Report by Sadaf Sajid & Amna Liaqat.
On Saturday 16th April, the SEPLAA YLC held their third International Skype session with Ms. Katarzyna Szutkowski from the US. Ms. Szutkowski’s work primarily focuses on women in the political arena, women in education and women in the workforce including the family laws and family dynamics that govern their life. Director SYLC, Ms. Ammara Farooq Malik and Ms. Szutkowski had earlier co authored a research paper on peace for the International Symposium on Peace Education held in Kurdistan Iraq in 2014, where they presented together under the New York University Center of Global Affairs, University of Duhok and UNICEF. The session explored the challenges faced by women in war torn countries.
The discussion was opened by Ms.Malik who briefed the audience about their experience in Iraq and how perceptions differ so much from reality on ground. Speaking about her area of expertise, Ms. Szutkowski said that it is very important and interesting to study how empowered the women of different societies are, how women perceive themselves and others and how they are perceived by the society. According to her, although condition for the women of Iraq have improved post-war, yet if they are compared with other women in the region, there is still much to be desired. Women rights are still not fully addressed in the country, most of the changes only decorative, where while women have made it to the parliament, yet they do not hold decision making positions.”
She was of the view that inclusive progress of women cannot happen without men and narrated several accounts of male support for females in Iraq, her observation being that men are very supportive of their women and take great pride in their achievements and progress.’It is very healthy and essential,’ she said,’ as change cannot happen without including men in the equation.’
Speaking further about her positive experiences in Iraq, she said that the ratio of women going to university is constantly increasing so much so that more women graduate with university level education than men, many also seeking technical education. ‘Education is considered important for both men and women which is a huge sign of progress,’she said.
Having spent time and studied the situation of women in war-torn Iraq, she was impressed by the resilience and strength of the Iraqi mothers and daughters, ‘When it comes to status in the society, women have the freedom to move and speak their minds. Iraqi women are very strong minded and opinionated, they cannot be swayed this way and that so easily. They are confident and have no hesitance in speaking their minds aloud. They want to change the situation of Iraq and want to be included in the decision making process.’
Talking about the mutual challenges and needs of women the world over, she said, ‘One tends to think that women in different regions, from different countries, culture and background may have different lives and priorities but surprisingly, we women want the same things. We want peace, education, opportunity and respect. Our issues, needs, frustrations, joys, all are the same. Working women face the same challenge of balancing family, home and work.’
“I admire Ammara a lot and have learned so much from her,’ she said. ‘I work from home, I have a child and earlier I used to feel embarrassed if there was any disturbance in my work because of her, but now I have learned from Ammara that our kids are a part of our life, we cannot deny and say that that part does not exist. We would never do that. We cherish this role and have devised ways to work around it. It is what it is and it does not make us any less professional.”
With the continuing war, violence and hatred around the world, both speakers were of the opinion that there is more and more need for common people from different societies to connect and interact. “Iraqi people are very kind and warm and so are the people from most other countries in the world. It is the politics, selfish interests of the rulers and negative role of the media that has caused friction among the people too, otherwise, we all have the same dreams and aspirations where we all want a peaceful world.”
The SYLC members found the session extremely informative and engaging and thanked the speakers for their time.