Kur­dish women’s strug­gle

Women con­tinue to face vi­o­lence de­spite new laws passed to com­bat honor killings

The Kurdish Globe - - EDITORIAL -

For years, the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Government (KRG) has strug­gled to fight vi­o­lence against women in the re­gion, with statis­tics still in­di­cat­ing high rates of vi­o­lence amid ef­forts by fem­i­nists to chal­lenge the government's strat­egy on this is­sue. In 2002, Kur­dis­tan's par­lia­ment amended Ar­ti­cle 111 of the Iraqi pe­nal code, in­creas­ing the pun­ish­ment for honor killings and con­sid­er­ing them will­ful mur­der. How­ever, Kur­dish women still suf­fer from so­cial and cul­tural trou­bles fac­ing them ev­ery­day.

I could hardly find a vic­tim of abuse, and vi­o­lence to talk. I was in­ter­ested in in­ter­view­ing women who at­tempted to com­mit sui­cide by set­ting them­selves on fire, but no one dared to talk to me, and of­ten made me prom­ise that I would not write about them. Even when I ex­plained that their names will be changed, they still did not feel re­as­sured. The rea­son is ob­vi­ous to me, they were afraid of the men within their fam­ily. Kur­dish so­ci­ety in Iraq is pa­tri­ar­chal, and male dom­i­nance is ob­served in all fields rang­ing from Ed­u­ca­tion, Pol­i­tics, Econ­omy, Busi­ness, Trade, Sport and fam­ily. Kur­dish women have been suf­fer­ing from this male dom­i­nance through­out the course of recorded his­tory. How­ever, the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Government (KRG) strives to turn down the bar­ri­ers fac­ing women to turn out in all fields, par­tic­u­larly in male dom­i­nated fields such as pol­i­tics and econ­omy.

Since vi­o­lence against women is a big deal in the re­gion, the KRG’s in­te­rior min­istry has es­tab­lished a Com­mis­sion to In­ves­ti­gate Vi­o­lence Against Women (CIVAW). Women in the Iraqi Kur­dis­tan Re­gion suf­fer from many is­sues such as honor killing, cir­cum­ci­sion, de­pen­dency, un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion and domestic vi­o­lence. But the is­sue of self-burn­ing amongst Kur­dish women is the fo­cus of this piece. There are sev­eral rea­sons why Kur­dish women set them­selves on fire.

The skele­ton in the cup­board

Fear is one of the rea­sons, says Kardo Rahim, a so­cial re­searcher tak­ing care of women-re­lated is­sues. Women are of­ten afraid from male ‘guardians’ within their fam­ily, and this has led them to make the rad­i­cal de­ci­sion to self-im­mo­late. For in­stance some­times women com­mit sui­cide be­cause they be­lieve their brother, or fa­ther has found out she is in love with some­one. The fear of be­ing hurt, beaten, hu­mil­i­ated, and in the worst pos­si­ble sce­nario killed in an honor-killing forces many women to end their life with their own hands in­stead of the hands of their brother or fa­ther. All love af­fairs be­tween men and women are kept as a ‘se­cret’ un­til that holy day where the prospec­tive bride is of­fi­cially asked for within her fam­ily. Iron­i­cally, if peo­ple re­veal the se­cret of a woman that she is in love with some­one, and might be in a re­la­tion­ship, there are no con­se­quences for the man within that re­la­tion­ship. In such a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, love af­fairs are con­sid­ered as pride­ful for men but los­ing honor for women.

Ar­ranged mar­riage

Forced mar­riage is the sec­ond rea­son be­hind self-burn­ing ac­cord­ing to Zhino Mo­hammd, a fem­i­nist work­ing for a NGO that deals, and fo­cuses on women-re­lated is­sues. Some­times fa­thers, and brothers put pres­sure on a girl to marry some­one she doesn’t love, or even like. In such cases, sui­cide is seen as a ‘way out’ of the mar­riage. How­ever, sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of women give into the pres­sure ex­erted on them by their fam­ily to ac­cept, and marry the man cho­sen by her fa­ther or other male rel­a­tive.

Forced mar­riages can lead to bad treat­ment by the hus­band be­cause re­la­tion­ships are suc­cess­ful by virtue of the emo­tional at­tach­ment that is cre­ated be­tween two peo­ple. Women in forced mar­riages re­sent their hus­band, and are un­able to form any mean­ing­ful at­tach­ment to them as a lover, or part­ner. Women who are treated badly by their hus­band in forced mar­riages of­ten face domestic vi­o­lence, ver­bal and sex­ual vi­o­lence. The prob­lem for th­ese women is that they are of­ten not em­ployed, or with­out proper ed­u­ca­tion. Con­se­quently, if they were to go back to their par­ents house they are likely to be brought back to their hus­band once more. This is why women see sui­cide as a way to es­cape the vi­cious world that they have been forced to live in.

Ed­u­ca­tion and Econ­omy

The ab­sence of ed­u­ca­tion and free econ­omy is the fourth rea­son why Kur­dish women set them­selves on fire, ac­cord­ing to Rahim. If a woman has a job and her own free econ­omy, then she can eas­ily ask for di­vorce and live by her own. She will be care­free from her hus­band and her fa­thers and brothers.

Ed­u­ca­tion opens the door to free­dom, and per­sonal sovereignty. It gives women power, con­trol and the abil­ity to make choices in their life be­cause with­out an ed­u­ca­tion they are un­able to get de­cently-paid jobs. Edu- cated women are more con­fi­dent, and have higher self-es­teem be­cause they be­lieve in them­selves, their in­tel­lect and abil­ity to make ra­tio­nal choices. This is com­pared to women who are afraid of es­cap­ing from abu­sive mar­riages be­cause they don’t know how to be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent af­ter a di­vorce.

Why fire to end life?

I was al­ways in­trigued when peo­ple won­der why women who end their life by set­ting them­selves on fire choose such a hor­ri­ble, and painful way to end their life. They live with fire, and it is part of their life be­cause they use fire to cook. The tools they use for cook­ing are gas burn­ers. They have two eas­ily tools, Gas and Kerosene to end their lives.

The CIVAW fig­ures pub­lished in 2009 show that 414 women in Kur­dis­tan Re­gion were burned. That fig­ure in­cludes ac­ci­dents and in­ten­tional burn­ing by women them­selves. The CIVAW fig­ures show that 57% of those cases were ac­ci­dents and 38% of the women burned them- selves, while 5% was un­known. But its lat­est fig­ures is­sued in 2011 says self-burn­ing in Kur­dis­tan in 2010 was plunged by 50% while the ac­ci­den­tal burn soared by 20%.

Is there a law to ban self-burn­ing?

The Kur­dish government strives to tackle this is­sue by Law. They have on a con­sis­tent ba­sis set up com­mis­sions and NGOs to con­sider ways that could end all vi­o­lence against women. The Kur­dish Par­lia­ment is­sued a law in 2007 that holds those re­spon­si­ble for the self-burn­ing of women. This means, women who are pres­sur­ized into forced mar­riages, or those who are abused within their home, are in­ves­ti­gated ap­pro­pri­ately. Con­se­quently, fa­thers and brothers may be held li­able legally for mur­der if proven that through the pres­sure they ex­erted on the girl within their fam­ily (or any other woman) it led to her com­mit­ting sui­cide. What is quite trou­bling is that the rate of women who die from ac­ci­den­tal fire is greater than the rate of those who set them­selves on fire. Some­times, fam­i­lies claim that the burn­ing of a girl was ‘ac­ci­den­tal’ even if it were not. How­ever, the government has es­tab­lished a com­mit­tee that looks into th­ese cases to find out the truth, and hold those re­spon­si­ble li­able.

Kur­dis­tan has changed dras­ti­cally in the past years. There are dozens of women-led or­ga­ni­za­tions and NGOs that strive to end all vi­o­lence against women. The KRG has passed numer­ous laws to en­sure the rights of women are pre­served, and within Kur­dis­tan’s gov­ern­men­tal sys­tem women are given a quota of 30%, which en­sures that they are rep­re­sented on a gov­ern­men­tal level. Th­ese are great in­di­ca­tors that Kur­dis­tan is on a path to­wards cre­at­ing a so­ci­etal that is fair, and free from pa­tri­archy.

Women ac­tivists rally against vi­o­lence against women in Kur­dis­tan Re­gion.

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