Kurdish women: ‘First to wake up and last to go to bed’
The roles and responsibilities of rural women are different to those of women in urban areas. This is evident in Kurdish communities as well. These roles and responsibilities change along with advances in science and technology, economic, social and cultural stages of a community. The researcher, for example, remembers that during the sixties of last century when he lived in a village, livelihoods depended on agriculture and livestock. Agriculture in the Erbil region is rain fed. Wheat and barley are the major agricultural crops in this area.
During the harvest of wheat and barley in summer, there were no harvesting machines. Harvesting was manually done by men. Women gathered what had been harvested by the men. When the men were tired, they rested for a while but women, instead of resting as the men did, proceeded to care for the children taking care of their hygiene and feeding them. If a woman did not have children, she had to prepare tea and food for men.
They all worked in the field during the day. But after returning home women had to prepare dinner, and bring water from the well, as well as clean the cattle. Women had to fetch water and fuel as well as feed the children.
For instance in the researcher’s village the water was salty and unfit for drinking and it was the women’s duty to fetch water for the family from another area where the water was safe to drink. Sometimes, they would be fetching water until the middle of the night so there would be drinking water for the next morning. In the summer and during harvest seasons, women only got a few hours to sleep. This clearly shows that in the past women were the last in the family go to bed, and the first to wake up in the morning.
But now life has changed and new technologies have been developed, harvesters are available, water and electricity networks are also in place and the way of life in the villages has also changed. However, despite these developments, the division of labour and duties between men and women is just the same as it has always been. They are “first to wake up and the last to go to bed." So they have limited time for other activities outside the home.
One can also say that women are engaged in multiple roles including productive, reproductive, community work, and even defending their society in times of aggression. For instance in 1963 when the Ba’ath party first took over the reign of Iraq and decided to displace many of the inhabitants from certain villages in the region, women fought alongside the men. Despite these multiple roles, women are still subordinate to men and have less say in the decision-making process.
A Kurdish woman baking bread in a village in Kurdistan.