Monday, September 13, 2010

Unveiling Prejudice against women

September 12, 2010 - By Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar

‘Women rights’ are continuously evolving, in many societies women are denied certain privileges that we would perceive as rights in different parts of the world. In order to establish a case of what is seemingly perceived as ‘prejudice’ against women, there are several crucial aspects of Kurdistan that needs to be taken into consideration. The first being, the cultural infusion with religion, and standard of what is right, and wrong. More than often religion is used as a standard to differentiate between what is right and wrong, however what is not taken into consideration is the considerate influence of culture on religion and vice versa which can be counterproductive to understanding the religious scriptures, and cultural standards. Take for example, it is always assumed in Kurdish communities that males can freely date and partake in many things that are socially looked down upon if women were to do the same, and this is done under the pretext of religious justification.

Why does religion influence the Kurdish culture, and in light of the multiple religions in Kurdistan, which religion plays a dominate role on the Kurdish culture, and how much of it, is in fact ‘religious’ influence. These are questions that feminists, historians, and religious figures are continuously addressing, explaining as well as investigating in light of changes made socially. Several changes has been made to the Kurdish culture, some of which are welcomed, while others are disliked, for example the culturally recognised ‘Kurdish dress’ (referred to as Krasi Kurdi).

Kurdish dressing for both men and women are a precious, and unchanging part of Kurdish culture, and heritage. While amendments are made to the colours, the style has been consistent for decades, until recently. Women have ‘re-styled’ this traditional dress to what they perceive as more ‘stylish’ and less conservative. Many women have taken offence to this change as it presumes that the original style of Kurdish dress was not ‘stylish’ or ‘in-tune’ with modern standards of acceptable ‘traditional clothing’. This change has upset historians in particular because the new generation of Kurds are not embracing Kurdish culture in light of the modern, technological changes made in Kurdistan, but are changing the precious elements of it, in a attempt to radically change it’s face to outsiders.

The change in restyling the Kurdish dress is relevant in the context of ‘women rights’, and in particular the rights of women in Kurdistan because it reflects the mentality of women. Kurds are predominantly Muslim, although originally of Christian origin. Historians have noted that Islam reached the Kurds in two ways -- through warfare, and peaceful Bedouins that travelled to the Kurdish lands. What is of significance is the interpretation of the role of women in Islam within the Kurdish society because Kurds are predominantly Muslim.

Islam is a religion that has attracted much thought from the west and east, both from a scholarly, and political perspective. There are no ‘particular’ and ‘codified’ interpretation of the role, and thereby rights of women in Islam. As a result, this gives much room for several interpretations in light of culture. The fundamental beliefs are entrenched, and the minute details are left at the interpreters discretion. Some women have directly blamed Islam for the suppression of women in Kurdistan, and other Kurdish societies, while others have directly blamed the Kurdish culture. Both of these views are extreme, and subject to much criticism because neither the Kurdish culture, nor Islamic religion advocate the suppression, subjection, or oppression of women.

In order to resolve the conflict between the ‘fault’ or ‘problem’ within Kurdistan in respect to women, it is necessary to understand where the fault lies, and what the problem is. In Kurdistan women are left with two conflicting views on ‘empowerment’ and ‘liberation’. Several activists argue, in light of globalisation women have been influenced by the western world’s emphasis on beautification, and ‘sexifiying’ women, and therefore argue women are no longer empowered, but exploited. While others object to this, and define liberation and empowerment in light of their own lives.

For many Kurdish women, their problem is neither cultural nor religious but the attitude of men towards women working, and un-reading patriarchal and male-centric interpretations of religious texts, which needs collective participation and recognition. In other words, women accept religious texts to be in-tune with modern standards of equality, but disregard male-centric interpretations which has been prevalent for decades. In addition, the problem is lack of collective participation and recognition in areas where women are not given their due right, or are deprived of their constitutional rights.

Kurdish women face many battles, and in order for them to win the hearts and minds of the masses, they have to do more than campaigns and networks initiated in the western world. They have to start at the heart, and address contemporary issues collectively with the financial assistance of the government. One can only hope that the women of Kurdistan will be strong enough to start an initiate that infuses cultural standards, religious convictions, and women rights together, for a better future.