In 2018, I conducted a study in a focus group of the challenges facing teachers with one to three years’ experience. Nearly half of the participants were female. In one session, the women said, without any kind of discrimination-analysis, that they needed emotional support in their careers, that they were dissatisfied with their social status, and that their principals demanded too much of them.
Later, I discovered that the roots of these challenges lay in their student days, that they had graduated without the knowledge to cope with the socio-cultural challenges they faced.
My secondary school was for boys only. The cultural-religious regulations excluded academic activities with females, so we couldn’t learn how to behave with each other. The space between male and female students was very big, and misunderstanding has influenced beliefs and attitudes for life.
Often, when I raise the challenges facing female students and trainee teachers in workshops, seminars or symposiums, the answer that comes back is: “The culture doesn’t help us.”
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Popular culture provides examples of male perceptions of women. A character in the movie The Policeman, aired in 2002 by the Kurdsat satellite channel, the first cultural Kurdish television station, described girls and daughters as “barrels of gunpowder.” The playwright Hussein Miseri (1957-2009) echoed that theme when he said men saw women as social explosive devices.
An Increase in Domestic Violence
The near-absence of gender studies in the educational system is one factor behind such ideas of the role of women in society: ideas that contribute to violence against women, family disintegration and high divorce rates. (See a related article, “Gender Studies Center in Iraqi Kurdistan Challenges Traditional Ideas.”)
Recent years have seen an increase in domestic violence, gender-based violence, and sexual violence and honor killings. According to data released by the regional Directorate for Combatting Violence against Women, there was a 53.6 percent increase in violence between 2008 and 2017. During that period, 56,979 cases were recorded: 474 killings, 504 suicides, 1,254 self-immolations, 2,334 burnings (cases which families tried to blame on faulty electricity or cooking gas), 51,213 lawsuits, and 1,209 cases of sexual violence. In 2019 alone, 120 Kurdish women lost their lives due to gender-based violence. And most notably, during 2020, at least 25 women died, 38 others committed suicide, 67 self-immolated, 10,370 lawsuits were filed, and 125 sexual assaults were recorded.