Interview with Taffan Ako Taha

Taffan was born in 1994 in Slemani, Kurdistan. Her family migrated to Sweden when she was only two years of age.  “We had to leave because of the Saddam war,” Taffan recalls.  She grew up in Sweden and graduated High School. This young, bright and active girl loves languages and has studied Danish, German and English. Soon after graduating she decided to return home to Kurdistan and put her passion for women’s rights and other social problems to work. Today she would calls herself an activist trying to work for better rights among the Kurdish society. She now studies in her birth town of Slemani and is majoring in Business. In her free time she likes to write and read, mostly about Kurdish history and politics. Here is what she had to say about her experiences as a young Kurdish women on a mission in Kurdistan… 

Can you please tell us a little about your work and your writing?

I meet young girls in Kurdistan frequently and together we discuss different issues they are experiencing in every day life. Some share a little bit more personal stories than others and I often feel a sense of comfort and calmness knowing these girls trust me enough to share their stories with. Many can chose to go to organisations and such for help and counselling. The problem a few of them have is that they are not allowed out often and especially going out alone. So I often visit the girls at their own house and in most cases they tell their parents I am just a friend of theirs. I have recently also started visiting a few villages and met with mothers that do female circumcision on their daughters. I get to talk to the girls as well as the parents and I ask them questions I find interesting and also try to bring awareness to the risks it entails. On occasions I have also visited schools in villages and talked about these issues. I do everything on my own and finance anything needed as well. I don’t work for any organisation.

Having read some of your work it is obvious you are influenced by your history and passion for human rights and justice, what inspires a lot of your writing?

Personal experience. Almost anything I write about I can relate to and/or I have experienced. Also my parents inspire me a lot. They often tell me stories about how different things used to be when they were young and about their struggles in Kurdistan. My mother often tells me how it was when she went to school there and how her daily life looked. While growing up in Sweden my father had always made sure I was aware and familiar with everything that had with Kurdish culture and history to do. Even today I can sit for hours with my father, him telling me stories about his time as a peshmerga in the mountains. I have seen and heard too much injustice happening to us Kurds while growing up and even today. I would hate to see us oppress each other. It drives me to try to bring awareness on an international platform about the Kurdish people and the struggles we are facing within our own society. I feel like We all are responsible to give something back or at least try to build a better tomorrow for the coming generations.

What are the greatest passions that drive your writing and the work you do?

A person that believes in equal political, economic, and social rights for all. Many young boys I met in Kurdistan had the wrong definition of it I felt. I think that goes for many people. It is not about hating men or the government and should not be associated with aggressive women who only wants ‘’more’’. I can also tell you that I do not support that type of feminism, approaching men with anger and bad behaviour. There is no need for that. I try to effect people through writing and it has helped a lot so far for me!

How can women’s right in Kurdistan and Kurdish society in general be improved? What role do men and women play in developments?

I think its good to aware girls about the importance of education, independence, work and their role in society and make them aware of their rights. It’s sad and shocking to see that a large number of females in Kurdistan are not informed or aware of the rights they have and don’t have as well. Ignorance is, unfortunately, one of our nation’s major problems and I think that people still defend the outdated ways of thinking.  I don’t believe that, for women’s rights to be acknowledged, we should conflict with men. I believe that we have to start by changing the mindset of the younger generation so that we can overcome the patriarchal way of thinking.If no one is giving these women their rights they need to simply take them. Speak up, stand up and demand the rights you know You have. Also I think a stronger legislation regarding women’s protection and rights throughout the whole of Kurdistan is needed. Our political parties must become better at working with women’s rights organisations too. We need a working connection between organizations and the local authorities as well.

Do you think that western style feminism and feminist theories can be implemented in Kurdistan? Why or Why not? Can you give some examples?

The Middle East in general, I think, has come under attack for having one of the poorest records of human rights, particularly in reference to women. Contrary to this implication Kurdish women today have taken extremely active roles in the gender debate and the socio-political struggles within their societies. It has also created a very complex relationship between the west and western feminism which has deep implications in contemporary gender politics. I can say that there are many things that the western feminism characterize as well that me myself don’t quite support.But yes I do think many aspects of western feminism can be implemented in Kurdistan but things like these don’t happen over one night, so maybe with time. In just 10 years there has been massive changes that I can see since my first trip to Kurdistan.

Looking at our history, do you believe that Kurdish culture is traditionally patriarchal or has this patriarchal society a result of assimilation?

No, I don’t believe Patriarchy has always existed and especially not within the Kurdish society and culture. There is strong evidence that in the millennia before the rise of static civilisation the position of women in society was very different. I feel like women today need to take their rights because no one will hand them to you so it is important to be able to stand up beside the men in our country. Otherwise yes the patriarchal pattern will repeat itself generation after generation and on a international platform people would associate us Kurds with patriarch as well.

What advice do you have for young girls both in Kurdistan and the diaspora?

My advice to all Kurdish boys and girls is to support each other and treat one and other with respect. I do not encourage a bigger gap between the two genders, but rather want them to unite on an equal level. Don’t ever turn a blind eye to the battles we face within our own society. Also never remain passive. If there is an issue that bothers you, it’s imperative for you to try and make the issue known and raise awareness. Otherwise nothing will change. It is both men’s and women’s influence in society that, ultimately, leads to success, stabilisation and economic prosperity so do nothing but support and lift each other up. And always believe in your self and stay strong no matter how many people go against what you believe in. I would also like to tell all Kurdish girls and boys living in the diaspora to return to Kurdistan if possible and improve the things that needs to be improved here. I cant help but to feel like it is our duty to give back to Kurdistan and at least try to be a part of the changes and developments coming ahead. There are other ways to serving your country than only through military. I believe by helping develop the Kurdish society is one out of many.