Asia-Pacific, Kurdistan, Opinion, Politics

Kurdish Women Fighters in the Media

Orientalism is a concept that refers to how the civilised society (Westerners) is looking at the Asian and Middle Eastern countries and what kind of language is adopted in their discourse. Who has the power to impose labels? The rich defines the poor, by being in a position of power.

Women’s Rights, or Wrongs?

Larry Wolff brings the argument that the West has a patronising attitude and that we should carefully examine our assumptions about the Eastern and Western Europe, because they have a long history. Even if Wolff was talking about Europe, this can also be easily applied to America, if you look at the national discourses of the label East and the West. East is represented as the barbaric, irrational, uncivilised one, even inferior while the West is the “saviour” and preached as the only example to follow.

Based on M. Khalid’s analysis about Orientalism, The West is using gender issues as a way to justify the need for war and to become the “good” example. In her paper, she is pointing out that this had been used by the British and the French in their colonies as well; Using the argument of “female liberation” and posing as the saviours of the oppressed women. The problem is that they preach about feminism only outside of their borders yet not in their own yard.

Women’s rights are a part of an agenda that appears in most discourses that have involved war, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. It starts to become clearer why it is used. My guess? As a justification for the dirty or hidden interests and to have a good cause so that there will be a good representation in the media and that’s all that it is.

It is very interesting to look at the images that the media are always projecting. Muslim men being the “evil” and the brutal force while the American men are “the saviours” and has a paternal figure with justification for intervention to save the oppressed women..

Look at the case with Jessica Lynch, an American soldier that was rescued from Iraq. Images of her in the media were imposing that she fought despite being a woman. Lynch was held up as a heroine because she was fighting for women’s rights in Iraq. So equal rights for Orient but not at home.

Most media are manipulating the general perception by publishing images that are influencing how we perceive the truth. The Kurdish women’s image is projected in the media as “exotic” and “sexy” or as “amazon women”. The magazines are choosing the most beautiful women from the group for their interviews and present them as the “badasses” because this is what sells!

Representation in Mainstream Media

I will analyse two articles so that we can compare how the Kurdish women are represented in both. In one of them, the writer is a Kurdish activist, Dilar Dirik and there is an article posted by her on an independent news site called Al-Jazeera. The other one is from a women’s magazine called Marie Claire and the author of the article is Elizabeth Griffin.

The article from Al-Jazeera is focused on the gender equality and how the mainstream media uses it to glamorize them because they are women, whereas the magazine Marie Claire proved AJ’s point by focusing on the fact that they are female soldiers, instead of human beings fighting for their freedom.

The Kurdish activist tries to explain the backstory of the movement and its meaning, making it more personal for the readers and providing them with the actual facts and information about the story, while on the other side, Elizabeth Griffin simply went for the “whoa” factor by saying “war stories” while superficially playing the feminism card.

Dilar Dirik was more direct and honest about the Kurdish women’s movement, background and its image/connection to the West instead of barely saying that they don’t know about them (which is false) and not offering anything substantial in terms of socio-political commentary.

I also looked at the pictures as well and I realised that in the AJ article, there is only just one image with Nahida Ahmad Rashid, commander of an elite, and a normal middle-aged woman, wearing a uniform and pointing out to somewhere. On the other hand, in the magazine, there were 10 pictures with different women, most of them beautiful or at least “exotic” or young, and each of them telling a touching story, some of them carrying big weapons. And here we have the difference between journalism and sensationalism.

As a journalist, I’m not very proud of how the media is representing these women and how little they seem concerned about their ideology or their political beliefs. We don’t hear about them very often, yet when we do hear about them, they are presented in a “western” manner, under a western “fantasy” and about these women’s looks! From my point of view, they promote them with a tad too superficial.

These women have something to say about the oppression against them and the regime they are fighting against. They have built a community and they are showing to their oppressors that they can be equal in rights. Before this assignment, I never saw or read anything about the Kurdish women’s movement and what war they are fighting for, but I found out almost immediately about Emma Watson’s pro-feminist discourse. I can only imagine how it is to be in their shoes, and being in mine, in a post-communist country, it is not so fair either.

About Ioana Miron

Ioana grew up in Bucharest, Romania and recently finished her master’s degree in journalism, international cooperation and humanitarian aid from the National School of Political Science and Public Administration. She’s an extremely intelligent, motivated, self-reliant and creative young woman always on the prowl for injustice to expose. Ioana’s impressive thirst for knowledge is only surpassed by her kind and generous heart.

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