Kurdish women and their history
Women are part of our history, and should not be forgotten about.
We lack a documentation process in Kurdistan whereby the stories of women are codified, and their narratives heard. We have a male version of history that excludes women, and at best does not represent us properly.
This week, I wrote something on ‘The Kurdish national movement’ from a historical perspective. I changed my mind just a day before it was set to be published because of International Women’s day which was widely celebrated throughout Kurdistan, and mother’s day, which happens to fall on the 9th of March in England where my mother currently lives.
Kurdish history has always fascinated me, and more so the role of women. I am not a historian, but have read plenty of books that highlight how strong willed Kurdish women are, and have been historically in championing the rights of Kurds. They seem to have influenced men to a great degree even when they were not lawmakers, and did not have an official political presence. Hay notes in ‘Two years in Kurdistan’ that ‘most chiefs are to a greater or less extent under the thumb of their womenfolk’.
There are many Kurdish female personalities that are both inspiring, and important to highlight on International Women’s Day and other events that are related to the liberation of women. For instance, Hapsa Khan is one of my favorite female personalities in Kurdistan. She was born into a prominent family of Sulaimania province in 1881. It is said that she was the woman ‘whose husband gets up when she enters the room’.
When her father passed away, she turned their family home into an educational institution. On evenings, Kurdish women were taught how to read and write in her home. It is widely acknowledged that she established what is considered as the first Kurdish women’s organization in Iraq. After she passed away in 1953, her home became a public school. She believed that only through education women can be empowered and get their freedom. When she was a young girl, Education was forbidden for girls, instead like other girls during her time, she had to stay at home to learn about cooking, cleaning and serving the family.
Leyla Zana is another example of a woman making history that is relevant to our society now, and contemporaneous. She is the first Kurdish woman elected into the Turkish parliament. After her marriage to Mehdi Zana, who was elected as mayor in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in 1978. Her husband was arrested in 1980, and following his arrest she taught herself how to read, write and speak Turkish. Within a relatively short period of time she became a public figure in her own right, and has since won many awards including the Sakharov Prize in 1996.
Our history is filled with the accounts of thousands of Kurdish women who did great things for our nation. What we have lacked for centuries is a documentation process whereby the stories of such great women are known on an international level, and not forgotten about. Unfortunately, there is little interest given to the field of gender studies locally, and on an academic level. As a result we have little information regarding Kurdish women, and their activism.