A call to the Women’s Media Center in Slemani, reveals that a woman’s body has been found in a field oustside Rania, a mountain town near the Turkish border. Runak Faraj, editor of Rewan (Dawn), the center’s newspaper, and her colleague Kalthum Murad join local Rania Police Chief Abdullah at the crime scene. Chief Abdullah’s cell phone shows a devastating image of a young woman clad in blue jeans, grabbing her hair in the agony of death. The woman is Nesrin, a young widow. Her mother is dead, and her father lives abroad. Her in-laws took Nesrin’s children when her husband died, and she lived from house to house after that.
“Why doesn’t the government fund shelters for homeless women who have no safe place to stay, rather than spend resources investigating their inevitable murders?” Kalthum asks Rania’s mayor.
Jasmin (pseudonym), a young mother protected at the Asuda Safe House in Sleymaniyah, is shot three times as she prepares for evening prayer. ”If a woman can be shot at a Safe House, what good are these so-called Safe Houses?” asks Kalthum.
Questions such as those posed by Kalthum must be addressed if Kurdish women are to stop honor killing and other toxic traditions.
Freelance video journalist Hemin Kaikay and Lawen Asad, a reporter at SOMA, the English language newspaper, investigate the shooting at Asuda. They interview police chiefs, Captain Nariman, head of the KRG’s newly formed Agency to Prevent Violence Against Women, and even Jasmin’s jailed brother, who is implicated in the shooting.
Through the investigations, interviews and visits to Rewan’s print house and offices, we learn how the Women’s Media Center and their investigative reporters vigorously pursue these cases in an effort to get the stories out, educate the public, and change tradition. Kurdish mainstream media follows their lead.
Like the problem of honor killing itself, these cases are generally not adequately resolved. The fight for justice and change led by the women and the KRG continues. Kalthum, Runak, and Runak Khan persevere in their work in Kurdistan. They encourage men and women of all backgrounds to join them.
During the Spring 2007 Zhinan shoot, we followed the story of Runak Rauf. I had known of Runak Khan (an honorific term) and admired her strong activist role as a “watchdog” of the government of nascent Iraqi Kurdistan. She even criticised policies which involved her son, Barham Salih who presided as Prime Minister of the Sorani speaking part of Kurdistan. Runak Khan added a no nonsense, back to basics voice to the peace movement and shamed men on both sides of the civil crisis to stop all violence.
Male Kurdish journalist, Birusk Tugan, who spent ten years with Voice of America, joined us for three months before continuing on to head a Kurdish language video station in Paris. Birusk understood the importance of the work Ruank Faraj and Katlhum were doing and put us onto their investigation of Nasrin’s murder. He pushed us to follow that case in 120-degree weather peppered by sand storms and with cross-border attacks imminent. Birusk helped direct and conducted many interviews, including the important back and forth at the end of the film with Nasrin’s brother-in-law.
Later, another male Kurdish journalist, Hemin Kaikay, alerted us to the plight of Jasmin and aided our following that case. Lawen Asad, a woman reporter from SOMA, the English language newspaper, joined Hemin in the investigation.