In a time when journalists are being assassinated strategically and called “the enemy of the people,” a group of female journalists and writers are courageously raising their voices and educate others how to do the same.
Based out of the Kurdistan Region capital of Erbil, ZHIN Magazine, a print and online news publication, promotes free media and encourages women and girls to take a front seat in society.
The publication is an example of how a by-women-for-women magazine leads the fight against gender inequality and discrimination in the Middle East and why it should be an inspiration for us all.
When I lived in Iraq for two months in 2016, I had the pleasure to experience the generous hospitality of the Kurdish people and got the opportunity to be interviewed by the editor-in-chief of ZHIN Magazine, Avan Faris Jaff.
When I spoke to her this month, she said: “The women are ready for a change. They want to live their life as any other women in a modern society.”
Aimed at women from 18-40 years, the magazine with female-only staff enjoys a growing readership and is a platform for success stories of independent women in Kurdistan, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.
ZHIN’s goal is to make women aware of their choices and to offer them opportunities, helping them grow and speak up in a male-dominated and traditional society.
“Where some still believe that women have a single role to play in society, women realize more and more they do not want to adhere to old traditions,” Jaff stated.
“A big task lies ahead for these women; they want change, but our political system and tradition make it difficult. At the same time, women realize that change needs to come from them,” she added.
But like any revolution or transformation, this change needs a stage, a futile ground from where to grow and spread.
The magazine is just that.
“She finds in ZHIN a sister, a platform, where she can share her ideas and where she can absorb information from, to enhance her own identity,” Jaff said.
But ZHIN is not alone in their quest for free speech, women’s rights, and equality.
Financial support comes from International Media Support (IMS), which covers 50 percent of the magazine’s expenses.
IMS is an organization that supports and promotes free and professional media in countries affected by armed conflict, human insecurity, and political transition across four continents.
With their help, ZHIN Magazine came to life.
Programme manager for Iraq Osama Al-Habahbeh, 61, who worked with IMS for 10 years said: “Media can play a positive role when it comes to empowering women.”
IMS provides ZHIN with advice, consultancy, and training on marketing and sustainability, helping the publication to run independently in the future.
The magazine plays a crucial role in addressing the issue of social cohesion and peaceful co-existence after Iraq announced the military defeat of the Islamic State in 2017.
“Iraq is so fragmented now and there is hate speech between ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq,” Al-Habahbeh said.
“That is the reason we focus on how we can bridge the gap between ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and how women can play a role in this.”
ZHIN’s growing readership and success will hopefully inspire other countries and eventually become a role model project for similar activities in Syria, Egypt, or Libya.
However, with proclamations such as “CNN sucks,” as often heard at US President Donald Trump’s mid-term election rallies over the past few weeks, one cannot help but think that organizations like IMS will soon need to turn toward the West, too.
The women behind ZHIN are truly inspiring in their courage and hard work, and we can only hope that they survive the battle for women’s rights and prevail in a world where the ground for free media is ever so steadily turning unfertile.
Leonie Zeumer is a journalist, actress, and TV presenter living in London, United Kingdom. She has worked on various Kurdish film projects, including "Behind the Clouds - Salute to Peshmerga" which opened in cinemas 2016, where Leonie played the female lead role.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany