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Erbil Seminar Spotlights Kurdish Women’s Struggle

The article below originally appeared in Rudaw on November 24th, 2015.

The struggle of Kurdish women in a male-dominated society and the violence against them in the war by Daesh (ISIS) was the focus of a seminar in Erbil on Tuesday, gathering academics, writers, journalists, students and activists.

Seminar on Kurdish Women

The event, sponsored by Erbil’s Middle East Research Institute (MERI) also discussed the role of the media in giving a voice to terrorist organizations.

An academic, a journalist and a writer each presented a major issue regarding women and the conflicts they face through war, using Kurdish women as an example.

Grill Hague, professor emeritus at the Center for Gender and Violence Research at the UK’s university of Bristol and a frequent visitor to Kurdistan, noted how ISIS was different in that it advertised its sexual crimes.

“We have seen sexual slavery in war countries while the soldiers are ashamed of talking about it but what is surprising with ISIS is they are not ashamed of it and they publish it,” Hague said.

Sexual Violence as a Weapon

In August, the UN Security Council warned that rape and sexual violence were being used as a direct weapon of war in Syria and Iraq.

“Rape is a deliberate tactic of the war,” said Hague.

“We need to think about displaced people. At least 80 percent of people who are displaced by war are women and children. In the war, 90 percent of people experience severe sexual abuse,” she added.

Hague praised the Kurdish Peshmerga women who are fighting alongside the men and said: “The picture of violence against women during the war is not monochromatic and women are not always victims, because women can be combating as we have brave women combating as Peshmerga women.”

Social Media in War

Taman Shakir, a journalist, talked about the role of the media in war and what steps it can take to combat terrorism and terrorist organizations, especially through social media.

“The most well-known and empowered terrorist group is ISIS because they have specialists in technology, and media,” Shakir said.

She noted that from just a few websites belonging to terrorist organizations, the number had grown to 5,800 today.

“Media and terror is a circled relationship because it is media that works for terror,” Shakir said, adding that weapons are not the only solution to fighting ISIS. “Kurds need education to fight ISIS mentally,” she said.

Shakir said Kurdish media lacked unity and independence, and were therefore without one voice about a conflict.

“Media in Kurdistan failed to form one voice about the current conflicts that the region experiences, such as the economic crisis,” she said.

One of the questions raised was over whether the media should publish or broadcast all ISIS activity.

“Kurdish media should place a limit for running news about ISIS, because some believe it is awareness and some find it as a promotion for terrorism activities,” said Shakir.

Fighting for Yezidi Women

Sophie Musset, a writer, said he had heard so much about a battalion of Yezidi women for Shingal that she had to go and meet them, which she did recently.

Musset said that the Yezidi women fought with heart. She recounted one of the women telling her she had spent one month on the frontlines, and it was the best month of her life.

“The Yezidi women do not hate Arabs or Kurds. They hate ISIS and they are fighting for the sake of abducted Yezidi girls,” Musset said.

Politicized Media

Nazand Begikhani, senior research fellow at the University of Bristol, noted the role of the media as an important part in the process of governance and decision-making.

Begikhani complained that Kurdish media are too focused on political issues, giving little space to social and gender issues.

“Media in Kurdistan are more political party affiliated and they do lack independency because they serve as transmit belt for party agenda,” she said.

Kurdish media reproduce traditional norms and gender patterns, and even those that claim to be private and independent are not quite free, she added.

She highlighted the role of the Internet, and how it had helped women raise their voice and go beyond geographical boundaries to take part in international debates.

But new technology also had placed new challenges for women, she said, especially cyber-violence in the form of the sexual images of women.

[To read more visit Rudaw]

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