The Sophia SocietyIn an area of the world fraught with conflict and tension, Kurdish women continue to fight for equality and rights. Achieving this requires a united commitment to changing the perspective and understanding of culture and the role women hold in society. As a historically conservative society, change sometimes poses a challenge for Kurdistan. The Sophia Society fights for the protection and empowerment of women in Kurdistan.

Women in Kurdistan

Incidents of violence against women are rampant in Kurdistan. Many advocates and women’s rights activists continue to speak out against gender-based violence to lobby for change. Many of the protests and advocation for expanding women’s rights stem from a series of honor killings, domestic violence and human trafficking. Much of the violence thus begins at the family level and the law shrouds it. In a nation where forced marriage is a common practice, a woman’s refusal can thus lead to her death.

Honor killings are justified as a way to quiet a rebellious woman who refuses the will of the man who controls her life. Additionally, these women end up in unmarked graves as a symbol of shame. The Sophia Society aims to put an end to honor killings and other injustices experienced by women, including sexual violence.

Women in Government

The Kurdish government continues to work toward the expansion of rights and the integration of women into leading roles. With a 30% quota of women in parliament and a complete High Council of Women’s Affairs, it appears that the Kurdish government is well advanced on integration. However, critics argue that many of these women serve only as a token and their roles hold no substantial political power.

Political inclusion is a great success for Kurdish women, yet there continue to be cultural aspects that need improvement. From an outsider’s perspective, the number of women in political positions tells a tale of growth and modernization but the lack of domestic safety also makes this questionable.

The Sophia Society

Lanje Khawe established the Sophia Society in 2016, primarily to increase the literacy of Kurdish girls. Since then, the scope of this organization has expanded because it looks to address the multidimensional struggles of women. The members of this Society travel to remote villages via bicycle to deliver books to young girls and women so that they can become literate, educated and empowered in a country that oppresses them. Furthermore, the Society aims to raise awareness about sexual violence against women.

In a patriarchal society, others often deny girls access to books and education because of the misguided fear that they might rebel against patriarchal expectations. However, in many cases, it is this patriarchal society that threatens the security and safety of these girls, as one can see through honor killings.

Impact of the Sophia Society

The Sophia Society continues to use its voice to highlight the horror of honor killings and challenge the status quo within the Kurdish region. The Society, therefore, pushes for acknowledging women’s voices both politically and socially.

The challenge these women face in organizing this group is that if they do anything to bring shame to their families, death becomes a potential outcome.

What Needs to Change?

The most challenging aspect of change in these Kurdish regions is the transformation of societal normalities and cultural expectations. This will therefore require progressive laws and policies as well as public gender equality campaigns. Women learn to be passive and submissive. Because of this, the Sophia Society, therefore, wants to uplift and educate women as the feminine voices of the nation.

The national growth is slow-moving yet hope exists for the future of women’s rights as the Sophia Society commits to change. This group creates an organization of role models for other women who no longer want gender norms to define them. The Sophia Society stands alongside Kurdish women to prepare for a changed future.

Kate Lucht
Photo: Flickr

The Economy of the Kurdistan Region
The Kurds, one of the indigenous peoples of the Mesopotamian plains, are an ethnically and religiously distinct nation in the Middle East without their own formal, independent state. In the early 20th century, the Kurds wished to have their own homeland – Kurdistan – and received provision for one in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres after World War One. However, three years later, the Treaty of Lausanne, which set modern Turkey’s territorial boundaries, failed to fulfill the promise of the land for the Kurdish state. In the decades following, subsequent efforts for the formation of an independent Kurdish state failed. Today, there are between 25 million and 35 million Kurds residing in portions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Armenia.

The Kurds receive the least pressure to assimilate in Iraq and have had a formally-recognized autonomous Kurdistan Region in the northern part of the country since 1992. About 5.1 million Kurds reside there and the 2005 Iraqi constitution states that its government, the Kurdistan Regional Government, has the right to exercise legislative, executive and judicial powers. Since 1992, Kurdistan’s relative autonomy has rendered it necessary to also have an autonomous economy. Here is some information about the economy in the Kurdistan Region.

The Economy in the Kurdistan Region

After Saddam Hussein’s removal from Iraq, some lifted their sanctions. In fact, the UN lifted some of its sanctions on Iraq and Iraqi sanctions on the Kurdistan Region. This allowed the Region to begin to take advantage of natural resources, namely oil. Furthermore, one of these sanctions included ending the Oil-For-Food Programme, an Iraqi-UN humanitarian program that was corrupt and hindered the development of the agricultural sector by lowering the need for domestic growth of food.

The Kurdistan Region’s main industries are oil, agriculture and tourism. Kurdistan has about one-third of Iraq’s total oil reserves. Historically, conflicts and sanctions have hindered the development of agriculture in the Region, but about 13% of the region’s land is arable and agriculture is the second-largest industry following oil. Kurdistan’s tourism industry has also grown since its autonomy from Iraq, and advertisements display it as a safe, peaceful and beautiful travel destination.

The Rise of the Islamic State (IS)

The rise of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq hurt the development of Kurdistan’s economy. Kurdish military forces went to fight against the Islamic State’s advancement into the Kurdistan Region in 2014 and received support from the U.S. However, international oil companies and other key investors in the economy in the Kurdistan Region left the area despite the military forces’ success in fighting IS. As a result, international confidence in Kurdistan’s businesses has since decreased.

Although Kurdistan’s economy has more diversity and is more developed than the rest of Iraq’s, it is highly susceptible to international markets and fluctuations. After a dramatic decrease in oil prices in 2014, Kurdistan’s oil industry suffered another recession and has yet to fully recover, especially with the most-recent decrease in oil prices due to coronavirus.

However, despite hardships, the Kurdistan Region historically has the lowest poverty rates in Iraq. In 2013, in comparison with the southern province of Muthanna’s poverty rate at 49%, the northern Kurdish province of Sulaiminiyah had a poverty rate of just 3%. Past indications of Kurdistan’s economic development and autonomy paints a positive picture for the future, but the area will need to meet conditions such as stable governance and international support if the poverty rate is to remain low in the Region.

– Isabel Serrano
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in IraqThe Republic of Iraq is a country that previously possessed one of the most comprehensive healthcare systems in the Middle East. However, decades of war, economic crises and terror groups such as the Islamic State have stripped this once prosperous network. Although several recent initiatives have focused on rebuilding medical infrastructure, many new challenges lie ahead for the Iraqi people. Here are six relevant facts concerning the state of healthcare in Iraq.

6 Facts About Healthcare in Iraq

  1. Iraq’s healthcare system was once one of the most advanced in the region. Due to a mid-20th century oil boom, Iraq enjoyed a period of relative stability and increased development. By the 1970s, the Iraqi healthcare system was one of the most strongest and centralized institutions in the region. Many hospitals and primary care clinics offered free services to Iraqi citizens while medical professionals of the country trained at elite institutions abroad. However, the Iran-Iraq War, which consumed the region for the majority of the 1980s, prompted a steady decline in availability and quality of healthcare in Iraq. Due to mounting military casualties, damage to infrastructure and increasing debt, civilian access to quality medical care began to decrease.

  2. Healthcare personnel have been in increasingly high demand in Iraq. In recent decades, violence caused by invasions and terrorism has taken a great toll on the number of practicing medical professionals in the country. Due to the political chaos after the fall of Saddam Hussein, an estimated 15,000 Iraqi doctors left the country for richer and more stable countries. The Iraqi government now offers returning doctors easy access to employment and higher salaries. In spite of this, returners are few and far between. Hope for the Iraqi healthcare system primarily lies in the younger generation of student doctors. However, student doctors primarily seek training abroad rather than permanent employment.

  3. Many of the hospitals in Iraq are understaffed and in various states of disrepair. In the 1990s, a 90% budget cut led to the rapid degradation of equipment, buildings and the training of medical professionals. While no further budget cuts followed, the decades of war that followed did little to help. Many of the buildings were further looted. By the mid-2000s, around 33% of primary care clinics and 12% of hospitals were severely damaged. Around half of the primary care facilities in the country are currently not staffed by doctors. The majority of these buildings have no access to running water, worn-out machines and shortages of medicine along with other basic medical supplies. The doctors present are often overspecialized and in need of more thorough training.

  4. Rebuilding portions of the Iraqi healthcare system has proven to be a daunting prospect. Many factors played into the decrease in Iraqi healthcare quality. However, the 2003 U.S.-led invasion arguably had the greatest impact on current reconstruction efforts. The widespread looting, destruction of facilities and flight of numerous medical professionals negatively impacted healthcare in Iraq on a great scale. By comparison, the autonomous Kurdistan region, which has been relatively stable from 2003, has had far fewer issues in the development of medical facilities. In Iraqi Kurdistan, there was a 4.3 primary care center per 100,000 population increase from the 2012 national average of 7.4. By comparison, the rest of the country averaged around a 1.4 primary care center increase. Rebuilding the healthcare system should be a significant priority of the Iraqi government due to the lack of foreign investment.

  5. Iraq’s healthcare system has failed to control the COVID-19 outbreak due to a variety of factors. Iraq’s healthcare infrastructure has been in a difficult situation for the last several decades. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 outbreak has pressed it to its limit. There has been premature opening and easing of lockdown restrictions. As a result, cases of COVID-19 have skyrocketed in the country over recent weeks while top Iraqi medical professionals have urgently advised the opposite course of action. With 94,693 cases as of July 21, the situation in the country grows increasingly dire by the day.

  6. The nongovernmental organization Doctors Without Borders is concentrating efforts on improving the quality of healthcare in Iraq. The group has promoted initiatives with around 1,500 staff as of 2018. Support has shifted to the establishment of field hospitals providing medical support for conflict-related injuries. Additionally, the aforementioned hospitals provide support for younger children, assisting with up to 1,000 deliveries a month. Future initiatives include the provision of tuberculosis medication and programs aiding with mental healthcare.

Conclusively, there are many challenges lying ahead for Iraqis in the domain of medical care. Reconstruction efforts are far from nonexistent. However, decades of conflict and instability have introduced new factors potentially interrupting the progress of rebuilding.


Samuel Levine

Photo: Wikimedia Commons