Nov 06, 2013

Iranian Kurdistan: London Conference Addresses Plight Of Kurdish Women

A wide range of speakers gathered in London to discuss the problems Kurdish women face both from their treatment by the Iranian government and from traditional Kurdish attitudes.

Below is an article published by Rudaw:


 “Kurdish women in Iran face a double-whammy: They are a minority ethnicity and they are women in an unequal society,” according to Margaret Owen, an activist and speaker at the third annual conference in London on Kurdish women in Iranian Kurdistan.

“In countries other than Iran, Kurdish women are slightly better off, because they have been able to fight for and hold onto their freedoms,” the human rights activist with long-standing expertise on Kurds, told Rudaw on the sidelines of last weekend’s two-day conference.

A range of speakers including Nazaneen Rashid, a women's rights activist discussing the problem of self-immolation among Kurdish women, and Soraya Fallah, an activist, victim of torture and former Ms Exoti-Lady Kurdistan 2011, participated at the conference. It was held at Colet House, a grand building in west London built as a studio for artists and now owned by the Study Society, an association known for its whirling dervishes and mystical meditation.

“The conference focuses on Kurdish women in Iran, because they face more oppression than Kurdish women elsewhere,” said Giti, one of the organizers, who like the others did not wish to be identified by full name for fear of retribution by the Iranian regime.

The meeting was organized by the Kurdish Women's Project, a London-based charity established in 1998, and Navend, a Swedish organization involved in financing and supporting the series of conferences on Iranian-Kurdish women's issues. 

“In Iran, the treatment of Kurds by the mullahs' regime is awful; beheadings, hangings, stoning, lashing, whippings,” Owen said. “And then people wonder why Kurdish men abuse their wives. As an analogy, in industrial-era Britain, men who were treated awfully on the factory floor would return home drunk on pay-day and beat their wives.  In both cases, the root problem lies with the treatment of the men,” she added.

Iran ranks 130 out of 136 countries in the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index 2013.

Persheng Warzandegan, a sculptor and painter, told Rudaw how she experienced first-hand the oppression of women artists in Iranian Kurdistan.

“I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was young, about 10 or 11 years old.  One day, I showed a painting to my teacher – he struck me across the face because he thought I must be lying.  So he made me sit down and repeat the painting there and then.  My teacher gave me no support or encouragement,” the artist recalled.

But she was undaunted: Aged 13, she won a prize for young artists on television and in the late 1980s left Iran for Holland to work as an artist.  Her troubles did not end on reaching Europe: in May 2000, her studio in Enschede was destroyed in a fireworks explosion, and three years later another studio was burned down in a random act of arson. 

Warzandegan still lives in Holland where she teaches fine art and produces abstract art.  She also sells ceramics and jewelry, a selection of which was exhibited at the conference in London.

This year's conference was the third: Previous meetings have been held in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Sweden, with organizers hinting that next year's will return to Scandinavia, probably to Norway.

Over the years, had the organizers discerned an improvement in the lives of Kurdish women in Iran?

“What changes there have been are small,” said Kwestan Omarzada, an organizer from Navend. “Kurdish women still face problems from their treatment by the Iranian government and from traditional Kurdish attitudes towards women,” she told Rudaw.

“To make real changes, we need to stand together, all Kurdish women, but we need Kurdish men to stand by us too.  There are men, perhaps upstairs here in the building, who support this conference and our plans for Kurdish women; but they would not accept these things for their own women,” Omarzada said.


Photo @flickr by Adam Jones, Ph.D. Global Photo Archive