My journey in Erbil’s women’s prison is one that will remain with me for a long time.
I first went to the female’s prison with START Social Development Organization for the Jezhn (Eid) occasion where we gave the women in the women’s shelter and prison some gifts, as it is also the annual campaign of ‘anti-violence against women’.
For the second year now the event has become an annual weeklong celebration, campaign and activities held by government and non-governmental organizations in the region. It is a time of year where major focus is dedicated to women in the Kurdish Society, and it was through this that I met the most vulnerable women in our society- those who are in shelters, because they are under threat from violence and women in prison, the majority of whom have ‘supposedly’ committed a crime.
As for the women in the prison, I had a chance to speak to a few of them individually, when I left I knew this was not the last time I’d set foot into the prison. Less than a week later, (in fact less than two hours ago) I was back there, but for a different purpose. I knew some of the stories had to be listened to and written for others to read and realize what there is hidden ‘behind bars’.
Each story is a tragedy of its own, each women with a story and each case can be turned into a novel of its own. Some are victims, and others guilty. I realized most of them do not belong in the prison but maybe in a shelter where they can be kept safe, I also learned a group of these young women were not guilty of committing crime but they are victims of ancient cultural traditions that remain in existence in some areas of the region.
I must admit I was proud to see the good food they are offered on a daily basis, they have air-conditioning and heaters, television and bunk beds to sleep on; but at the same time there are many things lacking such as sufficient number of professional staff. Unfortunately, many people do not realize the importance of working in such places. Many of the women need to have workshops to keep them busy and others classes for reading and writing.
One thing I found fascinating was for one second that I was in the prison I did not disrespect or judge any of the women as criminals, in fact the respect and love they received from me was like any average women I see in my everyday life, because I was sure that behind every crime and every story there was a deep reason and regret. Today I realize I was correct.
Read the next issue of the Kurdish Globe for an in depth report of life for women behind bars.
START Social Development Organization: www.startssdo.org
Women’s prison in Kurdistan