The Iraqi Transnational Collective is a newly formed group in London, but has existing branches in several cities in the United States. The event on ‘Iraqi Women: Between Home and Diaspora’ was held at the London School of Economics, and, as the name states, was focused on women from Iraq. Women’s voices are transnationally underrepresented, and this event brought to life their voices from both inside Iraq and diaspora. The event also addressed the role of women in the development of Iraq.
Those on the panel included both academics and those from the arts: Dr Zaynep Kaya, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, Tara Jaffar, an artist, creative practitioner and outreach officer at Iraq Body Count, Maysoon Pachachi, a film director who started a film training centre in Baghdad, Dr Nadia Mohammed, a fellow researcher at Kings College London and a poet, and Nazli Tarzi, a multimedia journalist and researcher on Iraqi culture and history.
Tara Jaffar was the first to speak on the panel; she narrated a story about a Sumerian Goddess, and illustrated the importance of her character in history. She spoke about how the Babylonians replaced the character of the Samarian Goddess with a male God, which showcases the patriarchal reinterpretations of history. Tara also spoke of the importance of the role of the mother’s voice, as a mother’s voice is perhaps particularly marginalised when it comes to women. Conversely, from a more academic perspective, Dr Zaynep from the LSE spoke about her work that focuses on how international gender norms fit in domestic settings in countries such as Iraq. She discussed how policy makers in Iraq tended to overlook the women’s movement in the country, which is historical. She also illustrated the importance of not viewing Iraqi women as one homogenous entity.
Maysoon Pachachi, the London-based Iraqi filmmaker, spoke about her experience creating a free of charge film making centre in Baghdad. She displayed images that her students took, which narrated their stories as women living in Iraq- many honest and heart-breaking portrayals of life in a war torn city. Maysoon spoke about the difficulties she experienced with making the film centre, as sometimes it would have to stop if the situation was too dangerous, and then re-open again. As someone who is based in London but is of Iraqi descent, Maysoon decided, “she was living on a bridge [neither here nor there].” This conclusion arose when she realised that she was a part of different cultures, and was trying to ‘bridge’ them together.
Dr Nadia Mohammed provided a perspective of a woman who had just recently moved from Iraq. Dr Nadia is a scholar of American and English poetry, and described her experiences as a lecturer in Iraq. Unfortunately, in 2014/2015 she had to end her career in the university due to growing fundamentalism in the country. She spoke about the problems she encountered whilst teaching Western literature in Iraq, both by the staff at the university and by the responses from the students. As a feminist lecturer, an important aspect of her teaching was giving Iraqi women the space to question their identities for themselves, as a critical thinking discourse. Dr Nadia’s current project in London is writing poetry voicing Iraqi women’s struggles in Iraq and diaspora.
Lastly, Nazli Tarzi, a journalist and researcher, spoke about her research on how women in Iraq felt about their situation, and how they felt about women living in diaspora. Her findings - that were based on surveys she gave to women in Iraq - illustrated a nostalgic ‘yearning for yesterday’ feeling, and also a general sense of psychological exhaustion. Despondently, in her findings, there was an overwhelming theme of death and misery evoked by the women she gave the surveys, emphasising the distressing nature of life in contemporary Iraq.
Admittedly, at the end of the event there were feelings of heightened emotions. Can there be progress at all in Iraq? How can the position of women in Iraqi society at the moment be improved? What can women do in the diaspora to help the situation at home for women? Evidently, these were questions that cannot be easily answered. However, what can be said, is that the event was a good way of bringing Iraqi’s together as a community to reflect on women’s issues in the country; and also a means to try to do something to ‘bridge’ those in diaspora, and at home, to improve the situation in Iraq.