Shahla Salih: Gender does not modify the nature of being man or woman, but it attempts to end gender-based injustice and inequality.  

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Gender may be one of the concepts that has recently stirred up a lot of debate among Kurdish academics, intellectuals, and cultural thinkers. It also has made the society busy with matters concerned with the concept of gender and its related issues. It should be mentioned that, unfortunately, most of the time the debates do clarify the matter academically and objectively as they should be, but rather they become a bad source of misunderstanding.

In an interview with Soran University media, Shahla Salih, a specialist in political science and feminism, and lecturer at Faculty of Law and Political Science and Management, touched on some key issues in this area.

When asked about the impact of the cultural and social background on misunderstanding of gender, Shahla Salih said that gender topic is new in the Kurdish society, therefore discussions about it are not easy, and especially in a society where the culture of man-dominance is rooted in all sectors of life. During her response on this subject, she said that people generally have understood that gender wants to change men to women and vice versa and take them far from their nature. From her perspective, gender is the destruction of the norm (man dominant and inequality) which is made up from gender-biased concepts. Gender does not deform the nature of being a man or a woman, but it attempts to eliminate the inequality and injustices caused by gender discrimination. Gender, from this perspective, brings back the value for individuals and utilizes capacity and skills of both genders, and it aims to debunk the idea of seeing women as intelligent and les able.

On the matter of students’ understanding of gender subjects, Shahla stated said “my prior experience in teaching gender psychology showed that it was difficult and impossible at the beginning for students to welcome and accept the idea.”

For her, this was because of social and cultural background of the students and their way of understanding of the subject on one hand, and misconception caused by the society and gender activists on another hand.

Ms. Shahla talked about challenges of this topic, she said that at the beginning students were resistant to the concept and thought that I wanted to eliminate the nature of being a man or a woman, but later and after a good explanation and clarification of the subject, their point of views changed. They even mentioned that their views regarding the rights and abilities of women changed as well.

In another part of the interview about treatment of topic by Soran University, teachers, students and the staff, Ms. Shahla said my experience in teaching gender psychology, I believe it has had a great result in changing wrong and cruel understanding and decreasing gender-biased prejudice and fanaticism.

But as she stated that even with these impacts, not all views can be changed. There are some people, not few, who have no scientific justification to the subject, and who believe touching on this issue by anyone means he or she has low morals. Therefore, we can say that this wrong understanding still exists not only among students, but even among teachers and staff. When you want to talk about the topics of gender and feminism and prove it with scientific evidences, and want to give women equal weight, they mock you, end the conversation, or they talk from one radical standpoint.

Regarding treatment of the topic by the university, she stated: the university believes in and works on the case. We are currently working to reactivate the Gender Center in the university. However, we need a qualified staff who believe in the case. Lack of an independent budget is a challenge as well.

In her response to our last question about the causes behind misunderstanding of the gender, Ms. Shahla, a research specialist in feminism and gender said we can summarize the factors of this misunderstanding of gender in the following points: delivering the case inaccurately by the social activists themselves as individuals and organizations; deep-rooted male-dominant society and legitimizing the injustice. Lack of a government plan which she talked about in this way: lack of a plan and platform by the government for the gender case; what is done is only limited to activities and short period strategic achievement and the case is not given a serious consideration. Furthermore, the people who show themselves as a true representative of women’s case, with due respect, are not at the level of seriousness to the matter and individuals. But the desire of getting the fame and post are their priority goal; rather gaining fame and high positions are their priorities. They are more of employees than true active representatives of women. Those so-called representatives are bad representatives. They got their posts because of belonging to a political party or the heritage of their husband or fathers.

She also stressed on the necessity of including gender study as a subject not only in humanities, but in scientific departments as well. It should be taught by experts, because it will have a great impact on students, then a change in the community. She also believed that universities should base their activities good planning, effectiveness, and fruitfulness.

Profile: Shahla Salih Abdullah holds master’s degree in Political Feminism from Salahaddin University/ college of Political Science/ 2016. in addition to being an activist of women rights, she teaches Gender Psychology and Political Psychology in Soran University/Faculty of Law and Political Science and Management.