The situation of Kurdish women

Dear comrades,

after my 3 weeks‘ stay in Kurdish Iran you asked me about my idea of “Kurdish women”. I am very happy this is an important topic to you and that you think, my impressions can bring you forward in your political work. Yet, I have some remarks before getting to the core of the question.

  1. I will not tell you anything about “the Kurdish women” just as I would never say anything about “the German women” or “the European women”. This is, because human beings are never simply their nature, but cultural and social beings embedded in society and the historical context. What I want to say is that the question we have to ask is about “the situation of Kurdish women”, not about “Kurdish women” as such. On the one hand this focusses on the fact, that millions of women are forced to a way of life, which is not their natural determination. It is a fundamental injustice that society burdens on them. On the other hand, the fact that this injustice is socially made also gives us the perspective to change the situation. If we are responsible for a culture, that is taking away women’s humanity, we can also bring back our humanity.

I know you probably are very aware of this and this inaccuracy was mainly a difficulty of language. Still it is important to me to emphasize the difference between the question of “the Kurdish women” and “the situation of Kurdish women”. It may seem pedantic and hairsplitting, but in fact it is the difference between the idea of natural and the idea of social human life and therefore the question whether we can change the existing injustice or not.

Although, when I got the chance to compare the goaty and the human patriarchal fights, I was very tempted to throw away all I’ve learned from social theories so far and believe that humans are animals just like any other animal. This experience makes it even more important to think about how patriarchal culture works to oppress women and picture it as a natural order.

  1. I find it quite interesting that you asked me about Kurdish women. There are so many fields of social and political life. But obviously you considered me as an ‘expert’ on the women’s question without knowing very much about my political conviction or expertise. I wonder what you would have asked me about if I was a man. Probably you would have been very interested in my view on other social relations such as economy, political and workers’ movement and the like – fields that are generally understood as more general than the women’s question, as if patriarchy was not determining all our lives in the production and reproduction of society.

You also could have asked me about my impressions of education and raising children in Kurdistan, which is the major topic of my studies. I made some very interesting observations on that and it is, without doubt, an essential question in culture and reproduction of human life. But apparently you saw me as an expert on the women’s question, as far as I can judge only for the reason that I’m a woman. But I am also a worker, a mother, a pedagogue, etc.

Please don’t get me wrong: As I already said I am very happy, that you care about the topic and that you want to understand my perspective. Nevertheless, isn’t it also part of the degradation of women, that we are asked for our perspective on our own oppression only – as experts on what we experience directly and on the opposite side from men? And not on our perspective on fields of social life, in which men and women have more in common? Apparently, female expertise cannot get a perspective that is general enough for general social theory, so we are pushed to the field of women’s oppression and women’s emancipation only. But we as women are just as human as men. So, our perspective on social relations is just as general as a male perspective and therefore an essential counterpart to androcentric (male-centred) ‘general’ social theory.

  1. I have some difficulties in finding my role in writing this letter. I don’t want to write another ethnological report that in the end just functions to show white and western supremacy over other cultures in a colonial tradition. I did not come from outside to visit Kurdistan like a zoo and later on tell my observations of Kurdish behavior. This may sound ridiculous, but I actually see this as a danger in writing from my perspective as a visitor to Kurdistan, especially as I came with very little knowledge of the Kurdish language. Therefore, I could only observe social relations and interactions on a mostly non-verbal level and must have missed many details of oppression but also of resistance.

So why am I writing this letter despite these problems? This is, because I am not only an observer from outside. I was in Kurdistan as a woman and therefore was integrated in the male-female-relations. Though, I was put into an interesting position in between. Apparently, as a visitor from the west, I was not supposed to fulfill all the domestic work other women did, including other visiting, but local women. Social rules of behavior applied to me in an alleviated way. There seemed to be a conflict between my position in the patriarchal system and my position in the system of global inequality. In the one system I am the oppressed, in the other system I am the glorified privileged. While I was supposed, as a woman, to integrate into doing the domestic work, I was also, as a white westerner, supposed not to do too much work, respectively to be served by the local women (and partly men).

This conflict also affected my reaction to the oppression of Kurdish women: On the one hand I wanted to give my solidarity to the women who have to serve the men, on the other hand I did not want to integrate into serving those who were sitting on the carpet giving orders to the subordinated beings in the house – or not even giving the orders because everybody already knows the female house duties: make the table, prepare and bring the food, wait for all men and visitors to finish to eat their leftovers, clean the table, bring the tea, …

In this regard, we also have to consider that I spent a lot of time in a small village close to Marivan. This is where I saw the most extreme forms of women’s oppression that struck me so much. So, what I am writing here might in parts seem unjust or exaggerated for wider parts of Kurdish society. On the other hand, the oppression in other places and settings was only slightly more subtle. I can’t find an essential difference between an order addressed to a woman or a woman fulfilling an order, that was not explicitly expressed, because everybody knows her role and duties. Of course, it is true that in very few exceptions – in some communist urban households – I actually saw men taking part in domestic work. This can at least give us some hope. But it is just a very small group of people in Kurdistan who live in such rudimentary emancipated relationships. And as long as there is even one woman being oppressed because of her gender, we have to fight patriarchy! So, we have a very long way to go.

Nora Braecklein

The fulltext in PDF: The situation of Kurdish women

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