It was after learning about feminism and human rights in his university classes that Zheera Hassan, an English literature major, decided to pursue the gender studies minor at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. “These were things that I wanted to see in society,” he says.
As a 24-year-old male in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the decision has not come without challenges. “Gender studies is a very new thing in Kurdistan and Iraq, so you won’t find a lot of support in family or friends, especially if you’re a guy. But the teachers and the conversations we had with them, this was what I was interested in,” he says. “It changed me a lot.”
Hassan is one of a small, but growing, number of students who have enrolled in the university’s interdisciplinary minor in gender studies —the first, and only, program of its kind in all of Kurdistan and Iraq. (See a related commentary, “Teaching Gender and Women’s Studies in the Middle East.”)
By changing the way students look at gender-related roles, norms, values and beliefs, the minor in gender studies seeks to equip a new generation in the Kurdistan region with the knowledge needed to confront some of the challenges faced by their society.
Sawen Amin, 25, was one of the first students to enroll. “It opened my eyes to the inequality people, whether women or men, face due to how the patriarchal system works,” she says.
Debates on Gender’s Roles in Society
At least 200 students have taken classes introducing them to debates on gender in relation to topics like health, media and society, Islamic history and genocide, among others. To date, 15 students have declared the minor, including 12 females and three males.