Volunteer of the month: Houzan Mahmoud

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 31 August 2008

Short cut – Actual Situation

There is a big security gap for women nowadays in Iraq. Iraq is observed and occupied by US troops, which have installed a puppet regime offering neither any security nor support for women. When women go out on the streets it is not clear if they come back healthy and secure to their homes. That is the current situation. The so called Iraq regime exists out of right oriented religious people and Islamic political groups, which got more and more power. The presence of US troops in Iraq offers Islamic terror groups a constant and basic legitimation to fight and murder, but nevertheless they are not fighting against the US troops but want to oppress the Iraq people, especially the women.

The end of this current troop presence is the claim to change this actual situation. Same problem is seen with the new constitution which was boycotted from women activists reasoned through the separation of women and human rights and a religious basic on the Sharia. It would be a disaster when the constitution would be based on the Islamic religion as this would separate women and men in their rights, lifestyle and would force them into a political power like we have in Iran, Saudi-Arab or Afghanistan under the Taliban.

The “Organization of Women´s Freedom in Iraq” is elsewhere in danger as they are the first women rights organisation inside Iraq who is known worldwide for its fight for freedom, equality and secularity in Iraq. They are known as organisation without any compromises when it comes to the fight against the US troops. Today they are offering security rooms, women houses, organizing demonstrations and international campaigns, fighting against the resolution 137 which demands the Sharia as law basic. But these requests are not new for Iraq, says Houzan Mahmoud. Iraq has always been secular and never been under the Islamic regime.



Article and interview pieces with and from Houzan Mahmoud Who is Houzan Mahmoud? 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 the Guardian. 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.

(taken from: http://kurdistanwomen.blogspot.com/2008/03/houzan-mahmoud.html) 29th March 2008 Working fields and reason why we need women like Houzan Mahmoud

(1) Honour Killings in Iraq and Kurdistan for The Independent

Barbaric ‘honour killings’ become the weapon to subjugate women in Iraq

The 19-year-old Iraqi was, according to her father, murdered by her own in-laws, who took her to a picnic area in Dokan and shot her seven times. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone. Her “honour killing” is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where activists speak of a “genocide” against women in the name of religion. Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias. Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase. “Honour killings are not actually a crime in the eyes of the government,” said Houzan Mahmoud, who has had a fatwa on her head since raising a petition against the introduction of sharia law in Kurdistan. “If before there was one dictator persecuting people, now almost everyone is persecuting women.” (Terri Judd, 28th April 2008)

(2) Videos of Remember Du’a Conference in London

You can find links to my talk at Remember Du’a Conference in London.

Please click on the links bellow:

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lcZHKQ970w
Part2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXKwD2b4Wnk&feature=related

posted by Houzan Mahmoud, 14th May 2008

(3) My article for 8 March international Women’s Day
A century of struggles for freedom and equality!

http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-7298345386961536136 This International Women’s Day will mark almost a century of struggle for freedom and equality. In certain parts of the world some rights have been achieved, yet true freedom and unconditional equality elude vast numbers of women.

In a world where we are defined and “identified” on the basis of nationality, ethnicity and religion the category “woman” is increasingly relegated to a second class status. In countries where political systems are based on religious diktat women have no rights to live, think, act or decide for themselves. Their lives are valued at half that of a man. Rigid religious laws show no sign of allowing happiness, prosperity or the simplest of rights to women. In Islamic countries women are suffocated, suppressed and tied to bigoted norms and values. In this environment women grow up deprived and segregated – thinking that there is only one way to live, that no other choice exists. They are right. In these countries women have no choice but to subjugate themselves to the male members of the family and follow the orders handed to them from “God”. What we witness in our “countries of origin” is a tragedy without end. A tragedy, where from an early age generations of women are told that their minds are not their own. Where their personalities are not shaped by individual will but moulded by the oppressive rules of society.

In my “country of origin”, Iraqi Kurdistan, religious law does not officially hold sway over local law. But Islamic ethics and morality form the norms of everyday life. Islamic law shapes the lives of millions of women from birth to death. We are the actual survivors of Islamic cultural norms and traditions. No, we are not “victims” but strong activists who have survived some of the worst that religious rule has to throw at us, who have the guts and courage to speak out and be the voice of the silenced women of the region. From Basra to Baghdad and through to Kurdistan women are being killed on a daily basis, terrorised in the name of “honour”, forced into arranged marriages. More and more are choosing to be free. The price of freedom is very high – often costing life itself – but so many women are making this choice. […] Religious bigotry should be countered more vocally, wherever it raises its head. The Archbishop of Canterbury made the case for allowing the legal recognition of some aspects of Sharia law because more than anything he fears that without such ‘liberalisation’ bigoted Christian laws, values and opinion would be forced out.

We have all these battles to fight alongside the struggle of our class. It is my belief that all this religious fuss and cultural relativism are part and parcel of capitalism in this age. Capitalism cannot survive without keeping people divided along the lines of class, race, religion and gender. It cannot survive without keeping people in ignorance and poverty. Cultural relativism, Sharia Law and Christian ‘values’ all prolong the situation.

Therefore our struggle cannot be successful without the full and complete engagement of society as a whole. Our rights and freedoms, our class struggles and aspirations are universal. Women’s freedom does not mean freedom for some. Our freedom does not accept the idea that a religion, culture, border or nationality excludes the most oppressed. We are all human; we all deserve to live with dignity and to enjoy unconditional freedoms. This was also my speech in 8 March event organised by Equal Rights Now, organisation for Women’s Rights in Iran which was hosted in Conway hall. posted by Houzan Mahmoud, 25th April 2008
The way out – Where we wanna go to

Islamic Sharia law: a constant threat against the rights and freedom of women in the Middle East      
5th May 2008
Today in many societies in the Middle East, women are regarded as second or third class citizens. Recognition of women as free human beings equal to men is off the agenda for all governments in the region. Every year thousands of women fall victim to so-called “honour killings”, commit suicide under pressure by setting fire to themselves and suffer from daily abuses and violence. Women are active fighting for their rights in all public spheres, including as workers, in many societies, but again the culture of religious patriarchy is so dominant that we are still not free individuals on our own right. The right to divorce, to marry and to have full access to inheritance is open all to men.
In those countries where Islamic Sharia law is in full force, women live in a massive prison: without actual bars or chains, but deprived of all their basic civil and individual liberties. They have to act, behave, marry and live a life-style which is in accordance with Sharia law and the dictates of man. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other countries were Islam is in possession of force of arms and terror, we see women been enslaved; banned from certain professions and in Saudi Arabia even from driving; the veils forced upon them; public stoning takes place for “crimes” like having sex outside marriage. Many people in the west, even some left-wing western women, think that it is our “culture” to be oppressed, veiled, enslaved and abused. In fact, this is not a matter of “culture”, but a political system.

It is because these governments are, to various extents, based on Islamism and Islamic Sharia law that millions of women are forced by them to live in hell. As a result of this oppression, and as an alienated form of resistance to it, many women commit suicide: they want to live a life of their own choosing or not live at all. Clearly, this is deeply negative resistance. The only real way forward, the only alternative to oppression and despair, is for women to get organised and fight for our rights and freedoms. The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has courageously stood against attempts to Islamise Iraqi society by force, and fights for the rights and equality of women throughout Iraq. Our recent campaign in Kurdistan to remove Article 7 from the proposed Kurdistan constitution is an example of the mass resistance that exists to the imposition of Sharia law. Support from people worldwide is very important: just as women’s rights should be universal, our solidarity should be universal! If activists in the West understand that our situation is not a matter of “culture” or “tradition”, but a question of political and social oppression, they will support our struggle, and not be scared to speak out against Islamic laws and the medievalist politics of political Islam. Laws, traditions and existing norms that are unjust and oppressive must be criticised, opposed and overthrown; women’s and human liberation is more important than any tradition. Human life and freedom is more sacred than any religion and more important than the preservation of any man-made “culture”.

OWFI Background: Women are the victims of violence and backward religious traditions in Iraq, and are in desperate need of shelter and protection from random acts of aggression. These women are subject to continuous threat of being: – killed by their husbands or male relatives (honour killings) – Burnt or mutilated for suspicion of shameful acts – publicly executed or shot by the police – kidnapped and secretly murdered – in state of despair and see no other way than to commit suicide

Consequently, millions of women undergo sexual discrimination encouraged by Islamist activists and Saddam’s regime that urge all “God Loving” men to oppress their women so as to abide by an Islamic submissive lifestyle that was created hundreds of years ago. This situation has been introduced and enhanced in the last decade, and does not allow women basic standards of human dignity. Other Reasons that result in the deterioration of social status of women in Iraq:

  • Hundreds of thousands of women were widowed by consecutive wars, and genocide executed by Saddam’s army
  • Economic sanctions spread out poverty to unthinkable extents where every widow finds herself responsible of a family with no sort of support or social insurance
  • Recent years changes in civil laws so as to allow honour killings and referral to backward and barbaric tribal law
  • Absence of supremacy of law, allowing Islamist misogynist practices which the ruling Baath party chose to apply by committing mass killings on women.

Local Women’s Movements
Independent Women’s organization (IWO) was formed on 8th of March 1992 in North of Iraq with the efforts of volunteering individuals. Since then, women sheltering services began to be provided. These include armed protection, safe dwelling and legal services.

IWO has proved to be the only organization to fully adopt a comprehensive campaign of advocating Iraqi women’s rights and for that had gained the support of local radical movements. IWO has extended its influence to international locations that attracted masses of Iraqi refugees. It is represented now in Canada, England and Australia. Our committee (DIWR) in Canada was founded on May 20, 1998 and has pursued

Investigating into the status of Iraqi women with a focus on Kurdistan of Iraq where the absence of supremacy of law resulted in giving way to ancient tribal practices against women encouraged by recent Islamist influences.

The need for these services?
In order to gain a broad perspective of the local scene, and a sense of the urgency to activate change towards the women’s cause in Iraqi Kurdistan, we refer to one recent statistical figure done in North of Iraq – Kurdistan

– That could explain it all: Within a population of 5 Million in Iraqi Kurdistan – 4000 honour killings (1990-1999) – Hundreds of burnt women – Tens of honour driven mutilations against women

– 1000 of circumcised (genitally mutilated) girls yearly till this present day

Iraqi Freedom Congress
http://www.ifcongress.com Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
http://equalityiniraq.com Houzan Mahmoud’s blog

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