When we think of women in the Middle East, we often think of a world similar to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Oppression, sexism, violence, rape, child marriage, polygamy and genital mutilation are at the forefront of the American perception of the Middle East.
While this may be true in certain places, or within certain families, generalizing the population is not the best form of analysis.
So, what is an example of female empowerment in the Middle East?
In the late 1970s, the Kurds, who are a stateless nation, launched an armed militia against Turkey to regain the land stolen from them and establish an independent state. While their struggles for independence continue, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have played a major role as one of the key forces battling ISIS/ISIL.
Among the fighters that make up the PKK, 40 percent are women, some of which are in positions of senior command. These women come from all areas of the Kurdish region and put their lives on the line for what they believe in. Most women do not wear a hijab, and the ones who do want to cover up wear a traditional Kurdish headwear worn by both male and female in the Kurdish culture.
Many of the women fighters completely give up their dreams of building a family or raising children—a common expectation of women in society—by joining the PKK.
Not all women around the world have access to what seems like basic human rights. Many countries around the world—and especially in the Middle East—are still struggling to give women the right to vote, work or get an education.
But we need to remember to take a step back and not generalize a big region of the world map.
The next time you see a fellow student wearing a hijab, fight the urge to think that she “has” to wear it and start understanding that in most cases, Muslim women “choose” to honor their beliefs by covering their hair.
Women of the Middle East are passionate, strong and ISIS defeating fighters. Let’s stop generalizing them by their weaknesses and recognize them for their strengths. By liberating ourselves of stereotypical mindsets, we can better understand those of a different race, religion, culture, gender and geographic.
Even in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a repeating sentence is “don’t let the bastards grind you down,” which goes on to illustrate how where there is oppression, there is also empowerment.