In the 420-family village of Barchi, around 75 kilometres away from the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk, the locals have decided to form a “women’s council”.
In early May, ten women from the village were chosen by the rest of the women in the village, when they all met in the village hall. Following a secret ballot by the ten council members, a chairperson and two deputies were also chosen. The women’s council was officially created on May 3, 2014.
“We are going to help local women get the many services they need,” explains Salwan Mohammed, who at 68 is the eldest member of the council. “And we will make sure their voices are heard. This is possible because of the many people who support the council,” she said.
The mayor of the village himself played a role in the forming of the women’s council. “There are so many problems that the men of this village cannot deal with alone,” the mayor, Lazkin Mohammed, explained. “That was the main reason behind the formation of the council.”
The women on the council are well aware of potential problems they might face. “Lack of funding might stop us from organizing much,” admitted the chairwoman of the council, Hiyam Ahmad. “And a lot of our members are housewives so they are busy and they can’t help organize council activities.”
Because this council is the only one of its kind so far, Ahmad hopes the example may encourage other Kurdish towns and villages to set up similar initiatives. “Especially when the council succeeds in bringing social and material benefits to the village’s women,” she adds enthusiastically.
Another council member, Sajida Saleh, says she thinks the council has to do with the fact that there are a good number of well educated people in the village and that about half of the village’s families also live in the big city, Dohuk.
“That has changed the village’s culture into one where women are better supported,” Saleh explains. “This also means there are women with good qualifications who are able to participate in the village’s administration. Those same women could also take part in regional administration.”
“This council reflects how the people of this village take a more sophisticated view of their women,” says Abdul Jabbar Abdul Rahman, a sociologist from Dohuk University. “It also indicates that democracy is alive and well in this village, and also that women are going to be supported here.”
There would be some challenges though, he warned. “It’s possible that the council might be rejected by some here because it contravenes tribal traditions and the prevailing culture here in Iraqi Kurdistan,” he cautioned. “Things that have caused great harm to women’s rights in the past.”
As a result Abdul Rahman stressed the need for council to be supported in any way possible, and in particular by the authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan.