Interview with Dr. Hadeel Abdelhameed

1st Jun 2022 12:00 - 5th Jun 2022 12:00

1. How did you end up in the academy?

I find in academia a dynamic and effective space to share my personal experience and knowledge of Iraq. Like many other Iraqi researchers who survived the atrocities of the previous regime, and the US-led war in 2003, I wanted to be part of the knowledge-production process relating to MENA and Iraq in specific. Personally, being a brown female academic in a western academic context helped me achieve one of my aspirations that is to bring the voice of women of colour to academia specifically in the field of politics.

2. Where do you situate your scholarship?

My research interest sits on the intersectionality of gender politics and performance studies. I am examining how space (physical or symbolic) is shaped and reproduced by corporeal activities be that of artistic or political drive. My latest work focused on gender performativity in the Iraqi protest movement of Tishreen that took place in 2019. Rather than examining liberal feminist movements, I focused on gender traditional roles mainly mothering, showing how bereaved mothers politicised their grieve in cyber and physical space.

3. Which thinkers have had the biggest impact on your work? 

I believe that since my research is interdisciplinary, a cohort of theorists contributed to shaping my understanding of contemporary gender, politics issues, and art.  Judith Butler’s work on gender performance in relation to space, Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony, and Augustus Boal’s applied theory of Theatre of the Oppressed. 

4. What methods do you use? 

My work is qualitative research as data is collected from firsthand resources, including semi-structured interviews and systematic analysis of primary resources. In my latest project with Konrad Adenauer- Stiftung institute that examined Iraqi women activists’ contribution in the Iraqi elections 2021, I conducted 21 semi-structured Zoom interviews with Iraqi women activists, parliamentary candidates, and NGO and CSO heads. I do believe that MENA ordinary people are the knowledge bearers and producers, taking into consideration that they have been leading the social movements that swept MENA since 2010, and eventually had the agency to reshape the geopolitics of the region.

 5. Why did you want to join SEPAD? 

I find the non-resident fellowship with SEPAD an opportunity to share and expand my research on Iraqi women’s artistic approaches against political oppression. Aiming that my research will provide the scholarship needed to understand the politics of space in MENA in general and Iraq in specific in relation to women’s activism, I find SEPAD project an adequate academic channel that can provide support to build up a professional network of scholars and academics who share similar interest about MENA and Iraq issues.

6. What is your workshop on? 

The workshop will shed light on Iraqi women’s diverse approaches to de-sectarianise the public space of the protest squares, focusing on women activists from the provinces of Baghdad and Basra. Young women protesters utilised these spaces to reimagine these cities as desctariansed spaces, challenging multiple discourses and narratives of sectarianism, and sexism. Through the instrumentalisation of verbal and non-verbal communication tools including art, graffiti, performance, and language, groups and individuals of women protesters succeeded, though temporarily, in reclaiming the public space - defying gender-based discrimination and the religious/sectarian divisive nature of these provinces. The workshop will introduce the term Artivism (Art + Activism) within the MENA region. 

The workshop invites academics and researchers who are interested in MENA politics of space and gender politics in grassroot movements, as well as (de)sectarianism to unpack the following issues: Iraqi/ MENA public spaces during grassroot movements, claiming and reclaiming the public space, the (non)state-society contestation over space, Iraqi/MENA women’s protestors’ experiences/narrative embodies supra-national and anti-sectarian rhetoric. These questions will help further explore:

  • To what extent does/can women’s activism push the boundaries of religious/ sectarian identity?
  • How important is MENA/ Iraqi women’s personal experience in the protest in desectarianising the state’s rhetoric?
  •  How can we understand protest squares as tempo-spatial factors that facilitate the suspension of sectarianism and the patriarchy?
  • In divided societies (such as Iraq and Lebanon), did all women’s contributions to protests call for desectarianisation?
  • What makes non-verbal communicative tools (performance, signs, graffiti, music) a means to express non-sectarian gender identities? 

7. What is your favourite novel ? 

Khalid Husseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007)

8. Can you tell us about the Iraqi Women Academics Network (IWAN) that you founded?

We are a group of Iraqi women academics whose research interest is the Iraqi issue. The research that we lead is divers and is interdisciplinary, we research Iraqi politics, economy, religion, history, culture, Arts, anthropology, sociology, and more. Our goal is to bring Iraqi women scholars, researchers, and early career researchers together.

Recently, Iraqi women academics who are investigating Iraq in academia and in policy have been significantly active. A new generation of Iraqi women academics who are based in diaspora, or in Iraq started to build up a significantly important scholarship and literature about Iraq, and from Iraq. Some of them lived the atrocities of the previous regime, others were born or grew up in diaspora, while others are doing their postgraduate studies outside Iraq. The number of these academics and scholars is increasing, and their works are getting international recognition and acknowledgement.

IWAN gathers the Iraqi women academics in one organized group: Iraqi Women Academics Network (IWAN). It is an interdisciplinary group that is open to Iraqi women academics, scholars, researchers, early career researchers, across all levels of universities, research institutions, postgraduates, independent scholars, and even previously employed. The only requirement to join the group is that members’ specialization is the Iraqi issue and its diaspora. 

Our objectives are:

  • Create a space where members can share their works to open more opportunities to cite each other and to build up Iraqi reference lists in the disciplines of Humanities and Social Sciences.
  • Provide a safe space to discuss issues, or challenges that might face Iraqi women academics while doing research.
  • Connect senior Iraqi women academics with juniors by facilitating informal relationships.
  • Provide academic and professional support to Iraqi women academics inside Iraq to expand their work 

How do we do that?

  • A WhatsApp group was also created to share our works, discuss issues and news about Iraq. The WhatsApp group is 100% private. A database on a spreadsheet is now created that includes members’ contacts and details. A twitter account is also available.
  • Long-term goal is to organize gatherings, conferences, seminars/ webinars, panels that focus on and support Iraqi women academics’ works and research approaches.
  • Long- term goal is to establish a discipline of Iraqi Studies created by Iraqi scholars

All what we need is solidarity and support. We will work to enhance Iraqi women academics’ work and vision by empowering them and bring them together. We are open to any idea, or suggestion to make this initiative active and reliable. If you would like to follow our news, please follow us on our Twitter.