Images in exile. Gender and representation among Syrian Kurdish women in Norway
About the project
The project Images in Exile (IMEX) is an individual research project funded by the Marie Skłodowska Curie European Fellowship. It addresses current political and religious representations of Kurdish women, and how these are negotiated in exile, and it investigates the relationship between media representations and reality, and between host country, refugee, and country of origin.
IMEX’s main objective is to understand how women play an active role in (re)shaping and (re)negotiating their subject position while building up a new life elsewhere. From this perspective, the project will give
- a more balanced view on political and religious networks and participation in these networks of women who live through a difficult period of turmoil and transition. It will thus also shed light on the ways in which people redefine their subject positions and build up a new life elsewhere after having lived through conflict and disaster (Samuels 2012, Das 2007).
- the project offers new insights into how these experiences are gendered. What are the opportunities and limitations that women experience because of being women? How are women ‘doing gender’ in the sense of Butler (2004), when they build up a life in a new society?
IMEX focuses on a population that was highly marginalized in pre-war Syria. The Kurds have a history of alienation from the central government because of prohibitions on Kurdish language and culture and the denial of citizenships to large numbers of Kurds in Syria (Allsopp 2014). In the course of the war many Kurds fled abroad. How is their life in exile shaped by the minoritized position Kurdish women had and have, and by the new political developments? How are they influenced by the images and discourses about their position, in political ideology and in the media?
IMEX’s starting point is the observation that new and contrasting representations of Kurdish women exist side by side, and lead to new expressions and performances of gender among Kurdish women. Some images or image-types that circulate about Kurds have become icons during the Syrian war. Pictures of Yezidi Kurdish refugees, traded as sex slaves in ISIS territory, of the (unveiled) female guerrilla fighter defending Kurdish territory from ISIS, and pictures of the veiled (Kurdish) Muslim woman refugee en route through Europe.
Kurds as refugees in Europe
IMEX also strongly relates to the current refugee crisis and its implications for Syrian Kurdish women in Europe. It challenges images about Muslim women, who are often the subject of debates on the supposed dichotomy between an imagined secular progressive West and religious backwards East. Kurdish women disrupt this dichotomy through an alternative portrayal in global media.
Whereas Kurds were previously often pictured as terrorists, backward, and conservative, they are now presented as courageous fighters against, and victims of, Islamic terrorism; and as progressive forces that include women in their ranks. Ideas about progressive, feminist and secular forms of governance are strongly developed in Kurdish political thought, and central in local self-representations. However, media representations and political ideology often differ from social realities on the ground. Going beyond these representations, this study will investigate Kurdish women’s experiences in a rapidly changing socio-political context. It aims at developing better insights into migrant women’s integration and participation in European societies.
This individual research project is funded by the Marie Skłodowska Curie European Fellowship