As a citizen of Iraqi Kurdistan, I am greatly pleased that not too long ago, Nechirvan Barzani, a strong feminist and advocate for women’s rights, was sworn in as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s President. When he was Kurdistan’s Prime Minister, I had the honor of working in his media office and the office tasked with rescuing kidnapped Yezidis. There, I witnessed how Barzani is one of the greatest advocates for women’s rights in the Middle East region. I saw how he tirelessly worked to save abducted Yezidi women and girls. I witnessed how he passed legislation that is greatly beneficial for women’s rights.
Under the leadership of Barzani, Kurdistan amended the Iraqi Personal Status Law, which was used as an excuse to justify honor killings. On top of that, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq ratified Article Eight on the Elimination of Domestic Violence, which outlaws all gender-based violence. As a result of these measures, honor killings in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq are considered intentional homicide and due to the changes in the law, the number of honor killings in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq has significantly decreased since the Kurds received autonomy.
In addition, the Kurdish authorities outlawed all forms of forced marriages and female circumcision, restricted polygamy and reformed the inheritance law in order to guarantee a fair share for females. Furthermore, Barzani also succeeded in having the parliament pass a law stressing that a man cannot marry a second wife without the first wife’s permission. The first wife has to come to the court and sign a document stating that she gives her husband permission to take on a second wife.
“By revising and introducing these laws, the differences in the protection of women rights between the Kurdistan Region and other parts of Iraq have become immense,” Nichervan Barzani proclaimed after honor crimes and other incidents of violence were outlawed within Iraqi Kurdistan. He continued:
Barzani’s advocacy for women’s rights also extends to Kurdistan’s minority groups. When Barzani was Prime Minister, he saw to it that the KRG established a special office to rescue Yezidis. According to official figures from the Kurdistan Regional government, since 2014, over 3,300 Yezidis have been liberated from ISIS captivity since the KRG opened the office to rescue Yezidis. While it is true that ISIS kidnapped 6,417 Yezidis and only about half of them have been accounted for, Yezidis can rest assured that Kurdistan’s new President Nechirvan Barzani will not rest until all of the Yezidis are rescued from ISIS.
Sadly, I live in a part of the world that is dominated by misogyny, patriarchal viewpoints and systematic violence against women. However, despite this reality, Kurdistan’s President Nechirvan Barzani views women to be equal partners in the struggle for the liberation of Kurdistan. He values their contributions to Kurdish society and wants them to live dignified lives. For Barzani, empowering Kurdish women and girls is a top priority. He truly is a male feminist living in a part of the world dominated by patriarchal totalitarian dictatorships.
Kurdistan’s President Nechirvan Barzani understands the importance of upholding women’s rights globally. This is why he has done everything in his power to promote the well-being of women and girls within Kurdistan when he was Prime Minister. With the swearing in of Barzani to the presidency, I am positive that Kurdistan’s women and girls have a promising future ahead of them.
(Kawyar Shahed Omer worked as KRG Coordinator with international media outlets covering the frontlines against ISIS. She served on the press committee of the Kurdistan Referendum High Committee. She has a BA in International Studies from the American University of Sulimani- Iraq.)