Categories: Non-Fiction

Mehreen Farhan

Hello friends, I welcome you to another section of Editor’s Blog on The Pakistani Woman, where I do a quick roundup of what’s happening and what’s new on the website. This week, I will tell you about the recent #TedxNishtimanWomen event, held in Erbil, Iraq.

Last weekend, I was invited at one of the most hyped events in this part of Iraq under the name of TEDx. For those of you who don’t know about TEDx, TED is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”. It is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). The difference between TED and TEDx events are that the former takes more of a global approach while the latter typically focuses on a local community that concentrates on local voices. “Officially, the ‘x’ in TEDx stands for “independently organized TED event”.

Following the political instability in north Iraq, also known as Kurdistan, the Kurdish people are making a positive effort to portray themselves in the international media. One such opportunity was to chime into the globally held #TEDxWomen events, where the theme was Bridges; more elaborately, women are the bridges of society. When she communicates, she does so at a level to sync with you, she will make her utmost effort to bridge that gap between you and her, or between parties, or between ideas. She is a builder because she is building bridges.

#TedxNishtimanWoman – Bridges; Official Cover Photo

On the political front, the Kurdish people are fighting for their right of independence even though no neighbor is ready to support them. The event started off by referring to the recent referendum held on 25th September, 2017, in which the Kurdish people voted “yes” to the question, “Do you want an independent Kurdistan?” The results came in with 92.7% people voting to a “yes” naturally angering the tough neighborhood they are surrounded with. It was evident throughout this event that they were portraying their culture, with women speakers clad in their traditional Kurdish dresses, mostly opting to deliver their speech in Kurdish by will and live performances highlighting Kurdish music.

#TedxNishtimanWomen showcased eight amazing women of courage who tell their tale of bravery despite the odds. Among the speakers was a gentleman also, who supports the cause of women empowerment in his own way.

The first speaker of the evening was Payam Shwani who talked about the importance of volunteer work. Payam Shwani is the receiver of a Golden Medal from the US congress. Her main topic of discussion was how leading a busy life, you can still opt for volunteer and community service work. The pros outweigh the cons by far. The kind of skills and self satisfaction you get doing community work cannot be obtained just by doing a 9 to 5 job or a simple college degree. Management skills, time management skills, social skills, contacts, an increased sense of empathy towards others is just a few of the benefits you get from helping others and volunteering.

Payam Shwani, the receiver of a Golden Medal from the US congress.

Payam suggested to take a piece of paper and briefly note down how you spend your average week: number of hours spent on a job or college, hours spent sleeping, time spent with family, everything. See how much hours do you still have free in an average week. You are not meant to spend all your free time to community work but you can give at least one or two hours a week to some volunteering activities. The idea is made very practical and the way Ms Shwani addressed the topic, makes the idea all the more appealing.

Kocher Salih is one of the 10 recipients of Global Hope Coalition award.

The next speaker on the #TedxNishtimanWomen stage was Kocher Salih, a Peshmerga, and one of the 10 recipients of Global Hope Coalition award.

Kocher Salih joined Peshmerga, the Kurdish armed forces, back in 2001 when it was considered a very unconventional career line for the then-conservative Kurdish society. Faced with opposition at home and at work, she toiled hard to make space for herself in her ranks. Very soon it became evident that there was no stopping this fierce warrior like woman. Rank by rank she kept progressing and was later asked to train at a military college. Her efforts were later recognized on an international level and she became one of the people who were honored with Global Hope Coalition Award.

A Kurdish woman true to her identity, Kocher maintains that when they are faced with two options, Life and Death, they will always choose death because their death means the life of her people. She will always lay down her life for her country and people.

We saw Kocher Salih wearing a traditional Kurdish dress, that added to her sense of patriotism even more.

Third speaker of #TedxNishtimanWomen was Tanya Khailany, who is an activist for equal women rights.

Tanya Gilly Khailany is the co-founder of SEED Foundation and a former parliamentarian in the Iraqi government. Tanya has majored in Political Science in Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She is known for her role in supporting legislation in favor of women’s involvement in the political arena. She was also involved in the Peace (Ashti) Movement that brought together the government parties and the opposition in 2010.

Tanya Khailany, championing equal women rights in a powerful way.

After spending much of her time in the US, Tanya Khailany returned to Kurdistan when she heard the sad news of the death of a family member who also happened to live in a far off village. As is the Kurdish culture, Tanya, along with many of her other family members, traveled to pay their respects to the deceased. On her way, she noticed villages destroyed and torn by fights and war, one after the other. There was only destruction to see. What grieved her more was the condition of women in those areas. Knowing that the backbone of Kurdish traditional values comes from its villages, this was something serious. It was almost like the core of their cultural values were targeted. She made up her mind to fight for the cause of women empowerment and women equality all over Kurdistan.

Tanya Khailany: “Women’s priorities are different than those of men, women experience war and peace differently, and so, women needs are also different.”

In her speech, Tanya talks about how difficult it is to change the mindset of a people especially if they are rigid and adamant on them. According to her, the best way to bring change is to start with your own community. Start with where you live, your street, your town, your own family. Once you win them over, these are the people who will have your back because the fight will definitely be tough. When the fight will get tougher and you think you want to give up, these are the people who will build you up all over again. At the end of her speech, Tanya’s motto was “Women waging peace” because “women are 50% of the world’s population, and they are mothers to the other 50%” and that makes them invincible.

The next speaker, Zhian Yousif, is a successful woman who had introduced Zumba to Kurdistan. Zhian was like any other woman and owing to her life circumstances, she came to a point where she was very obese. The weight became harmful for her health. Fast forward through the things that convinced her to change herself completely, she went on to lose weight.Zhian Yousifi is a Zumba instructor that helped popularize and normalize sports in Kurdistan. #TedxNishtimanWomen

Zhian Yousifi is a Zumba instructor that helped popularize and normalize sports in Kurdistan.

Being in an optimal body shape doesn’t stop her from improving. She wants to be the number one female fitness trainer/instructor and wants to represent Kurdistan internationally. Zhian goes on to explain how being in control of her body was a way of self fulfillment and better self esteem. She is a Zumba instructor that helped popularize and normalize sports in Kurdistan. Zhian faced prejudice for doing what she loves but she never gave up. She continuously supports and encourages Kurdish women to do so too. She constantly participates in body building competitions and has won many awards.

I saved the following speaker for the last because for me, she was the highlight of the event and I was looking forward to her speech.

Meet Binayee Ahmad: Binayee was born with “Ichthyosis Vulgaris” also known as “fish scale disease.” Binayee was given several hours to live upon her birth, however Binayee is a third year university student now, and she didn’t let her sickness take over who she might become. Binayee is known for fighting against her sickness and achieving great things.

Binayee Ahmed, a successful lady who didn’t let her illness effect her in a negative way.

Binayee opened her eyes to people wondering over her so called ugliness. Born with a rare disease that could have, in fact, happen to anyone of us, Binayee suffered for the longest time since her sickness was the kind not normally seen. People would shun away from her, schools won’t accept her as they found her “not normal”, people would often mistake her for a beggar and throw coins her way without her asking. How can a person grow up in an environment like that and still stay positive?

Binayee stole the show with her heart wrenching story of love and compassion even though she herself didn’t get these things in her life. She questions a society where getting a nose job, a botox treatment and other such beauty enhancing procedures is the norm. She calls upon us and ask why don’t we accept the beauty we are born with? What is it that we lack? We lack nothing. Ask someone born with an incurable condition of “Ichthyosis Vulgaris” how perfect we are.

Binayee’s condition makes her extremely vulnerable to sunlight and heat. Her skin cannot take either and hence, she faints when the temperature gets too hot for her. Despite this tremendous physical condition and being in a country of extreme weathers, Binayee is active in community service and volunteering. She raises funds for people who need treatments.

Even though her own disease is incurable, she makes sure she is able to help anyone who can still get a cure and be healed.

Needless to say, Binayee’s touching story gave tears to everyone in the hall, including myself. She received a standing ovation twice for being brave enough to get up on an international stage and narrate the story of her life when she was shunned by all. Binayee rose above us all and proved that beauty, indeed, runs skin deep.

These are just some of the amazing women that shared their stories of courage and bravery on the stage of #TedxNishtimanWomen. They succeeded in portraying an amazing image of the Kurdish people as a brave nation and reached an international audience via the TED platform.

The event had several live performances also which are shared on The Pakistani Woman Facebook page.

I hope you learnt about a new culture through this blog post. The Kurdish people are our brothers in Islam, as are the rest of the Muslim countries, yet very little is known about them in Pakistan. I blogged about this post in the hopes that you will find something to relate in the struggles of these people, just like I have.

Thank you for reading and thank you for being awesome!

Mehreen Farhan.

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