While some women were celebrating International Women’s Day with slogans, flowers, and pretty selfies, I could not help but wonder, what are they celebrating? Perhaps they live in an “alternative” reality because the situation of women has only improved on a minuscule scale in Kurdistan Region.
Wafa’ Khidir is currently hospitalised in Erbil city with 91% of her body covered in severe burn injuries. She was brought to the intensive burn centre in the city on 03/03/2017 and was able to articulate herself initially, but now unable to speak. Wafa’ attests that her husband set her ablaze to silence her.
Aged just 16, she was married off to her cousin ten years ago. She did not finish her studies, and accepted the marriage proposal out of respect to her father. Despite facing domestic violence from her husband (currently aged 26), she maintained in the relationship for the sake of her two children, one aged nine and another aged just four-years-old.
The only witness to the horrific attack on Wafa’ is her son, Rawa. He explains, “I’m in third grade. The teachers in school told my father that I wasn’t a good student (meaning, he didn’t study). Following this, my father brought me home and hit me severely.”
He goes on to say, “My mother shielded me from my father’s kicks and slaps, but my father started punching and hitting my mother after this. This is why my mother started crying, and she said she will burn herself. She got gasoline and poured a little bit on her feet. I didn’t let her, but my father said “there’s no need for you to burn yourself. I will burn you.” He then told me to bring him a lighter, and I refused and didn’t bring it to him. He threatened me, he said if I did not bring him a lighter, he would set me, my mother and little sister ablaze.”
Rawa further explains the horrific ordeal he witnessed, “My father poured gasoline on my mother. He had a lighter in his hand, and my mother was scared, she told him not to do it. My father then set her on fire in front of my eyes as he ignited the lighter. She was burning all over. I poured water on her to put the fire out and she ran towards the front of the house”.
Following this terrifying ordeal that Rawa witnessed, the neighbours rushed to help as they heard his mother’s screaming and screeching in pain. Rawa has told the police and reporters that they were often subject to abuse by their father.
At times we confuse nationalism and protecting the region’s reputation in the face of increasing adversaries with turning a blind eye to the internal and horrific attitudes towards women in the Kurdistan Region (and to be fair, entire Middle East).
While it is true that Kurdish women enjoy greater freedoms than ever before in the region’s relative history, there still exists a mountain of societal inequalities levied against women both culturally and systematically. There still exists cases of women setting themselves ablaze or being abetted into it — domestic violence — lack of shelter services for women and a host of other issues.
Clearly, the region’s financial crisis, coupled with an ongoing war against ISIS group has impacted the services that are available to women that are victims of violence, but nonetheless, some of the attitudes that exist have nothing to with the war against ISIS or even the financial crisis. The attitudes that must be changed — such as staying with one’s partner for the sake of children or societal ‘shame’ must be changed within our culture, and this does not require governmental legislation.
This change starts when we — as a society — become more welcoming towards divorce, separation and treat it with respect, not gossip, idle talk and defamation of women’s character. It starts when there are more job opportunities for women with limited education, which will enable them to become financially independent, and able to escape the vicious cycle of dependency.