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UKH spotlights women’s issues on global day

By A.C. Robinson 8/3/2018
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Raising awareness about gender-based violence and empowering women were the focus of a week of events marking International Women’s Day at the American Corner Erbil Hub of University of Kurdistan-Hewler (UKH).

“This country needs this type of event to raise awareness for women,” said UKH student Sherko Mohammed, aged 19. “Even in this university people are ignoring or even making fun of this event and the people at this university are educated and not traditional in any way but they think these things are pointless, so imagine what people on the outside think.”

“I hope these events happen more often because we really need them,” he added.

Sexual harassment was the topic of a panel on Monday. 

“Not just in this society, in every society, we can never eliminate sexual harassment, but I think we can reduce the number by creating awareness, that is the main objective,” said Nisah Kamaruzaman, deputy librarian at UKH and moderator of the panel.

“It’s also like a self-assessment, where we are today in terms of sexual harassment, is awareness there? Do people even understand what sexual harassment is? That is why I find that this topic should be there to create awareness among the audience which has come today and to assess us as an organization where we stand,” she added.

Panelists and audience members challenge an assertion by Rang Kalameard, human resources director at UKH, that there have been no reported cases of sexual harassment at the university. 

Even though none have been reported, it doesn’t mean that sexual harassment isn’t happening, people argued, which is why it becomes even more important for anyone, man or woman, who has been harassed sexually not to feel ashamed, but to feel comfortable enough to go to people in power to report any incident. 

“The students were very interactive with the speakers, so they want things to be changed,” said Bahar Sabah Kareem from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “They want to speak out, they want to show people that there are some cases going on and they want to stop it.”

“I have a special message for females. I know a lot of females, they cannot go out and work what they want. We have lots of challenges. Kill your fears, if you fail, start again. If you are not doing something wrong and you believe in your goals, do it because that is your dream, and you know what is best for yourself, more than anybody else,” Kareem added.

An event on Wednesday shone a spotlight on traditional gender roles where the family choices of James Bowkett, which are unique in the Kurdistan Region, were among the topics of another panel. 

Bowkett, a geologist from the UK is currently a stay-at-home father while his wife works in Kurdistan. 

“It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect men in Kurdistan to take the sort of steps that I have taken now,” he said. “However, my [Kurdish] colleagues are more willing to take on more work than in previous generations have been seen for women. I do perceive that some of my colleagues here think that there is a growing willingness to make sure there are opportunities available for women as well.”

The American Corner also put on an exhibition of artwork created by female artists in the Region and hosted Women in Kurdistan Gala Event that featured dancing and singing performances, including a live show by singer Dashni Morad.

In addition to artwork being displayed by local and foreign artists, local handicrafts from Kurdistan, such as candles and jewelry were being sold.

Gulan Ahmed, a UKH student volunteering to organize the event, said she hoped the many different women invited to share their experiences and successes would inspire others to follow the same paths and encourage change in this society and in Kurdistan.

“There are a lot of challenges for women in terms of the family and support when women want to be part of certain areas, for example business, to be a business woman,” Ahmed said. “But some families have restrictions and do not allow women to go and follow their dreams which can make women feel frustrated.”

“The advice I can give to any women in this society is to never give up on their dreams and raise their voices one day their dreams will become a reality if they do not give up,” she added.

International Women’s Day has been held annually for well over a century to celebrate women’s achievements internationally throughout history, and with global movements fighting for women’s equality such as #MeToo and #TimesUp people across the world are striving for equal rights.

“The university has always celebrated it very well, but as American Corner we’re supporting them in that we’re doing a program every day on one aspect of women’s progress,” Lesley Gaj, director of the UKH Library and American Corner Erbil, said of the week of events for International Women’s Day.

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