It takes a special man to carry off a skirt. In Iran, a growing group of Kurdish guys are rocking girly frocks to promote a serious message: being a woman is nothing to laugh at.
It began when a convicted domestic abuser was sentenced to parade around town dressed in traditional Kurdish women’s clothing. The ruling by a judge in Marivan, Iran prompted 17 members of parliament to complain to the justice ministry that the action was “humiliating to Muslim women.”
Masoud Fathi reacted differently; he popped on a dress. His friend Dler Kamangar snapped a picture. They posted it to Facebook with the slogan “Being a woman is not a tool to humiliate or punish anyone” and so launched The Kurd Men for Equality campaign. They’ve garnered over 18,000 Facebook “likes” and the improbable endorsement of American actress Rosario Dawson.
Since the campaign kicked off last April, other men in drag have taken to the streets, with heavy follow-on posting to Facebook. They hold signs with slogans such as “hoping for the day that sexuality, gender will not be a way of evaluating humanity.”
“Women are part of our personality, our character. If we oppress one part of our character, we oppress ourselves,” Fathi said in an interview with the Kurdistan Tribune, “If one part of us is unfree, our whole cannot be free, either.”
It makes for fascinating dichotomy that a male-led feminist movement would emerge in a region with a dubious record for women’s rights. Diana Nammi, Executive Director for the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization, told CNN that honor killings, genital mutilation, and child marriages remain a large part of contemporary culture.
“Officials put the number of honor killings at a few hundred each year, but I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The realities are far darker,” said Nammi.
In politics, Kurdish women enjoy greater rights than females in neighboring countries: by law, 30% of the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament’s members must be women. The main Kurdish party in the Turkish parliament has instituted a similar quota, requiring 40% of the seats go to women.
“It seems the Kurdish people are trying really hard to fight for the rights that have been taken from them. I guess women’s rights is part of that whole thing,” activist Pedram Penhan told CNN, “I wouldn’t label myself as a feminist, but I would say I’m an activist who does anything possible to make the world a better place for every human.”
Images from the Kurd Men for Equality Facebook page