Launching the Center for Gender and Development Studies at The Ezidis Beyond ISIS: Genocide, Gender, Displacement, and Return Conferance
Text of opening remarks by Dr. Choman Hardi, Founder and Director of CGDS:
Like other cases of war and genocide, the Ezidi genocide was gendered. What I mean by this is that Ezidi women and men were targeted differently by ISIS. Men were singled out for immediate destruction while the women and children were used as sex slaves, forcibly converted to Islam, married off to ISIS believers, and recruited into ISIS ranks. This is in line with the UN definition of genocide which includes not only “killing members of the group” but also “imposing measures to prevent birth within the group”, and “forcibly transferring children to another group”, all of which happened in this case.
We also know that efforts to document the genocide and to prosecute perpetrators as well as much of the media coverage of the crimes have not been sensitive to the ordeal of survivors, in particular the women. In their effort to document, raise awareness, and expose the perpetrator many agencies pressured survivors to speak for “the greater good”. This in turn further stigmatizes and victimizes survivors. This paucity of sensitive effort adds to the urgency and relevance of our work and our projects.
It is an honor to launch the Center for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) in this important conference. We firmly believe that the knowledge produced in academic institutions needs to be disseminated within the relevant communities, using different outreach strategies. In our view, a holistic approach to tackling gender inequality is essential. This must include: conducting gender-related research to further the production of feminist knowledge, promoting gender in university curricula through offering more courses, disseminating knowledge within local communities, and supporting women’s social, political, and economic empowerment.
Feminist knowledge is a kind of knowledge that is acutely aware of gender hierarchy and its hidden mechanisms. It includes an understanding of how this inequality portrays itself as normal as well as learning how to challenge it. Gender-related activism is most effective when it is informed by feminist knowledge. It is essential to tackle the root causes of the problem rather than picking up the pieces when things fall apart. Normative change in gender relations can only happen when feminist knowledge has been produced and shared. This is why we believe that academic work and activism should be more firmly connected. Activists need to know more about theoretical issues and academics should be more involved in activism.
A recent survey we conducted amongst our students in AUIS shows that despite common expectations, 62% of the students are interested in taking gender-related courses and 32% are interested in taking a minor in gender studies. This is a really hopeful finding because education is essential for bringing about change. At the moment, AUIS offers one gender-related course called “Gender, Media and Society” which I have the privilege to teach. Students who, at first, don’t know what to expect and think that feminism means women hating men, go through major transformations during this course. They start questioning their long-held views about normality.
Antonio Gramsci, the Italian philosopher and politician, taught us that systems of oppression are hegemonic. This means that domination is achieved through persuading the oppressed group that they deserve to be where they are in the hierarchy of power, making inequality invisible in a way that it seems normal to the uncritical eye, and using violence when persuasion fails and the person rebels.
When I see male students at AUIS questioning their own privileges as men, when I see female students questioning their inhibitions and feeling more entitled to things, when my ex-students stop me in the courtyard and tell me how I have ruined the romance narrative and the sexist video clips, novels, and films for them, then I feel that I have done my job.
What is education if not stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zone and being willing to reconsider our long held views? What is education if not realizing that we have been persuaded by various systems to accept inequality and learning how to challenge it?