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The modes and outcomes of interaction of (im) mobile Kurdish women with public space: a cross-cultural comparative study of different urban contexts

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WomInPubS (The modes and outcomes of interaction of (im) mobile Kurdish women with public space: a cross-cultural comparative study of different urban contexts)

Reporting period: 2019-07-08 to 2021-07-07

In the literature, not much has been reported on the Kurdish urbanism in Kurdistan (geographic region in Middle East traditionally inhabited mainly by Kurds) in general and women's public space in specific, particularly its socio-spatial implications for their everyday social lives. For this reason, its particularities have largely remained unnoticed in the urban research debates concerning the Middle East region. This is mainly important if we consider this in a cross-cultural comparative study in different urban contexts where Kurdish women have experienced. There is hardly any specific analysis concerning the modes and extent of Kurdish migrant women’s interaction with public space in European cities, particularly how this new spatial context affected their social life, empowerment and their social integration. Crenshaw’s theoretical concept of intersectionality proved to be an important basis for analyzing the close interconnectedness of numerous factors of discrimination and disadvantage that Kurdish women face in urban contexts.
As the number of Kurdish people is increasing in Western European cities, this line of the research requires more attention from both international and national contexts particularly to understand the experiences, challenges and needs of these urban dwellers in design and production of inclusive public spaces that are suitable for use by multicultural groups and provide the possibility of intercultural dialogue. The findings can help to find ways of making better connections between their everyday experience as (im) migrants and public spaces as a constituent element of their social life. In addition, the findings show that there is a strong positive relation between women’s interactions in public spaces and their empowerment and social integration. The results can influence local authorities to develop policy agendas concerning the creation, development and use of public spaces with a high degree of sensitivity to everyday social contact and encounters to capture different needs of users, and overcome ethnic-cultural differences and gender inequality in use of public spaces.
The aim of the project is to advance a detailed understanding of Kurdish women’s interactions and their empowerment in today’s public spaces in different urban contexts. Considering these leading aim, the main research questions are as follows:
1- What are the modes and extent of women’s interactions in key public spaces within closely defined urban areas and how do the case study cities differ from each other?
2- To what extent do these interactions with public spaces affect women’s empowerment in their social lives and their social integration in the host communities in the case study cities of European context?
3- How does their personal situation (being alone, married or having small children) and other variables as age, level of education, working status and individual religiosity affect these interactions?
At beginning of the project, it was required to review the literature regarding the main aim, research questions and relating concepts including urban theory, public spaces, gendering of space, social interactions and social integration. The term public spaces in itself was conceptualized in an interdisciplinary manner by critiquing and building on a range of different theories from the fields of architecture, urbanism, sociology, urban geography, social and cultural anthropology and philosophy. In the European cities, processes of social integration of immigrant women were a major focus of the analyses. The results of literature review have been developed into a clear conceptual framework containing the main components and relating variables. Following the conceptual framework, the research methods has been developed in details to conduct the research in each case study cities.
Before conducting the data collection, a pilot study was conducted to test the questionnaire. Based on the results, we had to do changes in some of the measuring items, key variables and indicative questions. After this, the reliability of the questionnaire was assessed using Cronbach’s alpha. The finalized questionnaire was translated and then different ways were used to approach the Kurdish population in those cities (women aged 25 to 65 years). Some of the questionnaires have been completed via WhatsApp interviews by the PI. Some others have been distributed among Kurdish women using different social medias (Telegram, WhatsApp and Facebook). And for the rest, one female Kurdish master student has been hired in each city to be in touch with Kurdish women either face to face or via social media interviews to collect the samples. Based on the number of completed questionnaires (about 100 samples for each city), we started to sort the data for quantitative analysis in SPSS. In a first round, the completed data sets of the two cities of Sanandaj and Sulaimani were analyzed and then the other two European cities of Vienna and Cologne. In general, the results have been compiled and disseminated in three conference presentations, one keynote speaker, four publications in peer-reviewed journals (one published, one in press, one in review and one in progress).
The project broke completely new academic ground by investigating the use of urban public spaces by Kurdish women and its consequences for their empowerment within the framework of a comparative analysis in two European metropolises (Cologne, Vienna) and two principal Kurdish cities in the Middle East (Sanandaj and Sulaimani) for the first time. Based on the results, impulses can also be derived for municipal measures to promote the inclusive use of public space by Kurdish women and women in general and to stimulate further empowerment effects. In the wake of the policy recommendations, which will be compiled on the basis of the project results, there are also further expected results by the end of the project. Stimuli for further activities in the sense of a critical reflection of social and confessional norms and their modification in the sense of women's empowerment can be expected from the cooperation with Kurdish activists.
Wider social implications resulted from the intensive cooperation with Kurdish organizations and important functionaries of the Kurdish communities in the four study cities. They showed great interest in the empirical results. On the basis of the results, existing obstacles to the use of open space, which women from the Kurdish communities are confronted with, were made visible for the first time and their relevance was demonstrated. Significant differences were found between the urban metropolises studied. These are to be interpreted context-specifically. A process of sensitization and awareness-raising could be initiated among the women participating in the survey (survey and qualitative interviews), in the sense that in the course of the interviews the women became aware above all of the social, cultural and religious barriers with which they are confronted in the course of their everyday use of public space. It was an important concern of this project to initiate further steps towards emancipation from social barriers of use in the wake of this process of critical reflection. We intend to use the contacts established in the project with Kurdish organizations in future project applications at national and international level.