Sima Abkhzer is a sensational Kurdish news presenter working for Rudaw TV. With a short hair and different style, Sima has often become a controversial figure in the sphere of Kurdish media. She has been criticized not only for her appearance, but also for the way she conducts her shows on television.
This exclusive interview sheds more light on Sima’s work and background and views of women and feminism.
- when did you start working in the media?
When I was a child, I always wanted my voice to be heard in the world, not to be suppressed by the society. After I joined the Kurdish guerilla movement and I began working for its media outlets. I enjoyed working in there, even though being in this industry was mostly coincidence, considering that I have always been interested in politics.
- Was it difficult for you to get involved in journalism?
Well yes, but my husband was a journalist working for several Iranian TV channels, so he supported me in achieving my goal and taught me about professional journalism. I remember the first article I read for him, he told me that I have a very good voice to present on radio or TV. This encouraged me to go for a test and they accepted me. This how I started as a news reporter in Turkish and Persian.
- You said you joined the guerilla movement, when was that and why?
I was part of the guerilla movement from 1993 to 2000, because in the city of Maku [in Iran], where I was born and raised, we lived with the majority of Azeri people. We as Kurds had to endure the oppression of the Iranian regime. This led me to think of doing something for my people and so I decided to join the Kurdish nationalist movement.
- So it was purely for political reasons rather than for Kurdish women rights?
This is an important matter actually, because Kurdish women have all the same destiny despite all the differences they have in their life. For example, those Kurdish women who are very lucky and persistent enough to be teachers or doctors, also have to go through all the difficulties as far as the traditions that suppress them. It’s a set of difficult traditions that leads their lives. That was the main reason behind my decision to become a guerrilla fighter. It was not only because of the injustice that’s being carried out upon the Kurds in general, but also the additional injustice upon Kurdish women, specifically in terms of equality with men.
I basically did not want to live the same life as my mother or my sister lived. It is the kind of life that women in all four parts of Kurdistan endure.
- Did you meet the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan? And what was his idea of feminism?
Yes. I was in the same base with him for almost one year.
To be honest, I see that freedom of women in general would never be approached by men. No man can give this liberty and freedom to women if they [women] did not make the effort to gain it.
Ocalan helped immensely in shedding the light on feminism amongst the Kurdish society, by allowing women to get involved as effective members in his party. So mainly, Ocalan’s feminism came from a political angle only. Many Kurdish men who were inspired by him were only influenced politically. But of course women in the areas controlled by Kurdish members of the PKK are the freest Kurdish women in Kurdistan. They are involved in a lot of movements and they exercise many of their rights that typical Kurdish women don’t. However, they are not totally free or equal to men.
- can you tell us about your work at Rudaw TV and about your program, when did you start it? And what do you think needs to change in the Kurdish media?
I have worked in Rudaw for almost three years and I see that the Kurdish media has progressed in the recent years but it is still not independent or subjective.
Kurdish media does not focus on the real and original Kurdish culture. The culture we see through the Kurdish media now is either Arabic, Persian or Turkish. This of course will contribute in dissolving our own distinct culture and damage our society and lifestyle.
- How effective are Kurdish women in the media?
I have been working in Kurdish media since 2006, but I haven’t seen any role of women neither in media nor in governance. The role given to women is limited to the tasks assigned to them by men. In Kurdish media specially, women don’t have a leadership role almost at all. Women usually are presenters or reporters but they have to be good looking to fit with men standards and to be accepted.
I think Kurdish media will not change if women keep accepting these terms. Any change we hope for has to come from women. They should have the initiative to do so.
- You have an unusual style for a Kurdish woman working in the media. Do you get criticism because of that?
Many people hate my style and they actually express that by saying bad words. This might be surprising but I never cared about people’s opinion about my hair or style, because this criticism comes mainly from their narrowed view of the appearance of men and women.
People who criticize me think that I should put make up and wear high heels. I present and analyze news and then go back to my home, why should I put make up on? My job isn’t to satisfy men’s sexual attention. My job is to provide relevant news, not show of womanhood on screen.
- Did your experience with the guerrilla movement develop your ideas about freedom of women’s appearance?
Of course. Guerrillas have a simple lifestyle and they focus on their mission and goal rather than their look.
Many colleagues here even call me a man or a “tomboy.” it is quite sad to see “intelligent” people have these kinds of embarrassing views.
.What are your favorite TV shows and would you like to work internationally one day?
I used to watch entertainment shows like Oprah but now I watch political shows mostly.
I don’t really think about working internationally as I love to work in Kurdish media and stay supportive of my people. However, if BBC Kurdish started one day, I would love to be involved.
Edited by Ronak Housaine and Sirwan Kajjo