To this question I want to give an answer that might sound provocative:
A process of democratisation without the participation of women is impossible.
Women make up more than half of the population, but are often neither taken into account nor is their occurrence in the distinctive fields of society, including the politics, natural. Moreover women in the middle eastern societies are far from having the same rights that have men.
If democratisation is understood as something more than equal rights and democratic institutions, if it rather deals with a lively process that leads to transformation of a society, then it is understood that the desired process of transformation is not possible without the participation of women.
I am talking about a self-confident participation of the kurdish women, not about a formal inclusion.
I am not talking about the half-hearted intents of several men, allowing them to sit at the same table as they do, but not giving them the oportunity to talk. What I am talking about is, that women express the interests of kurdish women in a self-confident and self-determined manner and that they fight to gain recognition and to be included in the agenda of current politics, because they make up half of the population.
Without the active participation of kurdish women the process of democatisation will stand still soon. If half of the population, is excluded from the political, economical, scientific and cutural life, how can that be democratic?
For the first time Kurdistan has the great oportunity to become an “island of democracy” (island = girav), an island surrounded by undemocratic, autocratic countries, where democracy, the constitutional legality and human rights do not count for nothing. As an “island of democracy” in the Middle East, Kurdistan has a different significance for Western countries. The world would not focus on economic and strategic intrests, but in much more that this country offers.
Hinbun, the international meeting place for women and their families, is very far away from Kurdistan. We are working in Berlin with kurdish women, refugees, migrants and women, who grew up in Germany but have a migration background. Hinbun accompanies those women on their sometimes rather dificult way into german society. Three great obstacles usually stand in their way:
1: The indifference and often also rejection of the german society, the bureaucracy and the people, which complicate the process of integration.
2: The constricting family ties, the dominance of men and the disdain of women
3: and finally the negative self-perception, as a result of the often experienced disdain.
Since 24 years Hinbun organises with the financil support of the government of Berlin distinctive seminars and projects to facilitate the overcoming of the obstacles they encounter.
Of course we include projects, that give an insight of Germany’s political system as well as those projects, which focus on the acquisition of the german language and the introduction into german customs and traditions. All these projects aim at a facilitated integration and communication and encourage the women to participate more actively in the daily life, benefiting from the possibilities of this democratic country. Moreover we offer seminars for german politicians, members of the authorities and the general population to learn more about the immigrants. I could number many more project, but what is most important is that these projcts have been and will always be essential to the integration process and the comprehension of both sides.
What stood out after all these years of work, was that the self-conception and the role model have changed. The women learned in the seminars that in ancient kurdish societies women were more liberal, had more rights and were respected by the society. In today’s society the situation is worse: women need the permission of the men of the family if they want to participate in any form in the social life. This is true also for many kurdish women living in Germany.
Therefore the participation in Hinbun projects was often connected with the egression of the women. Often this was linked with long arguments in the families, but in the end these had effect and changed both parties for good. The women were finally able to participate in the social life and therby broadened their horizon and the men learned to accept that the women of their family are self-determined human beings.
In order to assure this change of attitude, Hinbun did not only work with the women, but included also the rest of the family, which had very positive effcts.
If Kurdistan should become an “island of democracy”, and that is my strongest wish, and if we want to have this happen soon, we have to start doing this with our words and actions now and everywhere, in the schools, in the uiversities, in the workstations, in the media, in the politics and in the families. We will be more successful in this, if the kurdish women don’t have to fight against the world of men.
For the first time, Hinbun in Berlin has organised a group of kurdish men and at the same time a group of kurdish and german women. We want that in these groups the question of democracy is reflected from diferent perspectives and that each individual overcomes the limitations that are result of the traditional conditioning.
This task is also set in the greater context. Politics can influence such a democratic process, supporting but also decelerating it.
Next year Hinbun will celebrate the 25th aniversary amongst others with a congress focussing on the topic: “Kurdish women ad their families - here and there”. For this congress we wish to have many international visitors, participants and speakers, especially from all parts of Kurdistan. I would be happy to return to Berlin with a list of interested people.
(*) Director of Hînbûn, International Center for Information and Training of Women, Berlin