Is Sexism inherent in Kurdish Culture? - By Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar

LONDON – British Kurds often turn their backs on their Kurdish culture by asserting that it is sexist; I have endeavoured to put all my findings and research together to answer the question of whether the Kurdish culture is inherently sexist, or are there external influences which perpetuate sexism towards women. Kurdistan is increasingly changing for several reasons, namely the government is richer, women are more educated, and globalisation is influencing women faster than predicted.

I have tried to be neutral in conducting my interviews with Kurdish women in Iraq, and those in Europe. I have interviewed women from different backgrounds and social classes within Arbil (where most of my research was conducted) as well as Holland, Germany, and England. My findings have been both positive and negative. My interviewing were casual, and conducted in a informal setting. It was conversational to allow room for more thought, I did not want to suppress the thoughts of women. Younger women were more bold, and easier to speak to whereas older women were not as forthcoming, and highly critical of contemporary Kurdish women. Often referring to them as promiscuous, without values and morals.

While a large number of women are increasingly opting for education, with a particular interest in Medicine. None of them portrayed any selfless or eager attempts to improve the perceptions of women within society. They seemed to be concerned with themselves, their own future and prospect of success. Out of the 50 women interviewed and questioned, none of them seemed to portray any real thought about the future of women in Kurdistan.

I do not believe the Kurdish culture is inherently sexist, just as I do not believe the British culture is inherently sexist. I believe people can be sexist, and their collective attitude towards women can constitute as discriminatory. There are elements of discrimination and sexism within the Kurds and Kurdish culture which needs to be reformed radically, but in my opinion it does not necessitate that the culture is inherently sexist. Looking back at Kurdish women in the past, their strength and participation both politically, and socially have been significant enough to suggest that in principle, the culture has room for both change and equality of the sexes.

It is disturbing to conclude that a large number of women in Kurdistan that I interviewed were complicit with honour Killings, and even suggested that governmental officials were lenient towards those who kill female members in the name of “honour”. This puts women at great risk because how a man's honour is supposedly “shamed” is subjective, and therefore women are in great danger. The overwhelming attitude towards Honour killings was disturbing. A large number of women that I spoke to in Kurdistan justified the killing of women in the name of preserving one's honour. The problem here was; “Honour killings” no longer constituted as an act perpetuated by a male-figure but also with the assistance and approval of women. If a independent study was conducted about the number of men killed in the name of honour, we would see how silence and compliance with this practice directly affects the lives of many women. Kurdish women have been killed over using mobile phones, talking to men in flirtatious or promiscuous ways. However, the attitude of European Kurds was largely different, they were opposed to honour killings categorically, often citing religion to illustrate the immorality of the act.

Domestic violence – the silent killer of women was not taken seriously, not by men nor government agencies. Some of those that I interviewed in Kurdistan believed some women “had it coming” because of their behaviour and attitude. Although, by large women seemed to find domestic violence unacceptable, some form of justification was given in certain instances which as disturbing. In comparing the interviews of European Kurds and Kurds living in Kurdistan, once again European Kurds were against domestic violence perpetuated by both men and women.

My other findings were on a less-radical scale, but of equal importance. Women were not eager to see other women in power. They did not support female politicians, instead they often referred to them as masculine and “power-hungry”. This indicated that perhaps some women have a form of jealousy towards other hard-working female politicians and recognised scholars. As a result, this would hinder the success of female influence within society. Women in Europe did not display any form of contempt for women in power, but did not indicate any passion, nor interested when asked about their thoughts about women in governmental sectors.

My sample of research was extremely small in light of the population, but unfortunately due to insufficient funds, and resources available, I could not conduct more interviews. Due to the small sample size I can't draw any conclusions or present my research as qualifying evidence. But I do hope in the near future that I would conduct a research on the attitude of women towards equality through interviews and polls.

I would like to extend my gratitude to Salahuldeen University in Arbil for allowing me to enter their classes and observe their teaching techniques, and the participants in my interviews both in Europe and Kurdistan.



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November 27, 2010
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