The Kurdish Globe
By Sazan M. Mandalawi
These are the chains of society
This time I am with a group of high school girls, all from affluent areas in Erbil. My aim and curiosity was to see what is on the mind of a typical Kurdish girl, who has not necessarily had my background, experiences and lest we forget, the privileges that I and many others like myself have had as we were brought up as Kurdish girls.
Throughout our conversations, I realize many of these girls keep diaries. I can imagine a few of them have a small notebook under their pillows every night, speaking out inner thoughts and emotions. They write of their humble wishes and dreams in their world of imagination.
As for the parents of these girls -- a few have fathers who are government employees, the others are self employed, either selling goods at the store around the corner, or working as taxi drivers. In this gathering, all but one of their mothers are housewives.
In the group of 22 girls, after group activities and an exchange of ideas, we sit cross-legged in a large circle, as a group of friends would. I ask questions, and they debate the answers. As they speak, I remain silent, jotting down key words and closely observing facial expressions.
From what they say, and how they react to questions, I can probably write the nightly entries to the diaries of some of these Kurdish girls.
I learn, just as a typical 15- or 16-year-old girl in many parts of the world, these girls have the same thoughts. They are self-conscious -- though they don't admit it -- of their image, they are influenced by what they see, and they are in a process of discovering themselves. However the difference is their boundaries, and on the other side of the coin is the schools they belong to. I always had a dream (and still do) for the daughter of the wealthy and the poor to be able to have access to the same education quality. In this circle, sitting on the floor, I know these girls aren't receiving the quality of education as their counterparts in other areas of the Region.
"What do you want to do, that you can't do?" I ask the girls in the circle. Immediately loud side-discussions emerge as one by one, all 22, express what it is that they want to do, but they feel they can't. This is when I know the difference between my life and theirs.
"I want to go out with my friends.. I want my mother to be a friend.. I want my father to listen to me.. I want to work.. I want to do sports.. I want to have time to draw.. I want to play on the piano.. I want to be a policewoman.." are just few desires.
I can imagine a mother of five children and how she would raise a teenage daughter like the ones in this circle. The mother's actions and discipline don't from books and academic discourse, her conduct is not learned from educational seminars, but rather she governs her daughter in methods embedded within the culture. In tactics picked up from her own mother, almost half a century back. The beliefs of the way of raising a daughter are entrenched in her social and traditional tutoring. As a result, her concern is always what the neighbor perceives to be right or wrong, and not necessarily what is best for her own daughter.
The lives of some of these young girls are constrained by the words ayba (shameful) and nabet (not possible). These are the chains of society that are still intact in some areas, the chains that allows a young girl to only dream and wish of the aspects of life that a portion of others have as privileges.
I know we are at the start of a journey, but let's not turn a blind eye on the young girls whose diaries are filled with "if only I could.." because there is no reason why they can't.