An exhibition in the Kurdistan region aims to honour and remember the victims and to dispel the silence and shame that accompanies gender-based violence.
Behind a curtain, in a darkened room at a new exhibition in Erbil, candlelight illuminates the initials of 120 women who died in the Kurdistan Region in 2019 as a result of gender-based violence, reminding viewers that, while their stories may be obscured, they are not forgotten.
The women – 41 of whom were murdered and 79 who took their own lives – are identified by their initials, place of residence, and year of birth and represent part of the grim toll that violence against women and girls takes in the Kurdistan Region every day. Beyond those who have died, thousands of others are subjected to rape, assault, sexual harassment, and other forms abuse and discrimination.
Written in elegant calligraphy by photographer and artist Hanna Noori, the initials serve a dual purpose for the HERstory Exhibition, which opened on Monday (February 10) and runs for the next month at Framing Photojournalism in Erbil. It aims both to honor and remember the women who died and to dispel the silence and shame that accompanies gender-based violence.
Activist Dashni Morad, who organized the exhibition as a part of #FemaleVoicesOfTheWorld, told NRT Digital Media that she hoped that it would help to spark both conversation and cooperation to combat violence against women.
“I want to every actor to come together and I want to say it’s not just the job of women’s rights activists: it’s all of us,” she said. “It begins with sharing the stories. When we all come together I know that we can find better ways every day to eliminate gender-based violence.”
The exhibition is also being supported by the Government of Canada and SEED Foundation, a local NGO.
Head of the Canadian embassy’s office in Erbil Ashley Durec told NRT Digital Media that gender equality and the empowerment of women are at the center of her government’s domestic and foreign policies. However, it was the murder of a woman by her husband outside a courthouse in Erbil soon after Durec arrived that made her determined to support initiatives like HERstory.
“When [Morad] approached me with her idea of honoring victims of this most serious act of gender-based violence, I immediately was on board,” she said.
“The combination of statistics and stories gives this initiative a special touch. Using data is essential to wrap our minds around the scope of the problem, although we recognize that much violence against women goes unreported,” added.
“We want survivors of GBV to know that blame lies with the perpetrators,” SEED President and Executive Director Sherri Kraham Talabany said in a press release.
The exhibit also seeks to recognize the work that is being done by the men and women of the Department to Combat Violence Against Women and Families (DCVAW), who staff the 119 hotline, which women can call to report abuse and get help.
In 2019, 11,907 women did so and around a third received aid from the department.
The stories of the DCVAW staff are told in a series of portraits by Noori and in a mural by Nina Lanke, an artist based in the Netherlands. Also on display at the exhibition is the work of painter Sonia Basheer.
Describing Lanke’s mural, Morad said that it showed the hopeful side of the exhibition and that the effort of anyone working to end gender-based violence should be recognized, regardless of whether they are in government or civil society.
Raman, a volunteer who helped to put the exhibition together, also sounded an optimistic note.
“In a place like Kurdistan, you see a lot of sexual harassment against women. [But,] let’s end this,” he said.
“Everything you work for can happen. I’m a believer,” he added.
“We are talking about a crime happening and we need to come together and look at the problem and find the solution at the same time,” Morad said.