Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kurdish Singer Advocates for Women

“Mothers can change the whole world,” she said. “From the first lullaby they sing for their sons, to the way they treat their daughter-in-laws, they send the message of ‘respecting women.’ Photo courtesy of Rojan
“Mothers can change the whole world,” she said. “From the first lullaby they sing for their sons, to the way they treat their daughter-in-laws, they send the message of ‘respecting women.’ Photo courtesy of Rojan
TORONTO, Canada—As a sheltered young singer from a liberal, culturally rich family, Rojan had little exposure to the hardships many women and girls were facing in Iran. Now, as a Kurdish diva who tours with renowned Kurdish singers, Rojan is able to advocate for women’s rights and serve as a role model for her female fans.  
Born into an artistically elite family in Sanandaj, Rojan was encouraged and supported by her father throughout her career as a singer. She started singing in elementary school in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan province and the center of Kurdish culture. In high school her family moved to Kermansha in northwestern Iran, where Rojan rose to stardom and her music was broadcast on radio and TV. 
Her father, who was well respected in the community and a major supporter of art, would patiently accompany her daughter to the recording studios. He would wait for hours on end to protect her daughter’s reputation and honor from the judgments of a patriarchal society that looked down on female artists.
From what she witnessed with the women in her family — including her mother, siblings and aunts — Rojan assumed respect for women was prevailed in the society as well. It was only years later, when she got involved in women’s issues, that Rojan came face-to-face with abused women.
“It was also when I went to Erbil, Kurdistan, for a concert and connected with women’s organization that I realized how, despite the apparent freedom Kurdish women have — (not having to wear) veil, wearing colourful dresses, dancing and fighting (as Peshmerga) along with men — violence against women was widespread,” Rojan told Rudaw in a phone interview. 
When the Islamists took over in 1979 in Iran, women’s voice were banned. Rojan went to Italy with her husband and studied fashion design.  When she went back to Iran years later, women who had been suffering in silence shared their stories with Rojan.
“In a country where women are officially perceived as only objects, and not humans, all kinds of abuse are common. Many of the women were sexually, verbally and emotionally abused — even those in wealthy families,” she said. 
“Because they don’t have the right to custody and to divorce, they had to stay with unfaithful husbands. Because they were too afraid of losing their honour, they would remain silent about sexual harassments by family members and strangers. For many of these women sex meant satisfying a man and producing a child, nothing else.”
Years later, when Rojan immigrated to the United States with her husband, son and daughter, she once again pursued her passion for music. Her first album, recorded underground in Iran and containing Kurdish and Farsi songs, was an immediate hit.  
Rojan is a Kurdish folk singer who draws inspiration from Sufi music. Although she strongly identifies as Kurdish, performing in traditional dress and with Kurdish singers, she is sometimes criticized for singing in Farsi. 
“Having access to more languages means being able to offer richer works of art,” she said. “I can’t ignore the touching, classic poetry of Hafez and Rumi when they can help my art and can even bridge a gap between estranged cultures.”  
Rojan, who is now based in California, said despite the critique, the Iranian and Kurdish communities support her and she is always ready to give back. She is active in charity work and fundraising, and sends money to support Kurdish women who need medical attention. When women and girls in Kurdistan are in trouble, they know whom to contact.
“The last two were women who had lost their faces to self-immolation and needed plastic surgery,” she said. “When a Kurdish girl lost her sight as a reaction to penicillin, I talked to many doctors in America and followed (up on) her case. We started a social media campaign and attracted enough attention, putting Iran under pressure to accept the responsibility. Two days ago, I was informed that she fortunately got her sight back.”
In addition to offering financial and legal advice to women through her son, who is a lawyer, Rojan makes the time to listen to her fans. Despite juggling motherhood, family, recordings and rehearsals — plus a busy American lifestyle — Rojan is a maternal figure for people around her, including young fans who seek advice about their most important life decisions. 
“Mothers can change the whole world,” she said. “From the first lullaby they sing for their sons, to the way they treat their daughter-in-laws, they send the message of ‘respecting women.’ A mother who forgives the killer of her child to break the chain of revenge is a real hero who has a lot to say to the world.” 
Despite her success, Rojan has limited financial support for her music and releases single tracks instead of albums. One of her goals is to create an anti-war themed album of women singers from different ethnic backgrounds.
The theme of motherhood is apparent in her latest release. The Myth of Eve is an anti-war music video focused on mothers suffering in the in Iraq, Syria and Palestine conflicts.   
According to Islamic myth, Eve had two sons, Habil and Qabil — one good and one bad. When the bad one killed the good one, “it was Eve who suffered more than anyone else,” Rojan said. “Mothers suffer the most.”

This article originally appeared in

1 comment:

memo said...

May your voice never be muffled by soil. You are born to sing .