Female Academic Networks in Kurdistan
There is a reason behind establishing the Female Academic Network at the University of Kurdistan Hewler. For two years female academics from e.g. University of Kurdistan (UKH) and University of Brighton have formed a research group that has been researching female academics in Kurdistan region. According to the research team (British Academy Research Project Team 2011), women in higher education in the Kurdistan region of Iraq struggle balancing their academic life and duties towards their family. The rapid social change in Kurdistan Region since the fall of the Baath regime in 2003, means that young women face new and challenging situations of living in present-day society. However, there are ways to overcome these struggles.
The research showed that many women who succeed in higher education have received support either from husbands, male members of the family, or peer groups. Establishing a network where female students could empower and support each other to become successful female academics was the idea behind UKH’s female academic network (FAN).
The network was established by two female staff members Lone Bendixen Goulani and Hediyeh Golmohamad and supported by the higher administration at the university. The cooperation with Brighton University inspired them to support UKH’s female students also indicating the importance of continuous inspiration and professional development for female academics in higher education.
The overall aim of UKH’s female academic network is to empower UKH’s female students, and since Kurdistan region is in need of both knowledgeable men and women to take part in the rebuilding process, one of the most important objectives is making the female students reflect upon their education to ensure they get the most out of their time at university.
Another objective is peace building. Even though it is not very evident in the classrooms, the students have reported on conflicts between Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians on Facebook for example. Therefore, extracurricular activities gathering everybody despite religion, ethnicity, or political beliefs are peace building activi- ties that can break the barriers at the university and eventually spread to the broader community, and naturally UKH likes to take an active part in this peace building process.
Female staff members have facilitated activities for female students for more than a year, and the female participants have now become more independent and set up extra workshops on their own. However, they still like to receive the support from UKH staff and have expressed their wishes for future activities ranging from practicing presentation skills, Zumba fitness, guest speakers, and excursions into the society. UKH’s female academics continue to network and inspire others in the region to do likewise.