Greetings from Erbil! My visit to this stunning city coincided with the unforgettable celebration of International Women's Day.
It was an honor for me to engage in a discussion on women's rights alongside Dr. Basir Al Haddad, Deputy Spokesman of the Iraqi Parliament, and Ms. Khanim Latif, Director of Asuda, an organization supporting women who are victims of violence.
We delved into the legal aspects of women's rights, shedding light on Kurdistan's desire to enact laws that further protect women's rights. However, these efforts were hindered by the Iraqi government, which has already abolished some of Kurdistan's regional laws aimed at ensuring gender equality within society. Mrs. Latif emphasized the importance of enforcing the approved laws and regulations in practice, as mere legislation alone cannot provide the necessary protection.
Celebrating our shared humanity
As someone hailing from Europe, specifically Finland, a country recognized for its advancements in women's rights, I sensed a shared desire and necessity for change in achieving gender equality. My perspectives on legislation and equality were met with curiosity and acceptance, understanding that change takes time and that equality is a continual process, not inherent everywhere in the world.
I approached the opportunity to meet my fellow panelists and engage in an open dialogue on a topic deeply personal to me as a woman and a professional. I could never have anticipated that three professionals with diverse backgrounds could have such a captivating conversation rooted in mutual respect and a commitment to supporting women's rights as an integral part of human rights. The engaged audience exuded positive energy, making it one of the most memorable International Women's Day experiences I have ever had.
This event itself served as proof that, regardless of our heritage or life circumstances, we all share common concerns and joys. We all experience pain and yearn for happiness, security, respect, and love. Keeping this in mind, I find that people often fear differences and the unknown, leading to unnecessary barriers in dialogue. Ultimately, our origins do not define us; we all share a common thread—we are all human. The dialogue and the event were truly a celebration of our shared humanity.
During my brief yet unforgettable trip, I also had the opportunity to explore the beautiful city of Erbil and discovered a modern city adorned with exquisite hotels, restaurants, and parks.
The history of Erbil and Kurdistan fascinated me, as it was unfortunately not taught in schools. Through the news and personal connections with Kurdish individuals, I learned that the region and its people have endured significant challenges but have emerged stronger. The city now exudes a sense of peace, attracting both locals and visitors from outside Kurdistan who come to enjoy the city's offerings. Despite official recommendations from various countries, I must emphasize that I felt safe throughout my stay, witnessing the local government's unwavering commitment to ensuring everyone's safety. Conversations with representatives from other European countries revealed a high level of cooperation between Kurdistan and Europe, making communication with the local government more accessible.
One of the most memorable highlights of my trip was the visit to the Kurdistan Parliament in Iraq. As a lawyer myself and having had the privilege of participating in the legislative process of the Finnish Parliament, I was keenly interested in understanding the local legislative procedures. During the enlightening guided tour, I discovered that the structure and legislative process of the Parliament shared fundamental pillars with the Finnish and "European" models. We were graciously received by Mrs. Muna Kahveci, the Secretary of the Parliament, whose professionalism and position were truly inspiring.
Our conversations focused on the crucial topic of women's rights, and it was an honor to meet such an accomplished woman in such a high-ranking position. Additionally, it was remarkable to learn that the Chairman of the Parliament, Mrs. Rewas Fayaq, is also a highly educated woman. Kurdish Laws stipulate that at least 30% of parliamentary members should be women, making the Kurdistan region potentially the only country in the Middle East that strongly promotes women's involvement in politics. Moreover, the legislation ensures representation for minorities, reflecting our shared values and inclusive approach.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the people of Kurdistan, who warmly embraced me and made me feel welcome and comfortable throughout my visit. The hospitality I experienced was truly unparalleled and held immense value. I eagerly look forward to the opportunity to reunite with the wonderful people of Kurdistan in the near future.
Maria Flygare is an attorney lawyer in Finland and women's rights campaigner.