The Center for Gender and Development Studies (CGDS) at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) announced today the start of a five-year, £896,000 research project with the London School of Economics (LSE). The project is part of the UK Research and Innovation’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to support interdisciplinary research hubs around the world working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
CGDS’s Dr. Choman Hardi, a professor at AUIS, is a Co-Director of the Masculinities and Sexualities strand, one of six strands under LSE’s Gender, Justice, and Security Hub that will examine gender-related injustice and insecurity in communities around the world. As Co-Director, Dr. Hardi will coordinate research projects at six universities and other not-for-profit organizations. Dr. Hardi’s own research at AUIS, titled “Masculinity, Sexuality, and Violence,” will investigate transitional masculinity and violence prevention in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Text of opening remarks by Dr. Choman Hardi, Founder and Director of CGDS:
At times early feminism felt like a gathering of women, talking about men’s egotism, domination, and violence. It felt like women confiding in each other and gossiping about men, who were largely absent from the conversation.
This is understandable, given the nature of subjugation. Oppressed people are isolated from each other. They are made to believe that what they are experiencing (their oppression) is normal and right and that their unhappiness is the result of their own inadequacy, not the system’s mistreatment of them.
Finding commonalities across diverse experiences and creating solidarity are the first steps towards mobilisation for change. But we know from history that, generally speaking, working with the “dominated” while ignoring the “dominant” makes the process of change much slower.
The suffragists fought for the vote for 70 years. In the end, this right could only be extended to women when men were on board and male parliamentarians passed laws accordingly. Men need to be part of the process of change, to share the burden with women and to make long lasting change, with less chance of backlash.
The other thing that early feminism tended to do was to buy into the perception of women and men as two homogenous groups: men as the oppressors versus women, the oppressed. Seeing women and men as homogenous groups has proved to be problematic. It fails to see the diversity of men’s and women’s experience across races/ ethnicities, classes, sexualities, etc. It also fails to recognise women’s agency and to acknowledge men’s vulnerabilities in patriarchal systems.
While most men have more power than women, some men- especially those who do not abide by societal expectations- are also oppressed by patriarchy. Even as perpetrators of violence, men are often victims of their upbringing and education. In this region, men are expected to provide plenty of gold and goodies upon marriage, to be the sole provider for their families, to hide their emotions, and to be protectors of the family and the nation during political crises.
Feminism has since evolved. We have adopted an intersectional approach to oppression. We are no longer blind to the specificity of individuals’ experiences shaped by their gender, and by their physical ability, religion, ethnicity, class, and sexuality. We have also adopted the more inclusive concept of gender, which includes men and other, non-binary gender identities.
We at the Center for Gender and Development Studies, have always emphasised the importance of making men visible while addressing gender equality. Our gender studies minor and our Mr. Feminist campaign two years ago both emphasised men’s agency and responsibility for achieving gender justice. Men must become visible as perpetrators, as victims of patriarchy, and as agents of change.
Our new research project, in partnership with LSE and funded by UKRI GCRF, focuses on masculinity, sexuality, and violence. This five-year project will investigate the mechanisms that construct masculinity. More specifically, it will look at the possible roles of pornography, access to internet and Smartphones, the sports culture, the drinking culture, the media, pop culture, and religion in the construction of an aggressive and sexually exploitative masculinity which victimises women.
Through focus groups, interviews, participant observation, and creative writing this research will engage men in the conversation. We hope this research will contribute to the development and promotion of kindness and sensitivity amongst the younger generation. Men’s aggression and violence are produced and encouraged through various practices. Benevolence, just like aggression, can be learnt. This research aims to find how this ability can be developed.
I want to end with a quote by Ryan Knight, a social justice activist, who shared these words on his twitter account: “Masculinity is not under attack. Masculinity is being redefined to not include harassing women or bullying people who are different than you. Masculinity is being expanded to a more loving space and if you can’t handle that then you deserve to be left in the past with your hate.”