(Special to Informed Comment) –
Four women were victims of honor killings during the week of February 17, 2022 in Iraqi Kurdistan. The following week, a fifth woman died after being burned alive by her husband. Despite the launch of an app to combat violence against women, the establishment of a support hotline for gender-based violence (GBV) victims, and the passage of Kurdistan’s Combating Domestic Violence Law, 24 women have been victims of honor killings in the last year. The number is higher in Iraq, where 45% of women have experienced intimate partner violence over the same time period.
In Kurdish culture, family members are usually buried within one graveyard. However, cemeteries in several parts of Kurdistan are filled with unmarked graves of women and girls murdered by male family members under the guise of honor. Honor killing victims are buried alone, without respect, which furthers violence in death. Family members visit in secret because they are ashamed, and they fear backlash from their communities.
Some people argue that stronger legislation against gender-based crimes, stronger enforcement of existing laws, and stricter punishment for perpetrators will decrease gender-based violence. However, most female GBV victims are reluctant to take legal action against their husbands or family members because they fear being murdered in retaliation. If GBV victims escape to a shelter, a male relative can demand the victim’s release into his “care,” which often puts her life at risk.
“The main reason behind the increasing number of women killed in the name of honor is that men in our society think they own women entirely, in every aspect,” observes Dr. Twana A. Hassan, a post-doctoral research fellow at the Center for Gender and Development at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. Therefore, the first step towards reducing gender-based violence should be a fundamental re-education of men.
Alex Poppe is the author of the novel,
Jinwar and Other Stories [Click Here]
Current societal views maintain that a family’s position in its community is determined by a woman’s body. A woman can bring honor or shame to the entire family based on her conduct, which reflects patriarchal value systems. These value systems argue that a man’s honor must be safeguarded at all costs, and a woman is responsible for maintaining that honor. If she dishonors the man, key societal institutions such as kinship networks, religion, or the state justify femicide to restore the man’s honor. For femicide to stop, the false idea of male superiority and the subservience of women must be rebuked. Male and family honor is not determined by a woman’s behavior because only the individual is responsible for his or her own conduct and therefore honor. There is an inherent hypocrisy in tasking women with the responsibility for upholding men’s honor while simultaneously deeming them inferior in all other aspects of life.
Tucked away in a corner of northern Syria is a self-sustaining village where women are valued in their own right. The place is called Jinwar, from Jin, which means woman in Kurdish and war, which means land or space. On a plot of dry, stony, barren land, a group of Syrian-Kurdish women planted trees, seeded gardens, made mud bricks and built buildings to create a place for women who want to live independently and break free from violence. Men are allowed to visit during the day, as long as they act respectfully, but they cannot stay overnight. The idea of all-female living spaces is not new. All-female villages were created in reaction to patriarchy, gender-based violence, and the chaos created by war as far back as the 1860s in the Americas, where “wimmin” lands thrived. Together, the women forged strong community bonds from which they endure hardships.
Jinwar was created on the ideas of ecology, equality, and sustainability, advocated by Abdullah Ocalan, founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Ocalan argues that “a country can’t be free unless the women are free.” Accordingly, on a wall in Jinwar reads a sign, “Until women educate and empower themselves, there won’t be freedom.” Another proclaims, “Without women, there is no freedom.” One way the women of Jinwar are empowered is through self-government. The village is led by a council of women whose leadership rotates monthly, giving each woman a turn. The women learn to be self-sufficient. Not only do they build their own house, but they also tend gardens, raise livestock, make handicrafts which are sold to nearby villagers, and practice alternative medicine. In a region beleaguered by war, Jinwar is thriving.
In the Jinwar Academy, classes are given on Jineology, or women’s science, which aim “to break the honor-based religious and tribal rules that confine women.” Women and their children, including their male children, study Jineology while the children also take a school curriculum in accordance with the education system of northeastern Syria for grades one through six. After, they attend junior and high school in a nearby village. When the male children come of age, they can decide to leave or continue living in Jinwar because they have been raised with Jinwar’s values. These male children represent one of the first groups of re-educated men, men who will hopefully treat women without violence or oppression.
Please join Alex for a virtual reading on March 9, 2022 at 7 pm CST. Alex will be in conversation with Kate Wisel, 2019 Drew Heinz Award winner for Driving in Cars with Homeless Men, and will read from her new book Jinwar and Other Stories. To sign up, follow this link.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Informed Comment.