Dozens of Kurdish women have collaborated together in an online campaign, intending to end gender-based cyberbullying in the region. The campaign is called #KurdishWomenEmpower, and was initiated by Lanja Xawe, a young graduate of law from Sulaimani city.
As a result, hundreds of Kurdish women have posted pictures of themselves on Facebook using the above hashtag with a message of defiance against cyber bullies.
Lanja Xawe explained that she started the campaign following a series of abusive and harassing messages she received on Facebook. She says, “There was one account that was constantly sending me messages online, harassing me, and they used a picture of myself. I sent them another picture in response to show them that I will not remain silent.”
“I have received many of these messages, and I have not hesitated for a second. I know these people are not capable of anything.”
The picture Lanja received of herself included a message from an anonymous user, “Would you like me to belittle you?”
The Kurdish version of this carries more meaning. It refers to men who want to ostracise women by exposing them as indecent or using their pictures on social networking sites in an inappropriate way.
The young lawyer and activist went on to say, “There are many women from various backgrounds — writers, activists, students and in many ways they have endorsed this campaign and supported my message. I’m thankful to all those that have supported this campaign. It is important that we don’t remain silent.”
Fear is a tool used to silence us. These people need to know that we have left this mentality and stage — Lanja Xawe, activist.
The biggest endorsement for this campaign came from the region’s leading academic, Dr. Choman Hardi. She is the founding director of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani (AUIS).
Dr. Choman elaborated on the inherently patriarchal nature of gender-based cyberbullying, and highlighted how through her teaching she deciphers this for young students.
“I stress that gossip is another mechanism of the patriarchal society to silence women and scare them into submission. By fearing what people might say about us, we play into the hands of the system. Not being scared of the malicious criticism that women are subjected to is the first step towards achieving our full potential."
Dr. Choman went on to say, “Also women are regularly made to feel ashamed of themselves, for how they look, for what they say, for what they do. It is therefore important to send the message to agents of patriarchy (be they men or women) that, one, we no longer fear you, and two, we are proud of who are regardless of your disapproval.”
Although these campaigns are unlikely to have a large impact, Dr. Choman says challenging gender inequality in Kurdistan Region necessitates consistent and ongoing efforts. She has experienced abusive messages online in the past because she addresses political and social injustices.
She highlights the nature and underlying reasons for these cyber attacks, “Alongside abusive words my photos were shared by some Facebook pages with large numbers of following. Some of them attacked me because, in their view, my dress wasn‘t long enough, some accused me of corruption (a verdict easily given out to women in this region), others argued that I am disrespectful to social and religious norms. What is interesting is that sometimes these attacks, launched by certain groups to defame activists, has the opposite result.”
Here are some highlights from the women participating in this campaign, and their intended aims for it:
Jwani Khayat, 29-years old from Sulaimani city, “The mentality of Kurdish society needs many decades to change, especially women who are still under oppression from this society."
Lanya Amin, 20-year-old student, and a victim of social media harassment, “It is important that we stop being afraid. I hope these campaigns are continuous and women support it.”
Nuha Baahadeen, 18-years old, “It is time that we tell the world that we Kurdish women are strong, free, powerful and brave.”
Bakhsheen Taha Solaee, 23-year-old student and environmental activist, “I know Kurdish women empowerment requires much more work, and I believe this campaign will be a way to spread the word.”
Banna Draey from Sulaimani city, “I just want women to have a voice of their own in this society."
Noor Muhin, 22-year-old student, “I hope we [women] support each other, and show that we have each other to depend on.”
Kany Hameed, 20-years-old says she joined this initiative because, “I felt as though this campaign will make a change to those girls that have been made afraid, and will make them stronger.”
Przha Mahmud, 25-year-old law graduate, “We can not serve our nation and community until we put our fingers on the wounds to fix them.”
The campaign has grown tremendously since it was launched on Thursday. Hundreds of Kurdish women have participated, commented and showed their support for this cause. Many of them have been extremely forthcoming in sharing their thoughts. What’s important is the underlying message, which says “We are not afraid” of cyberbullies in the region.