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

The project

In the literature, not much has been reported on Kurdish urbanism in Kurdistan (a region in the Middle East traditionally inhabited mainly by Kurds) in general and women’s public space in particular, especially its socio-spatial implications for their everyday lives. For this reason, its particularities have largely remained unnoticed in the urban research debates concerning the Middle Eastern region. This is especially important if we consider Kurdish women’s interaction with public space in a cross-cultural comparative study in different urban contexts. They can narrate different kinds of engagement, the challenges they are confronted with, and the strategies they have gained to overcome gender inequality leading to their self-empowerment* in social life.

There are hardly any specific analyses concerning the modes and extent of Kurdish migrant women’s interaction with public space in European cities, particularly how this new spatial context affects their social lives and their empowerment. The number of Kurdish people is increasing in Western European cities: Based on reports from the prestigious Institut Kurde in Paris, the most recent estimates indicate the presence of about 1.5 to 1.7 million Kurds in Western Europe. Of these, about 850,000 to 950,000 live in Germany and 80,000 to 95,000 in Austria. Consequently, this line of research requires more attention from both international and national contexts in order to understand the experiences, challenges, and needs of these urban dwellers in the design and production of inclusive public spaces that are suitable for multicultural groups and that provide the possibility of an intercultural dialogue. The results of this innovative research project could help finding ways of making better connections between their everyday experiences as (im)migrants and public spaces as a constituent element of their social lives.

Main aim and research questions

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, based on an analysis of local conceptions of public spaces. The starting hypothesis of this research is that Kurdish women in the two European cities of Cologne and Vienna can demonstrate more active engagements and interactions with public spaces than Kurdish women in Sulaymaniyah (Iraqi Kurdistan) and Sanandaj (Iranian Kurdistan), mainly due to a variation in socio-spatial perspectives and diverging gender roles. The same is also true for the city of Sulaymaniyah in comparison to the city of Sanandaj. Considering these leading points, the main research questions are as follows:

  • 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?

  • To what extent do these interactions with public spaces affect women’s empowerment in their social lives?

  • How can the experiences of Kurdish (im)migrant women using public spaces influence the planning and design of such spaces?

  • H. Alizadeh, J. Kohlbacher, R. K. Mohammed‐Amin, T. L. Raouf (2021). Gender Inequalities and the Effects of Feminine Artworks on Public Spaces: A Dialogue

Expected results

Apart from providing an in-depth understanding of Kurdish women and their use of public spaces in different urban contexts, a topic that has not been the focus of research in urban studies before, the results of this study can also provide some policy recommendations for urban planners, policy makers, and stakeholders in European cities. This may in turn introduce more inclusive forms of intervention in urban public spaces, as is aspired to in the 2030 "Sustainable Development Goals"5 and 11. Spatial production of inclusive urban spaces could be the key factor in providing all groups of urban dwellers, displaying different ethnicities, backgrounds, values, and beliefs, with the equal opportunity to assert their right to the city. The results might stimulate mutual learning processes concerning the use of conflict-free public space between Austrian and German cities but also between Iraqi and Iranian cities. Because of the diverging architectural features of European cities on the one hand and Middle Eastern cities on the other hand, and due to the different roles women have in these contexts, the value attributed to the results will only be partially transferable from Europe to the Middle East and vice versa.


  1. H. Alizadeh and J. Kohlbacher (2020). The contribution of urban public space to social integration. EURA 2020 Conference, 15-17th June,  Oslo, Norway. (Cancelled)

  2. H. Alizadeh (2020). The structure of Marie Curie’s Grant Proposal (IF) in Horizon 2020, Webinar presentation, Wednesday 22 April, 2020. Organized by the University of Kurdistan, Iran

  3. H. Alizadeh and J. Kohlbacher (2020). Visibility/invisibility of Kurdish women in public space: A comparison of Vienna and two Kurdish cities of Sanandaj and Sulaymaniyah, World Refugee Day, 19th June, ISA at OEAW, Vienna.

Scientific Advisory Board (SAB)

Dr. Maria Six-Hohenbalken, Deputy Director, Researcher, Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA), AUSTRIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, Vienna, Austria

Professor Frank Eckardt, Chair of Social Science Urban Research, University of Bauhaus Weimar, Germany

Professor Ali Madanipour, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University, UK

Dr. Sabine Knierbein, Associate Professor for Urban Culture and Public Space, Technische Universität Wien, Vienna

Project acronym


Project Number


ISR Project Team


08.07.2019 - 27.11.2021

Case Studies