Middle Eastern cultures and Islamic societies tend to overlap with areas of classic patriarchy. In these societies where patriarchy dominates, a majority of women are bound by chauvinistic customs and values. More women in these oppressed societies are beginning to speak out against the rejection of women's rights. Susan B. Anthony once said, "Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less." One such woman who is fighting for nothing less than the rights of the women of Kurdistan and Iraq, is Houzan Mahmoud.
Houzan is a Kurdish feminist, secularist, journalist and human rights activist. She currently serves as the U.K. representative to the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. She is an outspoken advocate on the oppression of Kurdish and Iraqi women, both under the US/UK occupation and the growing influence of conservative Islamists. She led a campaign against rape and abduction of women in Iraq and against the requirement of Islamic Sharia law in the proposed constitution. Due to her controversial campaigning, she received death threats in an email last year (2007) from Ansar al-Islam (a brutal Kurdish Islamist group). Despite the threats, she was determined to persist in her work. In a letter to MADRE (an international women's human rights organization) in 2007, Houzan stated,
"I will continue doing what I am doing now, going around the world cultivating support for women in Iraq and Kurdistan as well as exposing the violence and gender apartheid that Islamists are imposing on millions of women in the region."An unyielding woman, indeed.
Houzan was born in Southern Kurdistan in 1973. She later fled to London with her partner in 1996 due to the lack of security in the region. In an interview published on democracynow.org, Houzan states,
"At the time when we left, it was very unsafe, so me and my partner, we fled to London. And he was also a political activist, so we could no longer stay there."Houzan now lives in the United Kingdom, studying politics and sociology at the University of London. In 2003 she co-founded the Iraqi Women’s Rights Coalition in support of women in Iraq and the publication Equal Rights Now to expose the violation of women’s rights in Iraq and Kurdistan to the international community. She's a frequent contributer to British publications, such as the Independent and theGuardian. She has written many articles about the situation of women in Iraq, which have been translated and published in French, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, Persian, English, Finish, Swedish and German. She has also been interviewed by CNN, NBC, Sky News and BBC and other various media outlets.
Moreover, she recently co-founded the Iraqi Freedom Congress, a recent initiative to build a democratic, secular and progressive alternative to both the US occupation and political Islam in Iraq and Kurdistan.