Department of Politics and International Relations commemorates International Women’s Day through a seminar on Women, Resistance and The Kurdish Question in the 21st Century.

Organiser: Emerging Powers Programme, DPIR, University of Westminster.

Free admission, book online.

In the light of the recent dramatic changes in the Middle East, one specific group has suddenly appeared on the international political stage - the Kurds, the largest nation without a state. Spread over four different states, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria,  the Kurds have often been subject to oppressive, assimilationist, and even genocidal policies.  Divide-and-rule strategies of these states have often exploited the transnational Kurdish issue for their own gains.

However, especially in the context of the Syrian War, Kurds emerged as key actors and now pose a threat to several hegemonic nation-states and the balance of power in the Middle East. Why is the Kurdish issue an international problem? Why are the Kurds in Syria, who, in spite of the war, managed to create self-governance structures based on secularism, ethnic and religious inclusivity, grassroots-democracy, and gender equality, marginalized by the international community?  Why does the West praise Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdish entity closest to being a state, with the most conservative, feudal-patriarchal parties, while denying Syrian Kurds a simple delegation to Geneva II?

This presentation also examines the relationship between ethnic oppression and gender, in the light of remarkable political activism of women in the otherwise ultra-patriarchal Kurdish society. There are usually two narratives of Kurdish women. On one hand, they belong to an oppressed ethnic group and the lowest socio-economic class, and further suffer from the internal feudal-patriarchal structures within their own community. But on the other hand, it is Kurdish women with long braided hair that fight a guerrilla war in the mountains of Mesopotamia on equal terms with their male comrades against ethnic and class oppression and patriarchy. Is it possible to craft national myths on feminism? How has this militant feminism, that hugely impacted the Kurdish population towards more gender equality, emerged in spite of such a patriarchy? Why is the most capitalist, most state-like Kurdish region, Iraqi Kurdistan, the only area of Kurdistan where Female Genital Mutilation happens? Why did Turkish feminism and Turkish LGBT organizations often exclude Kurdish women and Kurdish LGBT groups? Why did Kurdish men wear women's clothes as a protest against the Iranian regime? Why do Arab women join the Kurdish militant and civil organizations in Syria? These questions will be addressed during the talk.


Dilar Dirik received a Bachelors degree from the University in Jamestown (USA) in History and Political Science, with a minor in Philosophy, and a Masters in International Studies from Durham University. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department of the University of Cambridge. Her topic is the role of women in the Kurdish liberation movement. Apart from being an academic, she is a regular columnist for English and German publications. She volunteers for and cooperates with different Kurdish NGOs, especially women’s organizations in Europe.