NGO’s cannot raise gender equality and body awareness among women
An interview with Khanda Hammed By Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Khanda Hameed is a Kurdish writer and Philosophy graduate. Hameed has written for Culture Magazine. She is a coordinator of Culture Project in Kurdistan.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You write for Culture Project. I frame the initiative as both a repository and incubator, storage and creation, of Kurdish culture. Houzan Mahmoud recommended you. I trust and respect her. How did you find her, or did she find you (likely both)?
Khanda Hameed: Yes, I wrote for Culture Project, and now I am a coordinator of Culture Project in Kurdistan. Indeed, Culture Magazine (online & print) is the beginning of publishing my writings.
I am delighted to work with Houzan Mahmoud and her colleagues. I have learnt a lot from Houzan; she is a powerful motivator for me to continue in writing and work. In general, I was aware of activities and writings of Kurdish women activists, but I took Houzan’s writings and activities into account in particular.
I believe she is different from others; she criticises patriarchal and tribal rules to build an open and free society in Kurdistan. Therefore, Houzan is a unique woman and feminist, which Kurdish society is in need of her experiences and opinions.
She denounces male-dominated discourse, patriarchal mentality, and Kurdish traditions from a feminist perspective. Her opinions and perspectives are often new or unfamiliar for Kurdish society. Therefore, I feel her tasks are difficult and it takes time to change this male-dominated mentality.
Although, Houzan has been criticised and confronted, she does not give up and continue her activism. For me, all these things make Houzan different from other women’s activists. I personally always read her writings and interviews and have learned from them.
After announcing the Culture Project’s foundation, my husband (Nabaz Samad) and I contacted Houzan to contribute to the project. Nabaz has written some articles in Kurdish and English – he wanted to publish on Culture Project and Magazine’s website.
In the same manner, I would like to publish my writings on Culture Magazine’s web. Therefore, I have sent most of my articles to Houzan if she had any comments on them. She is always updating me with her comments and notes which improve my writings.
I feel that I have benefited greatly from her opinions. I have a strong desire to review Kurdish films to help introduce interesting and quality films to Kurdish audiences. I vividly remember when I wanted to review a film, “Words and Pictures.”
I sent the review to Houzan who approved the idea. However, she wanted me to review films that deal with gender issues. She wanted me to take gender and feminist criticism into account. I concentrated more on gender and feminist aspects of the film within the review.
It is important to bring these issues to light, for Kurdish people to begin reflecting on issues of gender and feminism more seriously. Before Houzan came back to Kurdistan last year to attend a conference, we were in touch from a distance, and occasionally we had discussions on writings via Facebook.
When I met her face to face in Sulaimani and spent a great amount of time with her at the conference and outside, I was excited and delightful with her. After she returned to London, she asked me to be Culture Project’s coordinator in Kurdistan. I was very excited and accepted the position. I believe that this is a big opportunity to work on gender issues in the Kurdish context.
I work alongside a number of talented, experienced writers and intellectuals who want to write and express ideas on phenomena and events in Kurdish society. We work to fill a gender gap and raise gender and feminist awareness in Kurdish society and culture. We are working like a collective group free from hierarchy, we support each other in our activism.
Jacobsen: How did you start contributing to the initiative and orient yourself to the creation of culture alongside Houzan Mahmoud? Why is this a valuable initiative for you?
Khanda Hameed: I have always been very fond of reading and writing, and this passion increased when I started my B.A. in philosophy. I rebelled against social and religious traditions and rituals within Kurdish society.
I was interested in Culture Project because it has a great and positive impact in a short time. It gathered different voices from all corners of Kurdish society. Culture Project supported talented young writers and professionally published their works and writings.
I was aware that Houzan Mahmoud and her colleagues encourage and help a number of young talented writers, artists who found themselves in the project. My husband Nabaz and I wanted to be published on the Culture Project website.
We contacted Houzan. She welcomed us warmly. Houzan constantly helped us through her comments and notes to improve our writings. I write about many issues from different subjects and areas.
I believe that cultural works the likes of which are covered by Culture Project are a business of people who see as their duty to work calmly and wisely to root its influences completely in the society. Culture Project is extremely valuable for me. Houzan Mahmoud is constantly helping me and encouraging me to write and see cultural works as my duty.
Jacobsen: In your written work on the Kurdish language, you speak to the rejection of the body in Kurdish culture (Hameed & Samad, 2017). What is the source of the rejection of the body in Kurdish culture? Or what are the sources of the rejection of people’s bodies in Kurdish culture?
Khanda Hameed: Kurds have a traditional and closed society and culture due to their colonisation; Kurdistan has been colonised by western imperialists and colonialists as well as regional colonialists.
Kurds were colonised because of their Kurdishness and religious identity. In the Islamic world and Kurdish society, the body is mostly ignored and neglected. I think Islam rejects the physical body. In all religions, especially Islam, the soul is seen as superior to the body, and this illusion of soul’s superiority and body’s inferiority is imported to Kurdish culture.
Here in Kurdistan, people cannot imagine an independent body and a body in motion in a dance. In Kurdish classic dance, people are limited in terms of body moves; dancers hold each other’s hands and move in a circle. Even this folklore dance has been attacked and seen as haram (forbidden) and kafir (infidel) by some mullahs and Islamists.
In Kurdish society, individuals could not look at a contemporary dance independently without having a male sexual gaze. They are mostly focused on looking at the sexual organs of the dancers, and see their body as sexual objects since they don’t see the dancers approach and harmony, and the message behind the dance scenes and its value.
I think Islam and the enclosed culture of patriarchy are responsible for all of that since dance is forbidden and the body is considered dangerous. Therefore, it must be covered and motionless.
I believe that gender awareness and dance could fade away this traditional imagination and perception for body and terminate this manly figure which tribal society and Islam shape for an individual. Dance and thinking without religion is one way of this liberation.
A religious person is not free and independent. As a woman, I stand against religious traditions and rituals; I also don’t believe in any religion, especially Islam which is full of violence against humanity as a whole and women in particular.
Islam imposes many restrictions upon women from wearing clothes (hijab), how to speak, how to act, how to behave to how to move her body. That’s why we as women need a kind of rebellion to deflect the expectations of religion and society to control us away from ourselves. I believe we could do that through our writings and activities at Culture Project.
Jacobsen: How are men’s and women’s, and children’s, bodies viewed in general within the culture? Was this the case in decades or centuries in the past?
Khanda Hameed: There is an ambiguity towards the body here because of Islam which always prioritises the soul over the physical body. Kurdistan is a patriarchal society – men’s bodies are normally seen as superior to that of women’s and children.
The sacredness of the male body is unquestionable. Kurdish society impose many restrictions upon women’s bodies to control and discipline it – such as FGM and hijab (veil) which are Arabic and Islamic traditions imported to Kurdish society through Islamic colonisation.
This is done to control women’s sexuality, as well as to discipline body and life of girls and women in extremely closed and repressive societies. FGM is physical violence toward many girls in the Middle East and North Africa.
I have been affected by FGM and endured the brutality of circumcision when I was a child. In the new endeavour of Culture Project “Women’s Self Writing Project.” I talked about this difficult experience as a bitter memory and the physical and psychological violence done to female bodies under the patriarchal, tribal and religious values.
Many women and girls were circumcised, and many girls are living under the threat of circumcision. I felt it was necessary to write about my personal experience and memoir to rebel against and criticise this brutality against women.
Furthermore, in the future, I have a plan to create a campaign against FGM and raise awareness towards the dangerous effects of FGM on the female’s body. I will take efforts until this brutality and cruelty against women have been eliminated.
Here in Kurdistan and the Islamic world, women’s bodies suffer much pain and endure physical and psychological violence as well as harassment and sexual abuse on the streets. In Kurdistan, girls and women are put under surveillance by families and society to control their body.
Families and society impose a curfew on women, and they are punished if they get home after the curfew. Many families, especially religious ones, force their girls to wear hijab. They think that girls’ bodies must be covered and their feelings and impulses silenced to protect their girls – but from what and from whom?
Many girls are forced to wear hijab so that they will be ‘protected!’ The main reason is that girls do not lose their virginities. Tragically, most girls accept this as the right thing to do. Therefore, in my view, sexual abuse and violence against women cannot be terminated until this patriarchal, tribal and religious mentality is not changed and disabled.
Jacobsen: Has there been an influence of “Western culture” to alter some of this in any way?
Khanda Hameed: Yes, it has, but I could not say it is only in a positive way. The influence is both negative and positive. Some people, who haven’t experienced Western culture, attack its ideas. On the other hand, some people see positive dimensions of Western culture and work on it to spread it out here.
We at Culture Project strive to apply western methods, theories and philosophies to our writing, research and analysis of Kurdish culture. We don’t only want to transform Western ideas without having any impacts.
Culture Project doesn’t talk about issues, events and activities only as news, but also we analyse and criticise them and we have our ideas and interpretations about them. I am concerned about western culture, philosophy, gender and feminism especially theories of the body.
This leads me to have a different perspective and better understanding of these issues. Feminist and gender studies, in their analysis and criticism of cultural phenomena, place a great deal of emphasis on the body.
Feminist criticism of phallocentric western culture involves criticism of the mind/body dichotomy. The differences and duality of mind and body, soul and matter in the tradition of Western philosophy stem from Plato and Aristotle to Descartes are a hierarchal dualism and have applied to gender since the mind linked to men and superior to the body which linked to women.
Mind and rationality represent men while body and emotions represent women. Feminist project denounces this dualism. I take Western feminist theory into account seriously.
Jacobsen: Are there movements to change this mentality within the Kurdish culture?
Khanda Hameed: I don’t believe that such a movement exists in Kurdistan because women’s organisations and NGO’s in Kurdistan belong to political parties. Political parties founded these organisations which have a patriarchal and tribal mentality.
In Kurdistan, until now there has been no feminist movement in the true sense of the word. There are only women’s organisations which belong to political parties, and they are more loyal to parties’ ideologies rather than women’s rights, liberation and interests.
These organisations and NGO’s cannot raise gender equality and body awareness among women and in the society as a whole. There has been research and investigation done on women’s issues in Kurdish society.
Women have been shown as victims by these organisations and they published only reports about women’s murder and violence against women as news, therefore, they could not have affected society and forgotten soon.
For instance, Islamic women’s organisations and MPs defended the bill of polygamy in Kurdistan parliament and also defend Islamic sharia law which is discriminatory against women.
In the same vein, most women in the secular and communist parties represent their political parties ideologies and loyal to their parties’ ideologies. As a result, Kurdish women in KRG are not united, and they don’t work together for women’s liberation and rights.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Khanda Hameed: Thanks for this interview I have had an opprtunity to express myself and criticise closed society and religion. Culture Project and its supporters have a dream and hope to fight against tribal, patriarchal and religious mentalities which are harmful to women.
We are part of Kurdish society so we understand and see its problems and issues. Culture Project’s mission is to get society to come together and highlight these problems and seek to find solutions.
We will continue in our efforts to raise gender equality awareness and to build a society in which everyone has equal rights and opportunities and live a life worth living. We struggle for our next generation to avoid them from what we have suffered as women in Kurdish society.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Khanda.
Khanda Hameed: You are most welcome, and thanks for the interview. I wish you all the best. Good Luck.
Culture Project. (2018, March 14). Culture Project Participated In 8 March City Wide Event In Sulaymania-Kurdistan. Retrieved from http://cultureproject.org.uk/2018/03/14/culture-project-participated-in-8-march-city-wide-event-in-sulaymania-kurdistan/.
Culture Project. (2018, March 13). End Child Marriage In Kurdistan & Iraq (Video Campaign). Retrieved from http://cultureproject.org.uk/2018/02/11/end-child-marriage-in-kurdistan-iraq-video-campaign/.
Hameed, K. & Samad, N. (2017, August 15). Karwan Omer – A Kurdish Dancer Who Dances To Liberate Kurdish Bodies. Retrieved from http://cultureproject.org.uk/2017/08/15/karwan-omer-a-kurdish-dancer-who-dances-to-liberate-kurdish-bodies/.
Culture Project. (2018, March 14). Marking International Women’s Day With A Seminar On Feminism & Gender. Retrieved from http://cultureproject.org.uk/2018/03/14/1829/.