Taken from the October issue of Dazed & Confused:
Kurds have long suffered from human-rights violations in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and have often been summarily executed as political prisoners without a fair trial. So when, in April, a court in the Marivan community of Kurdistan Province decided to “punish” a convict by parading him through the streets wearing traditional Kurdish female clothing, women protested in the street at the implied insult to both Kurdish culture and women. In solidarity, Masoud Fathi and Sasan Amjadi founded Kurd Men for Equality (KME), a Facebook page on which they posted photos of themselves in the same sort of garments. It sparked a chain reaction, as hundreds of men – Kurds and non-Kurds alike – posted pictures of themselves cross-dressing in support of the site’s message that “being a woman is nothing to be ashamed of,” in a brave yet playful act of transgression, provocation and political protest.
Ahmad Rafat, a prominent Irani journalist, was among the first to respond: “After I interviewed Masoud Fathi on my TV show, The Letter of the Night, I called a few Kurdish friends and asked them to bring me a traditional hijab, but it was difficult to find one that fit because I’m so fat. My cross-dressing picture (below) has been shared on Facebook more than 700 times. A radically pro-Irani govern-ment site also published it, denouncing me as a ‘homosexual’. I have also received a lot of death threats from Irani secret agents – that means Facebook works.”
Amjadi insists that the KME Facebook movement, however widespread, was not properly represented by the media. “Human-rights violations in Kurdistan are acute. However, Iranian media ensures that these issues are not aired abroad. I’m disappointed that the BBC’s Persian branch did not provide any reports about it.” But Rafat is quick to point out that brutal political oppression isn’t just reserved for Kurds: “We have many second-class citizens. You’re second class if you aren’t a good Muslim, or if you’re in a minority like the Sunnis or the Azeris. For being Bahai they throw you into jail for 20 years.”
“Being a woman is in itself humiliating”
As director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, Diana Nammi stresses the bravery of the Marivan women who took to the streets with banners. “I admire their courage. I heard some of them were beaten and arrested, as their protest was clearly illegal. I don’t believe the police chief’s apology for the Marivan incident was sincere. The government just tried to calm the situation down. Forcing a man to wear women’s dress in order to humiliate him suggests that being a woman is in itself humiliating. In their eyes, making a man wear women’s clothing was equal to torture.”
A forum for civil disobedience
At the time of writing the KME Facebook page has over 17,000 likes and over 300 gender-bending posts from both men and women. As it gathered international support, the Iranian chief of police offered an official apology for the Marivan incident. Still, the future of women’s and Kurdish rights remains uncertain. When asked what real political change the KME Facebook movement achieved, Rafat remains sceptical, but adds: “It created a basis of communication, to prepare people. In case something happens.”
Iran’s Next Revolution?
Despite the claim by several Kurdish activists that Kurdistan Province is more progressive than other areas of Iran, Rafat disagrees: “Kurdistan has the highest number of honour killings in Iran. Women have publicly set themselves on fire in protest against their violent husbands, fathers and brothers.” Nammi adds: “Many Kurdish males are oppressively conservative. Genital mutilation and forced marriages have increased in Kurd-istan, especially in rural areas. To date, none of the perpetrators of honour killings have been arrested or put on trial. Murder of women is not illegal in Iran... I hope the next revolution is a woman’s revolution – that would be great.”
Follow Christine Jun on Twitter here @ChristineCocoJ