Kurdish Women Are Victims of a Legacy of Violence

Violence against women in the Kurdistan Region has its roots in the violence of the former Iraqi regime, says poet, writer and academic researcher Choman Hardi, who has written a book about the widows of genocide, the suffering of women during and because of the Anfal campaign against the Kurds. Hardi is currently researching the role of women in the Kurdish revolution (1976-1991).
Source: Rudaw, by Judit Neurink
Rudaw: We recently saw the murder of two young sisters by their father in Said Sadiq, and two other honor killings in one week. What do you think is the background of this excessive violence against women in the Kurdish society?

Choman Hardi: It is the legacy of violence. Not just from the Iraqi dictatorship, but also from the Kurdish revolutions that glorified killing, violence and revenge, and justified that because it leads to survival. Violence was such a normal thing. People were killed on the suspicion of being a spy, or a prostitute.

The Iraqi government was promoting violence as a spectacle; for the shooting of someone in public, officers were brought out to applaud. People were tortured and released so that others would see what happens when you disobey. It is about scaring and threatening people, but it also normalizes the violence.

 People were tortured and released so that others would see what happens when you disobey. It is about scaring and threatening people, but it also normalizes the violence.  

During the Iran-Iraq war, the TV program “Images from the Battlefield” was broadcasted in the daytime, so children would see it. It showed mutilated and dead Iranian soldiers and glorified the victory. And in reaction, the Kurdish revolutionaries were glorifying their ability to fight, and to kill and get killed.

Rudaw: So violence became normal. But is that the only factor?

Choman Hardi: The rise of tribalism is a major factor, too. The Iraqi government armed tribal chieftains to stay in Kurdistan and fight the Peshmerga. It gave them power and prestige. They could do as they pleased. If a Jash (little donkey, a name for Kurds who worked with Saddam) leader wanted a girl, he would get her.

After the uprising of 1991 all their crimes went unpunished. They were told that they would be amnestied if they cooperated. The KDP and PUK were fighting to get them on their side. So if one side threatened to persecute them, they would go to the other. These tribes kept getting stronger, so did the tribal values, and the community reversed.

Another factor is the rise of radical Islam. In the 1990s suddenly there were these radicals patrolling the streets, and if a women was wearing a short dress, they would put acid on her arms, legs and face. This created fear.

Rudaw: The society has moved on ever since, and now there is a quota of 30 percent women in the Kurdish Parliament.

Choman Hardi: Many women in the women’s movement told me the quota was filled with the ‘wrong’ women, who had political or tribal affiliation, but no skills. They are chosen because they would not threaten the system. The Kurdish government fights an invisible war against women. It changes the laws but does not implement them, yet it tries to appear democratic and progressive. It says it changes the patriarchal system, but that always finds ways to become stronger.


Rudaw: If you women are not considered equal to men, what effect does that have, if the violence is so near the surface?

Choman Hardi: This is where the idea of women as dispensable beings comes from. She’s not very important or capable, she cannot rule, she cannot make decisions. She is only good for things like house care and child bearing and rearing. If she cannot abide by these traditional values, she is of no use. And as she’s not a full human being, of cause you can get rid of her.

The fact that it happens and has for a long time, and that hardly anyone gets caught – all of it encourages perpetrators. The leniency in convicting them remains; before it was in the law and now it is in how many people are brought to justice.


Rudaw: How do you explain that men can kill their children, and that women are involved?

Choman Hardi: Patriarchy is not a war between men and women. It is a fight against women by a system, which also includes women. Many women have internalized the patriarchal values through socialization, religion and tradition. And when you believe in the system, you will oppress women who cross the line.

When you want to understand how men can kill their daughters, you have to look at the complexity of the value system around them that is supported by culture, religion, the law and gaps in the law – by the discourse surrounding a person that becomes sometimes stronger and more important than his emotional connection with his daughter.

There is this fear behind holding one’s head high and walking as an honorable man. While these feelings are so important, shame and honor are so attached to a woman’s sexuality that a man might not need any evidence against her. He values these images of himself and the social capital they bring more than his love for his daughter.


Rudaw: What can be done to erase these kinds of negative effects on society?

Choman Hardi: I have often felt desperate and depressed when I thought of that. Violence destroyed our bonds with each other, destroyed trust in our communities, friendship, love and respect, and it created hate, selfishness and greed. The sense of community was destroyed by the Iraqi government and later by the Kurdish revolutionaries. In particular during the Anfal campaign when the revolutionaries did not defend the villagers. They were taken by the government and even when they were released they were isolated and looked down on. We need to recreate those severed bonds of love, affection and respect.

We have to work with young people, to get them to think. In 2007 and 2008, on the invitation of the Minister of Youth and Sports, I did many workshops in remote towns and villages. Within three hours of discussion I could already see a change in their views. But it has to be a process of maintenance. If you are providing an alternative discourse, you have to do this continuously.

Now, the only discourse available is the Islamic one, and the young are taking it on. The education system has completely neglected the sense of gender equality. In English (speaking) schools, on top of their dedication to gender equality and democracy they bring in writers and speakers to have another kind of input. But in Kurdistan we do not have a good education system that is dedicated to these equalities, nor the other input.