice. This is why with Fayaq Bekas’s permission, I changed his couplet to fit our time and say:

How can an ignorant and apathetic nation achieve independence?

The way to the peak and to advancement is through womanly fortitude

(The original couplet says:

How can an ignorant and immoral nation achieve independence?

The way to the peak and the advancement is through manly fortitude.)

Women’s outrage against subjugation and their defiance of injustice is authentic and not imported from anywhere else, as men in power suggest. In different parts of Kurdistan women no longer accept the shackles of patriarchy and tyranny and they reclaim their own bodies, decisions, and lives. Yet in Bashur (Iraqi Kurdistan) powerful men are telling us that women are men’s property to produce and care for children, women should stay home and look after their families, women should be ‘circumcised’ to reduce their libido so that they don’t ‘misbehave’, and it is a man’s right to have sex with his wife whenever he wants, even if by force.

In Bashur controlling women’s bodies, preventing their awakening, and curtailing their access to education and work are portrayed as methods of protecting women. The patriarchal system produces the threat of rape, sexual harassment, and violence, and then in the name of ‘women’s protection’ uses these as excuses to prevent women from participating in cultural, social, economic, and political life.

The religious and conservative patriarchal men use all their power to keep women subjugated and powerless. This is why, at any moment, when a person or a group threatens the system they have spent decades weaving and constructing, they attack them with their utmost power and violence.

Debilitated systems and those that are under threat are usually the most violent (be it the Iranian state or patriarchal systems) and they use their heaviest weapons to ensure their own continuity. This is why if someone asks you: Has there been progress? Tell them: All the relentless attacks on the freedom-seeking men and women is evidence that a crevice has opened up in the discourse, perspective, and efforts of oppressors and patriarchs.

Feminists have long argued, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ In other words, if women never see other women who are free and brave, then they think that there is no such thing and that they themselves cannot be so. But look at all the angry, free, and brave women around us who are facing death and cannot be silenced. Every day they show us that if we work together, we can overcome patriarchy and injustice.

But dear young Bashuri woman! Read before anything else, educate yourself, support the women around you, have a strategy, and preserve your energy for the right time. Do not reduce freedom to appearance, cosmetics, and clothing because freedom means responsibility. Build yourself up so that you can take the responsibility of making choices and owning yourself. Don’t be apathetic towards oppression, be outraged by subjugation. Use your outrage against injustice to fight and make great changes which can only be achieved by groups, not alone. As individuals we are most likely to lose the fight, but working together we have a hope of winning.

Letter from Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan

Feminist Perspectives

Feminist Perspectives is a blog created to publish research-based work – like academic research and think pieces – and art-based projects that use gender as a category of analysis or explore…

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