Feminism in Kurdistan

Taffan A Taha

By Taffan Ako Taha:

I was just ten years old when I first visited my motherland, Kurdistan. As I was growing up in Sweden, my father made sure I visited Kurdistan as much as possible. He wanted me and my sister to always remember where we came from, to be familiar with our mother tongue, our traditions, our history and never forget our roots. It is common conception that Kurds raised in Europe cannot hold onto Kurdish culture. Many believe that living in a European country will only cause the two cultures to clash because of their vast differences. Our frequent family trips to Kurdistan prevented this from happening.

On my first visit to Kurdistan, I was very young and therefore lacked knowledge about women’s rights and feminism. However, as I grew up I started to notice something on all my trips. Each time I visited Kurdistan I experienced the significant division of genders. I found it very strange to see how dominant the men were and how big their role was in Kurdish society, compared to the women. Women’s rights kept engaging my attention. My frequent travels to Kurdistan every year only helped to increase this interest.

We Kurds have an absolutely beautiful culture comprising many fascinating traditions, cuisines, ideals and customs. Our way of cherishing the sanctity of family life, our high respect for elders and our tradition of learning important social codes from an early age are just some of our great qualities that I admire. Unfortunately, just like any other ethnic group, we also have some qualities that we need to work on.

I am only 19 years old and recently made the decision to return to my homeland to work on the issue of women’s rights and other projects. When I came back, I had a goal and I knew exactly how to achieve it. I knew that I had to reach out to young girls here; I knew how to make sure my message came across to these people; and I especially knew of all the criticism I would encounter. I soon realised that my task was much harder than I had anticipated but, despite all the obstacles, my determination was not weakened.

I meet and discuss with Kurdish girls and women frequently. Many share their stories about issues they have with family or school and it’s important they have people to listen to their concerns. I talk to them about the importance of education, independence, work and their role in society and make them aware of their rights. It’s sad and shocking to see that a large number of females in Kurdistan are not informed or aware of the rights they have and don’t have.

I also visit small villages outside the big cities, such as Slemani and Hawler, and talk to young girls and boys. Given their young age, I simply ask them about their goals and dreams. When conversing with the young boys, I try to encourage them to recognise the importance of the women in their lives and how they must support them. On occasion, I talk to the parents about many important topics, such as female circumcision (which is more common in small villages), asking how it can still be acceptable and reminding them of the severe health risks..

When I came to Kurdistan, I did not expect everyone to share or instantly agree with my thoughts. This was acceptable to me as everyone is entitled to their own opinions and views. However, I also didn’t anticipate the shocking lack of knowledge of many men and women on these topics. I didn’t expect to be greeted with such ignorance. Not long ago, I held a lecture at Taparash School and there I met a young man in his twenties. He argued that, “Kurds are being tortured and hanged every day. We have so many enemies trying to bring us down and it’s a constant battle, and yet you want to sit here and talk about women’s rights?”

My answer to this young man is simple. I am aware of our constant struggle against our oppressors. It is indeed a hard battle and I wish nothing but peace and independence for my motherland. However, even though our fight for independence and rights as a nation should never be forgotten, it is illogical – perhaps even hypocritical – to turn a blind eye to the battles we face within our own society. The issue of women’s rights should never be ignored or pushed aside. The time has come to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Did you know that honour killings are still occurring all over Kurdistan and even outside of Kurdistan? Recently, there was a full-length documentary about the honour killing of a Kurdish girl called Banaz in England. This was broadcast on British television with all of the United Kingdom gaining this negative perspective of Kurds. Is this the kind of image of Kurdish culture that we want to present to the world?

Did you know that one in three females are still being circumcised in villages? Are you aware of the violence young women put up with every day from husbands, fathers, brothers?

I have returned for a reason and it saddens me that many people cannot see that reason or its significance. I have also noticed that many people – like that young man – who complain of Kurdistan’s problems, rarely do anything to help matters but only point them out.

I don’t expect women’s issues to be our main priority but it should definitely be at the top of our lists. We as Kurds have so many things to work on within our society.  However, they are not going to be solved if people remain passive. If there is an issue that bothers you, it’s imperative for you to try and make the issue known and raise awareness. Otherwise nothing will change.

Children of Kurdistan are still being raised in a society characterised by patriarchal norms and significant gender inequalities. We must ensure our women acknowledge their own competencies and encourage them to freely express their opinions and ideas without being scared of getting a ‘bad reputation’ for speaking up. I think Kurdish women need to improve the way perceive themselves and their role in society. They need to realise that they are as much a part of society as men and therefore have every right to be involved in developing it. It’s about time we show a willingness to give our women a place in the Kurdish community on an equal footing to our brave and intelligent men. But no one is going to give women their rights: we have to stand up and take them alongside the men, and with the support of the people around us.

I will not lie and say it’s easy trying to deliver your message without it being misunderstood by people here. Many people take my words as a threat instead of trying to understand them. My thoughts are based on my experiences and what I think is best for the future of our country. Ignorance is, unfortunately, one of our nation’s major problems and I think that people who still defend the outdated ways of thinking, such as the idea that business and politics are ruled by men only, are the most ignorant. It is both men’s and women’s influence in society that, ultimately, leads to success, stabilisation and economic prosperity. We live in a society where we do not question the old and outdated ideals. We fail to see that we are creating obstacles to a successful and cooperative society. We are holding half of ourselves back. It is even more disturbing to see how many women are forced to accept this as though it were the natural order of life. It is not.

Women must start overcoming these obstacles by speaking up against their oppressors and building prosperous futures for themselves. I believe that we have to start by changing the mindset of the younger generation so that we can overcome this way of thinking. Even though our values are usually built on religion and culture, I feel we need to break from this tradition and focus on updating our social norms so as to stimulate the development of our society.

I don’t believe that, for women’s rights to be acknowledged, we should conflict with men. I do not encourage a bigger gap between the two genders, but rather want them to unite on an equal level and I do not assume this change will happen overnight. My intention is to raise awareness of this topic and hope that, by informing the uninformed, we can begin to take steps towards improved rights for women. Furthermore, women can start to realise their capabilities and become encouraged to take their place in society.

Kurds have been oppressed for so long that oppression is the only thing we know. As a result, we even oppress each other – for example, the conflicts of Bashur vs. Bakur. PKK vs. KDP and Men vs. Women.

We shouldn’t be fighting each other – there are already enough people fighting us. Instead we should encourage each other and grow as a nation.  I’m sure we all want our country to make some changes in different aspects, whether political or social. Things like these won’t change overnight: rather you have to give it a lot of time and work. We can start to work towards a better future by tackling each issue, and I believe women’s rights is an important one.

I finish by praying that I will be alive long enough to see my beloved Kurdistan independent, with improved human and women’s rights. I hope to see a strong nation, free from oppression, and defined by diplomacy and freedom.

Taffan Ako Taha was born in 1994 in Suleymania, Kurdistan, and went to Sweden with her parents at the age of two. She grew up in Sweden and graduated High School at Malmo Latin. She studied Danish, German and English. Soon after graduating she decided to return on her own to her motherland Kurdistan and put to work her passion for women’s rights. Today she’s an activist living in Suleymania. Taffan is majoring in Law and, in her free time, she likes to write a lot and read books, mostly about Kurdish history.

Copyright © 2013 Kurdistantribune.com

9 Responses to Feminism in Kurdistan
  1. Zhyan
    December 1, 2013 | 02:16

    So young yet so intelligent and brave! Keep up the work you’re amazing for doing this. I feel a sense of peace knowing someone out there wants to fight for improved rights in Kurdistan!

  2. Kuvan Bamarny
    December 1, 2013 | 08:51

    Women in kurdistan have been divided into two groups ,religious and none religious or in another word liberal and conservative.Those who follow the judo-Christian definition of women rights ( Except church Nuns) are considered liberal, but those who follow the Moslem definition of women rights( wear scarf) are conservatives.However, the rights of women in kurdistan ,are granted and no man can force or oppress any woman unless she takes it upon herself, or let it go ,without making a complaint to the police.
    The religious women usually (mostly Moslems women ) do not care much about the judo-Christian concept and definition of women rights .They rather go by the definition of what Islamic shria law defined for them as what are women`s rights.

    For example , I once asked a Moslem religious married woman that if she would make a complaint to police if her husband beat her slightly , She said no she would not .
    I also asked her if she would agree and give permission to her husband to merry a second or a third wife. She said if the conditions that have been mentioned in Quran ,are met, she would definitely agree to it. Whereas a liberal woman would not let her husband beat her slightly or none slightly nor would she agree her husband merry a second woman under no conditions. So you choose for yourself what fits you and work the best .That is the beauty of freedom and democracy.

  3. Kurdish
    December 1, 2013 | 14:30

    This is probably one of the most ambitious I have read in my life. I strongly agree with every single word in this article. I strongly support every single idea in this article. I am really happy that there such strong passionate women in our society.
    I believe that women rights is a part of men’ rights since both are living beside each other. A person can not be free since he is taking away somebody else’s rights. In our society neither men nor women are free and comfortable. Once men decided to give up on conquering women, everyone will be free and comfortable and that is how we will unleash women’s energy and minds to build alongside with men’s energy and minds a civilized and healthy society.
    Thanks Taffan Ako. I wish you success and safe.

  4. Dr. Sherzad Al-Khalifa
    December 2, 2013 | 10:50

    It is so encouraging that we see a young, intelligent and socially aware about the life of women in Kurdistan. What is more important is that she wants to do something positive and to start doing it. We need more people to do just this vital work despite the incredible difficulties that they will face. I hope that they will not be disheartened and then leave. Having myself left Iraq in 1970 I stayed in contact with my family and helped when I could the Kurdish fight for freedom. Having worked over 30 years at a UK university with all the privilege that goes with it I decided to give back something to the academic system in Kurdistan. I joined University of Duhok. Despite that most my colleagues there are nice on personal level. However, they were definitely not academic in every sense of this word despite having reasonable salaries compared with other government employees . They did absolutely very little in terms of proper lecturing. Their departmental meeting was conducted as a tribal meeting with the Head of the Department sitting on a very large padded chair behind his desk and all staff sitting without saying anything that was not in support of the head. No minutes of the meeting were taken no tasks was given or followed up. I my first departmental meeting and after about two hours of useless talk someone said it is praying time and the whole lot of them left the room without the head or anybody saying whether the meeting was postponed or will be convened at another time etc. Laboratories were left to run ( in fact not run) by assistance while the academic in charge was having tea somewhere else. Over two year I tried to implement “some” professional work ethic despite the full support of the university’s President but nothing has changed. This made me with great sadness to return back to UK. I am now writing my memoir about these two extraordinary years in Duhok.

  5. Zardasht Baban
    February 9, 2014 | 12:33

    Hej Taffan
    dast xosh , you write nice,du uttrycka dig fint , fortsätt så…! imponerande ! om du skriver på fb så vill jag att du skriva din så att jag kan follow your writtings . Sopas

  6. saya
    January 25, 2015 | 19:08

    I am a 15 years old kurd living in holland and I have experienced the exact same lets say vision on Kurdistan we always used to go to Kurdistan when I was younger and I tbh loved it. But we decided to live in Kurdistan and my vision on kurdistan immediately changed.. my friends were sold while only being 14/15 I wasnt able to go out and was being followed all the time and men overthere make you feel like being a woman is a punishment and i really feel bad for a lot of girls and woman in kurdistan but i have no idea how.. ideas and thoughts are always welcome!

    • Lasse Riise
      May 24, 2015 | 01:28


      This is exactly why the return of the Kurdish diaspora (and especially women) to the homeland is the ONLY chanse Kurdistan has to modernize and hence survive in the future.
      The Kurdish diaspora (especially Young women) brings with them highly scilled competense and most of all new idèas that could enable Kurdish sovereignity to survive into the future.
      It’s extremly important that the Kurdish diaspora returns to help build a MODERN Kurdistan.
      Even though, it will be a struggle to bring Kurdistan into the modern era, it will be a decisive struggle for Kurdistans survival. If modernization fails, Kurdistan will fall in the end.


      It’s very sad thing when good and competent people give up. More than anything else, Kurdistan desperately needs to modernize its educational system. This is the very basic condition, if Kurdistan ever shall become able to build a lasting prosporous economy. Which in turn is a pre-condition for any kind of Kurdish sovereignity to stand a chanse to survive in the long run.
      The conclution is in short; if modernization of education fails the entire economy will fail and finally sovereignity of the nation itself will fail in the end. So, the stakes for the entire Kurdish nation is indeed very high.

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