Monday, 02 July 2012, 07:54 GMT
Kurdish women- subjugation or integrity

Kurdish activists seen in this File photo./PRESS PHOTO

The Kurdish Globe
By Behrooz Shojai

Recently I listened to a sermon held by a religious cleric, a mullah in Erbil. The mullah had objections against some new legislations voted through by the Kurdish parliament. The new laws prohibit corporal punishment of minors and violence against the women, including female genital mutilation.

The mullah objected against the integrity of the women, who he considered to be decadent. He described the Kurdish mothers and daughters of old times in a way that brought reminders of Afghanistan under Taliban-ruled. The striking point in his discourse was the frequent use of "kurdayeti", i.e. the notion of Kurdishness or Kurdish nationhood.

According to him, it was the divine right of the father to administer corporal punishment to his teenage daughter if she did not obey him. Females should be chastised to preserve their virtuosity, in accordance with what he called Kurdayeti and Shafite law school. Is controlling the women really a Kurdish virtue, or is this Saudi-trained mullah's discourse just an attempt to Talibanize the Kurdish society?

What I have experienced from my rural and tribal, and even urban background, the Kurdish women possessed bigger freedom and equality compared to other Muslim nations. Throughout our history, the Kurdish women have had an active role in the shaping of the society. In fact many Kurdish women have become icons in the process of Kurdish nation-building.

I will use the testimony of others to describe the notion of Kurdayeti. For this I will go back when religion in the Kurdish context was about piety, virtue and salvation, not the control of the state of terror. The Kurdish women were seldom subjugated by men, being their husband, father and brothers. They partook in the decision-making process and had a great deal in the affairs of the family and society.

Here are some examples of the testimonies that foreigners wrote down about the Kurdish women long ago.

Narrative of a tour through Armenia, Kurdistan, Persia, Volym II, H. Southgate (1840:138)

1 have often remarked the superior importance of the Kurdish women in their families, when compared either to Turkish or Persian females. It was, indeed, one of the few things in the East which reminded me of the Western world,"I mean particularly the free and familiar manner in which they converse with their husbands, sometimes as equals, and sometimes even with an air of authority. There always appeared to me more of mutual confidence and of household sympathies among the Kurds than among their neighbours on either side of them.

The expedition for the survey of the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, F. R. Chesney (1850:127)

The Kurdish women do not cover their bodies so much with apparel, nor do they keep so much by themselves, as in other parts of the East. Cooking, and other domestic duties, devolve upon them, as usual; but, at intervals, they join the guests, and the rest of the family circle, round the blazing hearth.

A winter journey through Russia, the Caucasian Alps, and Georgia, Volym 1 (1839:298,299)

The women of this country are neither immured within the harem walls, nor compelled to wear the head or face-veil; and, as regards freedom of speech and action, they are on a perfect equality with the ladies of Europe.

On entering the house of a Koord, you are not annoyed by the females rushing in every direction to escape notice. During our stay amongst them, we invariably met them unveiled, even when in the presence of the other sex. When they paid a visit to my lady, they expressed no wish that I should withdraw; on the contrary, they preferred my being present. It is exceedingly remarkable that, of all the numerous Oriental tribes, the Koordish women only should have preserved amongst themselves this really modest and primitive custom.

The New Englander: The Kurdish tribes of western Asia, Volym 23, W. Clark (1864:42)

The condition of Kurdish females is in many respects far preferable to that of the women of any oriental nation with which the writer has been acquainted. Their morality greatly exceeds that of the Turkish females, or of those of some oriental Christian nations. They are treated as equals by their husbands, and they laugh at and despise the slavish subjection of the Turkish women. They are very hospitable and attentive to guests, joining freely in conversation with them, in the presence of their husbands and men of their tribe. They go unveiled, and yet are modest and respectful, virtuous, ingenuous, and unsuspecting; they exhibit an easy familiarity which is both attractive and pleasing. Kurdish women are also very intelligent and industrious. Those remaining in the tent, or at home, give much time to the manufacture of carpets, similar to those which are made by the Persians and some tribes of the Turcomans. These are very beautiful, and give evidence of much ingenuity.

Oriental Harems and Scenery, Princess Belgiojoso, New York (1862:419)

I have elsewhere seen Kurdish females, handsome and intelligent, marching along with their faces exposed, and from such a platform of freedom, regarding Turkish women askant under the double protection of a veil and an abatjour of black horse-hair. But these followed their husbands on their venturesome expeditions; they lived in the company of that part of themselves which possesses the most strength and intelligence; their passions, or at least their sentiments, acquired more intensity by sharing their perils and hopes, as well as by a community of interests with beings placed higher than themselves upon the scale of creation.

Journal of Ethnological society of London, On the Kurds, F Millingen (1870:180)

Koordish women are extremely moral, and their character partakes of a masculine firmness and decision. This is referable to the free intercourse between the sexes, which is of course at variance with the Mussulman religion. A Koordish woman is familiar with all the affairs, feuds, plans, and conspiracies of her tribe; indeed she is often the very soul and moving spirit in such matters. As enterprising and enduring as the men, the women here are always on the alert and ready to jump into the saddle.

Narrative of a residence in Koordistan, Volym 1, C J Rich (1836:284)

From this exhibition it may be almost superfluous to add, that the Koordish females in their houses are far less scrupulous than Turkish, or even Arab women. Men servants are admitted, and even from strangers they are not very cautious in concealing themselves. When they are going about the town they wear a blue checked sheet over them like the Bagdad women, and a black horse-hair veil also; but this is seldom pulled down over their faces, except they are ladies of very high rank, and meet any particular people by whom they do not choose to be recognized.

Wild life among the Koords, F Millingen (1870:250)

Koordish women, who are anything but idle, are very firm on the chapter of morals. Their virtue can be put to trial without danger, as, through constant intercourse with men, their character partakes of a manly firmness and decision. This free intercourse between the sexes will be considered rather strange, as the Mussulman religion is at variance with such a custom.

Travels in the Trans-Caucasian provinces of Russia, R Wilbraham (1839:326)

Although Mahomedans, their [Kurdish ]women are unveiled, and they not only share the toils of their husbands and brothers, but sometimes emulate them in feats of horsemanship.