The Idea Behind MEWSo: Halaleh Taheri’s Journey

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I was born in a little town in Kurdistan (in Iran). My political activities started there before the 1979 revolution. While at school, I was involved with a left wing organisation and fought for the independence of Kurdistan.

The revolution changed my life radically. Sadly, I lost many close members of my family. Many of my comrades were imprisoned, executed or killed in the revolution. After my home town on the Iran-Iraq border, was bombed and occupied by the Islamic troops. As part of an armed party, I spent three years hiding in the nearby mountains hoping to be able to liberate the occupied towns and villages. However it became impossible to do so and I fled to Sulaymaniyah, a Kurdish city in Iraq.

After more than a decade struggling against the Islamic regime in Iran as well as being involved in the vicious struggle to topple Saddam Hussein, I decided to leave, fleeing first to Syria, then Turkey and finally to Sweden as an asylum seeker. I lived in Sweden for 14 years obtaining two degrees in social work and Education (Pedagogy).

I also took part in women’s and children’s human rights activities in Sweden. At that time, two young Kurdish girls had been murdered by their families. Honour killing was a new issue for many in the West at that time. For me, however, honour related violence (HRV) was not something new so I established an organisation for Kurdish women who experienced honour related violence.

For years, this Centre for the Defence of Women’s Right in Kurdistan had supported and helped to empower many women and young girls. The Centre also worked actively with the police, media and social services to help women who suffered HRV and cases that needed immediate protection. My organisation, in cooperation with other women’s organisations, arranged several conferences, seminars and debates around the issue of HRV. I was a member of the management committee of the UN’s Women’s Convention in Sweden. We also campaigned for children’s rights including trying to highlight the need for the Swedish governments involvement in religious schools as well as promoting the rights of young boys not to be circumcised under the age of 16. As a result, the Swedish government now have increased awareness on how to deal with these issues in a more involved manner. Although the law didn’t change, we did manage to completely shake up Swedish society.

In 2002, I went back to Sulaymaniyah (Iraq), to make a documentary film about honour killing and interviewed victims of HRV in refuges. In 2005, I moved to London where I worked as a social worker and was active in human right’s organisations. I later established “Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation” in 2010. This organisation plays a role in helping women in their journey from their own country to an unknown reality.

Most refugees get support from several organisations at the very beginning when they arrive in the UK however it’s very hard for them to find support once they are stable. My ambition is for MEWSO to fill the gap and help women to live their new lives. I do believe that engaging in several interrelated causes is more effective than focusing on only one cause at a time. I envision the expansion of MEWSO and its services to the whole of London and to every refugee woman.

Currently, I have been working on a new campaign “Polygamy Matters”, as we became aware of the existence of at least 20,000 known polygamous marriages and even more in ‘Nikah’ relationships. Naturally, MEWSO would like to raise awareness and enlighten the whole community, as well as empowering women and the young people to prevent these relationships from happening in the future.

Halaleh Taheri
Executive and Founder of Middle Eastern Women and Society Organisation
Registered Qualified Social Worker-hcpc
Pedagogue and Counsellor

February 2019