Tal Afar: women challenge taboo customs and traditions

Baghdad, 2021: A Turkmen survivor from Tal Afar district gives a speech at a conference on combating violence against women. Conference Media

By KirkukNow in Nineveh

"I undertook opening the first library with a women's administration because Tal Afar needs a cultural space for women and the development of their social role as the basis for the development of any society," said Miad Mohammed, owner of Sofia Library, which is the first women's library in Tal Afar.

"The library includes two sections, the first for selling books which includes different literary, scientific, historical and social titles, and the second section (the Forum), which is a place dedicated to reading and the aim is to create a wonderful community for passionate readers who enjoy reading and share the same interests."

Miad, who is in her thirties, further explains, "The project is more than a library. In the forum, we put forward and discuss different ideas."

"Like any project, we faced challenges and difficulties, as the community was divided between supporters and opponents, and frustrated... Both were inspiration for me to continue and persist for success and excellence.”

Like any project, we faced challenges and difficulties

Turkmen women in Tal Afar did not give up their role in restoring life to their war-ravaged, after its liberation from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria (ISIS) in August 2017. Dozens of them participated in voluntary campaigns to clean and green the town, eliminate slogans of hatred and violence, paint schools and public institutions.

According to the official estimates of the Central Bureau of Statistics in the Federal Ministry of Planning for 2018, over 250,000 people out of the total population of Tal Afar amounted to 511,000, are females of different ages.

Daesh committed atrocities in June 2014 when they captured Talafar, 70 km northwest of Mosul. 1300 people were abducted: 700 men, 470 women and 130 children, among them 400-500 in ISIL controlled prisons in Syria, a statement by Turkmen civil society NGOs said last year.


Nineveh, February 2022: Part of Miad Project, owner of Sophia Library in Tal Afar District. KirkukNow


Al-Afandi: the first female trainer in Tal Afar

“Performing sports for women in gyms outside her home, and in a conservative tribal society, is considered an adventure and even a struggle,” said Ruqayya Al-Afandi, a sports coach, 20s.

"I was presented with the idea of ​​training women in a gym, in a first step in the history of Tal Afar, and it was not easy to agree, given the prevailing social customs and norms that may oppose these trends," she explained.

"However, I was confident in myself and believed in the success of my project, so we took the initiative to open the Time Gym for Women about three months ago, and despite the challenges we face, there is a high turnout of women who constantly affirm that they benefit from exercising in the hall."

sports are not restricted to men

She points out that "sports are not restricted to men. Rather, doctors advise that both sexes always practice it to lose weight, build a healthy body, and prevent disease, especially with age. Women may need more than men to give them a graceful body."

Turkmens are considered the third largest ethnic group in Iraq after Arabs and Kurds, residing almost exclusively in the northern towns and villages stretching from Tal Afar through Mosul, Erbil, Altun Kopri, Kirkuk, Tuz Khurmatu, Kifri and Khanaqin. They are half Sunnis and half Shiite.

The residents who have survived ISIS reign yet the post-war trauma has become tougher for them as recontructions is slow in Talafar and Ninveh province in general. They told KirkukNow earlier in order to restore safety, security and reconstruction to their war-devastated region, locals can better represent them as lawmakers and decision makers.


First lady as taxi driver

For a woman to drive a car in a very society like Talafar is shock for all, men and women, young and elderly. The local community has turned more conservative following the emergence of pro-Iran Shiite military of Popular mobilization Forces PMF.

The paramilitary which was formed upon orders by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the spiritual leader of the Shiite Muslims in the world, to fight ISIS insurgency, has controlled towns and ran it per Islamic Sharia and Iran-like style which forces head scarf for women and limited access to different life sectors.  

However, Turkmen women entered the political battleground in Tal Afar as well, and five of them reached the parliament dome in multiple electoral cycles, they are: Iman Muhammad Yunus al-Salman, Nahla Husayn al-Hababi, Sajida Muhammad Yunus al-Afandi, Layal Muhammad Ali al-Bayati, and Zulaikha Bakkar.

"For a woman- in Tal Afar - to work as a taxi driver, the matter is a kind of fantasy, but I did not pay attention to anything and even found support and here I am entering my third year I support my family from what I earn from my hard work,” says Um Ahmed, 50.

"The first months were very difficult, figners were crossed toward me. Some were laughing, surprised by a woman working as a taxi driver, but now the matter is different and may have become almost normal, and many students and female employees prefer to ride with me over guys,” Umm Ahmed added.

There is a long way to go for the Turkmen women in Tal Afar and Nineveh to confront the social norms, customs and traditions which some of it are so old that have turned into taboos.

"In spite of this, there is still a long way to go for the Turkmen women in Tal Afar and Nineveh to confront the customs and traditions in order to play their natural role as half of society, Umm Ahmed concluded.

In September 2020, a governmental committee was created under the title (Committee for Empowering Women in Tal Afar), affiliated to the Nineveh Governorate Office, and working to develop and strengthen the role of women in various areas of life, but it suffers from a lack of funding, and is mainly based on voluntary work.

In 2019, Women's Creativity Care Center in Tal Afar was opened per funds by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which took it upon itself to support women's talents, meet their psychological and social needs, and enhance their participation in cultural and humanitarian events, but it did not last long.

Miad advises her peers to "insist on achieving their goals and recites: people perish and their crafts do not...so choose for yourself what the effect pleases".


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