The world-wide feminist movement would do well to cast its mind back to the era of the ancient Medes and Persians in which the first battle for women's rights was fought by the Median Queen Vashti.
We have written about her life and times because the Jewish midrash (ironically meaning "do not ignore') chose to disregard the political implications of the stories of Queen Vashti and Queen Esther, particularly that of the former. But curiosity, and intuiting behind the lines of the Old Testament book of Esther, eventually led Australian first-time novelist Alison Buckley to the research and analyses of Kurdish author and activist Hamma Mirwaisi, who soon informed her why the female guerrillas of Kurdistan are now going to fight for women's rights in the Islamic world.
In the biblical book of Esther Vashti refuses to appear before her husband's drunken party for his officials and servants (possibly including harem members) at the end of a seven-day celebration to mark the finale of the king's six-month-long show-case of the Ancient Median equivalent of Washington DC to foreign dignitaries. In those days the Zoroastrian ideology of the Median Empire held that women were equal in status and value to men, so in this case King Ahasuerus (Astyages) was flouting the Median laws by ordering his wife to display herself before the inebriated assemblage after their seven days of partying. At the same time she represented freedom of choice on behalf of the kingdom's women, which was also challenged by her husband. Relegated to a chapter in a book of the Bible and a few historically and ethnically senseless claims in the midrash, Queen Vashti's political battles now resonate at varying levels for millions of women in all cultures.
We ask feminists and their organizations around the world to honor Queen Vashti by encouraging women to read the book 'Vashti Queen of the Ancient Medes' in the hope they will teach their sons to respect women and treat them as their equals; and set the example for their daughters to value themselves and act in the dignity and integrity of womanhood that they expect to be afforded by the opposite sex.
So many religious traditions authored from a male viewpoint have failed to uphold their professed teachings regarding the equal status and value of men and women and all their inalienable human rights. Additionally, successive patriarchal interpretations and their application have reduced women in, for instance, parts of the Islamic world, to the objects of male sexual control and household slaves. In spite of what Islamic leaders and Islamic scholars may claim, they have removed or failed to permit women's rights, significantly decreasing their life opportunities and effectiveness in their roles as wives, mothers, and contributors to their communities and their nations. In these countries women have had so little say in the quality of their lives because the laws have mostly been drafted and written by men to serve men.
Progress has been made in Western and Asian countries due to increased education, but women have a long way to go in the Islamic world. Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, product of a strong Turkish mother and grandmother, and a disengaged father, grew up in the tough environment of south-east Turkey's Sanliurfa province, and has since addressed the problem of the abuse of women in the Middle East. The man who was known in his village as both a snake hunter and someone who wouldn't hurt a fly has not only described the equanimous relationships he formed with the girls of his native village during his childhood, but now also campaigns against the oppressive Turkish government's progressive limitation of women's lives. He simply claims that a society is not free until its women are liberated to reach their potential as human beings the way men are.
Below is a translation of his writing from a prison cell on Imrali Island off Istanbul:
"When anyone wants to solve a society's problem, they have to start their research by thinking about the situation of women in that society; declaring their lives the basis for equality and freedom, and including in the scientific and moral foundations of the research the distinguishing feature of the beauty all women.
"If the research path is not directed to take true account of women it will not reach truthful conclusions. Any efforts for equality and freedom that do truly not take women into account won't be able to achieve those privileges for them and the rest of society.
"For humanity to be free to reach its true potential it first has to recognize women's capabilities in the society and assign them an important role, apart from, but not excluding, their special biological role and status in the society; both roles have always been formative elements of women's existence. Once the important role is recognised, it must accompany the equal acceptance of men with women across humanity. By taking humanity only along a male path we are not able to affirm life through true recognition of the intrinsic and necessarily high value of women.
"Women exist differently in their inherent natures, just as they do biologically. Societies that have upheld the superiority of men have reduced the importance of women almost to nothing by not counting them as real human beings.
"Now these errors must be understood but not left as obstacles to the alleviation of a society's ills. The essential factors of life are innately found in women, even when they have been cut off from society this truth has not been negated, since no one has been able to prove the opposite. In reality the male approach using power and force against the female personality fights against the very life forces that perpetuate the race.
"A society featuring male animosity towards women in support of male power goals to eliminate women as fully functioning human beings reflects the significant deterioration of the male gender's innate personality within that society; due to the perpetuation of errors in the understanding of women's true nature, beauty and life giving power." (1)
Thousands of Kurdish women are holding a gun to defend women's rights in the four Islamic countries now controlling Kurdistan, the land where Queen Vashti was born. More than 2,600 years ago, as an ancestor of today's Kurds, Vashti revolted against unjust treatment by her husband, King Astyages of the Medes. Consequently, today's Kurdish women will no longer tolerate the unjust practices of the Islamic rulers of Kurdistan.
Queen Vashti's victory produced outstanding leaders like Cyrus the Great, who declared the first human-rights charter. It is our hope that the future triumphs of Kurdish women in the twenty-first century will produce thousands of men of the calibre of Cyrus the Great.