Homosexuality Fears Over Gender Equality in Iraqi Kurdistan

Publication Date: 
December 20, 2010

Despite the predominance of a male religious culture, Kurdish women are taking on more and more traditionally male activities. These young women are preparing for a marathon in Erbil.
------ Photo by Namo Abdulla for Rudaw.

ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan: The passing of a new law in Iraqi Kurdistan guaranteeing “gender equality” has deeply outraged the local religious community, including the minister of endowments and religious affairs and prominent imams, who interpret the phrase as legitimizing homosexuality in Kurdistan. 

The law, which was recently passed by the Parliament of the semiautonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate the work of the Ministry of Culture and Youth, says that the ministry “is promoting gender equality.”

Kamil Haji Ali, the minister of endowments and religious affairs, said the new law would “spread immorality” and “distort” Kurdish society. 

“The phrase ‘gender equality’ has so many meanings,” said Ali, a Political Bureau member of the Kurdistan Islamic Movement. “According to the information we have gathered about it, the term means that women can marry women, and men can marry men as well. This does not suit our Muslim society. That’s why we can never agree with this phrase.”

But Sozan Shihab, leader of the majority Kurdistani Alliance in parliament, said this was a misinterpretation of the law, as the law merely aimed at decreasing social injustice against women Iraqi Kurdistan.

“The phrase ‘gender equality’ means social equality between men and women in terms of rights and duties,” she said. “Women and men are equal and have no differences.”

The Islamic Union of Scholars in Kurdistan (IUSK) has also published a statement demanding the removal of the phrase “gender equality” from the law.

“As men are allowed to marry four women, this term also allows women to marry four men,” argued Mullah Nyaz Raghib, head of the Erbil office of the IUSK. “It also means that homosexuals can marry each other. This must change.”

A number of other prominent imams have been outraged and have spoken out against the law in recent Friday prayer services, with some accusing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of pursuing the “corrupt path” of the West.

Some religious men have gone even further, viewing gender equality as being a cause of the breakdown of the family and as condoning abortion. 

“This phrase is against all religions,” said Mullah Immad Guani, preacher at Kherkhwazan Mosque in Erbil’s Malla Omer district. “The phrase ‘gender equality’ destroys families by equating [normal marriage] with homosexual marriage. It also allows abortion.” 

But Abdul-Salam Berwari, a Kurdistan lawmaker, believes there is a misconception of the law among the clerics resulting from their dependence on Arabic knowledge to understand concepts created in the West, such as gender equality, rather than on Western learning. 

“Those who believe gender equality means allowing homosexuality don’t really understand what the word ‘gender’ means,” said Berwari. “Instead of introducing the beautiful values of Islam to society, they bring the backward traditions of the Arab culture into Kurdish society. They want to destabilize the Kurdistan region.”

On Sunday the KRG held a press conference, where the public were ensured that gender equality did not include giving marriage rights to homosexuals, whose existence is effectively invisible in Iraq due to restrictive traditional rules. The government said no marriages, other than those permitted by official religions in Kurdistan, were allowed by law.