Via Deutsche Welle — In a sparsely decorated office in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Sulaymaniyah, a group of Iraqi Kurdish women are creating publishing schedules, finishing final drafts, and reviewing photos. Editors Koral Noori and Alaa Lattif debate content, while Tafan Najat works on fashion and beauty stories. With the editor-in-chief set to return to the city later that evening, these three women are preparing for their third issue of ZHIN magazine to go to the printers.
ZHIN, which means woman in Kurdish, is written by women, for women, and is produced by women. In fact, every story and photo in ZHIN, from beauty and lifestyle articles, to stories about refugees and social issues, is managed by an all-female operation.
Giving a Voice to Kurdish Women
ZHIN magazine operates out of an office just over 100 kilometers from the frontlines where Kurdish Peshmerga forces are fighting against “Islamic State” (IS) militants. In this war-torn region where women are frequently discriminated against, this group of female journalists is aiming to do something unique.
“It is very important to show readers and society what is happening with women here [in the Kurdish regions]. Women are facing violence, different kinds of abuse, and stress, but no one is showing this kind of situation. For us [at] ZHIN magazine, every one of the different parts of women’s lives are very important,” said ZHIN’s editor, Alaa Latfit.
“Kurdistan is a pretty conservative society, not in its religion, but its culture. [Somehow] much is changing, you see economic growth, shopping malls and buildings… but women still find it hard to find their voices and be heard,” says editor-in-chief Brigitte Sins, who works with the NGO International Media Support (IMS).
Pushing Cultural Boundaries
In a small, independent media sector, ZHIN magazine is one of the first women’s newsletters, and is leading the effort in giving a voice to Kurdish women. The magazine is part of an initiative by International Media Support to publish two women’s magazines in Iraq – “ZHIN” in Kurdish and “Iraqiyat” in Arabic. While ZHIN targets Kurdish women, Iraqiyat targets a broader audience of women across Iraq – but both magazines have content that focuses on women and is created entirely by women.
The goal for ZHIN magazine’s staff is ambitious, but they’re starting by testing one boundary at a time. ZHIN is striking a balance between celebrating uplifting stories about women while pushing the envelope with harder and more controversial topics. A typical publication may celebrate successful entrepreneurs in one article, while the next article discusses purchasing lingerie, a simple act that remains taboo for most women.
A Vehicle for Change
Crossing the cultural lines is only one part of it. According to Sins, Lattif, and Noori, the fact that they have an all-female office is already out of the ordinary. “Add the portraits of beautiful women on the cover of the magazine, and you are saying something without even opening the magazine,” Sins says.
All of the women at ZHIN see the magazine as a vehicle to push boundaries in the media, but also as a network and a platform to bring together activists and to push civil society forward. Sulaymaniyah, a city known in Iraqi Kurdistan for having a very socially active community, is a good place to start, Noori says.
“One of these things we want to change is the mentality of people and their thinking that journalism is not for women. We are going to show that we are women, we are journalists and we have this magazine, this successful magazine. That is what we want to change first, and from there, we are going to have a role to change other things,” Lattif says.[Read more at Deutsche Welle]