Surviving abuse, defamation and backlash
On March 14, 2023 thirty-four civil society organisations, groups, and institutions got together to award The Equality Prize to Dr. Choman Hardi for her work to advance equality in the Kurdish community. This prize will become a yearly tradition for the defenders of justice and equality in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Dr. Hardi faced a major and well organised backlash at the end of 2022 which started as abuse and defamation from social media and extended into real life threats. Lasting for five weeks, the attacks attempted to slander her and represent her as corrupt, dishonest, and disconnected. The civil society organisations responded to these efforts by awarding her a prize for persevering in the face of hostility. The following is her prize acceptance speech.
Dear friends, thanks for coming! Thank you for the acknowledgement and trust that you bestowed upon me on this occasion. Fighting for social or political justice has not been easy at any time and in any place, but it is the persistence and determination of people like you in the face of difficulties that is always heartening.
Each one of us who works in this field has, no doubt, faced accusations, attacks, and threats that aim to defame, discourage, and silence us. For years, women’s rights defenders have been living under the threat of dehumanisation and demonisation. The traditional and radical forces attack activists each time under a different pretext of hating men, undermining religious values, wrecking family structure, and more recently national treachery.
And we all know that demonisation and the creation of an imaginary enemy is the first step to destroying them symbolically or literally. But the frightening monster that they have created, who apparently receives money from the west to secretly work for the disintegration of family and the destruction of her own community, has absolutely no relation to who we are and what we do.
Stirring up the Kurds’ existential fear of annihilation, of the presence of a major conspiracy to destroy us, is a shameless toying with our subconscious because for decades the fear of assimilation and extinction in the hands of the nationalist and theocratic states around us has been the Kurdish experience.
The phobia and fear that is fabricated around the efforts of organisations working for women’s rights, civil rights, and gender equality, has no relation to reality. The real goal of these waves of lies, false information, and mutilation of the truth is to undermine the achievement and impact of people and organisations that fight for equality and to slander them in public.
On the other hand, fear of a western conspiracy against our community and our social and religious values is unfounded. We do not have a powerful state, nor do we have a powerful army, we are not technologically or economically developed enough to pose a threat to the international economic or political system for them to want to conspire against us. In fact, in the last decades, we have been allies with western powers and have received technical and financial support to topple Saddam Hussain’s government and to defeat ISIS.
Our objective as activists and academics in the field of gender equality is to raise awareness and create a new understanding regarding inequality and injustice. We are trying to change the wedged and expired discourse which blames gender inequality on nature and the biological differences between men and women, a discourse that does not want to accept that it is a social contract which has created this inequality and we can have a better contract in which women are not marginalised, silenced, and oppressed.
I am certain that some of the young people who fall into the trap of this misunderstanding will soon realise the truth. It is not women’s fight for gender equality, for religious, cultural, and ethnic pluralism, for protection of rights and dignities, for improving collegial, friendly, sibling, and love relations between men and women which poses a threat to our values. What poses a threat to our values is those forces that want to replace conversation and argumentation with defamation, lies, and profanity and make these the dominant culture in our community.
For years our community has faced major threats such as corruption and the destruction of the environment but now the culture of swearing and slandering is a major threat to our security and coexistence.
At the end I want to say that confronting the widespread and organised waves of disrespect, calumniation, manipulation, and threats is difficult; experiencing character assassination and slandering one’s work is difficult; but the importance of our common goal and the unconditional support I received from family, friends, colleagues and people like yourselves became a source of strength and perseverance. I want to thank you one more time for putting your trust in me. This prize will give me energy to continue. Let us all continue together. Thank you.