“More and more women are becoming politically active and so the number of women in prison is rising too.”
First impressions and meetings of the delegation
Since 6th July 2012 a women delegation, with 12 participants from England and Germany in total, has been in North Kurdistan. Amongst the participants are representatives of different women's rights and human rights organisations, as well as the well-known trade unionist and member of the women's committee of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Professor Mary Davis.
The delegation was initiated by the Kurdish Women's Office for Peace (Ceni) and supported by the Peace in Kurdistan Campaign in London, in order to give the work of the women's academies a wider publicity; to strengthen the exchanges between women's projects, women's rights and human rights initiatives in Kurdistan and Europe, and to learn from each other; as well as to show practical international solidarity in the face of the increased repression by the Turkish state against the women's movement and trade union movement.
From 6th until 9th July the delegation in Amed visited – amongst others – the women's news agency JinHa, the women's centre Dikasum and Kardelen, the human rights organisation IHD, the Association for Solidarity with Displaced Persons GöcDer, and the women's academy, with the help of the women's section of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). In all the talks, the women explained the difficulties as women – under conditions of war, state repression, poverty, and patriarchal violence – as well as their determination to building structures for solidarity.
One psychologist at the women's advice centre DIKASUM told the delegation of her attempt to build washhouses in the districts of the city, where many of those displaced families traumatised by the war lived, in order to then strengthen women's work. The washhouses have become social meeting points, where there are training opportunities for women and children, and where everyday life can be organised collectively. Everyone can help. Also, since 2008, shelters and emergency accommodation for women and children have been created, to protect people from violence. However, the activities of these locations have been restricted for a while because, alongside the ubiquitous patriarchal violence, these places are also confronted with the effects of war and displacement. Thus the representative of DIKASUM closed by saying: “Therefore the struggle is harder here because we must fight against the state, society and men at the same time.”
Mukaddes Alatas, the coordinator of the women's centre Kardelen in the district of Baglar, spoke with the delegation about the particular situation in her district, where, out of a population of 350 000, most are internally displaced persons. 47% of the population in Baglar are children and teenagers. Only 0.001% of the women here have a university degree; 72% of the women over 45 are illiterate. The majority of women experience patriarchal violence even within the family. In this area women are well organised – for the third consecutive occasion a woman from the BDP has been elected as mayor. Women have therefore gained political influence in this district. Currently, campaigns against the murder of women and against the spread of drugs and prostitution top the agenda. The state certainly back the women-trafficking and drugs mafia, in order to shatter the social structure and keep women away from politics. At the same time, Kardelen, along with other women's groups, is protesting against the abortion ban, which the AKP government want to introduce.
Representatives of the Women's Academy in the district of Sur explained how they had given up their studies, as they no longer wanted to be subjugated to the constraints of the Turkish education system, wanting rather to teach and learn in their Kurdish mother tongue. They described their work with the women's academy in the following statement: “We start work at the academy in the early morning and stay till the evening. We are active not only here, but throughout the whole of Kurdistan. We travel around and do educational work even outside of Amed. (…) Since I have been here, I have read about and researched the question of women, the role of women in society, in the family, in history. I try to share what I learn with other women. We are both learning and teaching at the same time.” In association with the district administration in Baglar, the women's academy has carried out a survey on the issue of violence against women, whose results were published. State repression represents the biggest obstacle to the extension of their work: “Since 2009, our work has been extensively blocked by repression. An internet discussion is no longer possible due to repression. Two of our colleagues were recently arrested because of tapped, trivial telephone conversations. There were also searches here. So we cannot keep our educational material here, that would not be possible. Because all pamphlets produced by us would be seized in the search.”
The associates of the women's academy, who also have contacts to women and academics in Turkey and abroad, hope to continue the international exchange between women form different countries, in order to be able to expand and intensify “Jineologi” (Women's Studies).
At the women's news agency JinHa, the delegation could exchange with two permanent employees, one of whom was responsible for the Kurdish news service, the other for the Turkish. The objective of JinHa, which was established in March 2012 was described as follows: “We have looked for alternatives. We wanted to write and broadcast news from the women's point of view. (…) Therefore we have researched for a year, and held talks with feminist and other women's institutions. We are ostensibly concerned with women's issues, with a feminist reference, but we also treat issues in all areas – sport, culture, but everything from the female point of view. When a woman is murdered, for example, then we report from the women's perspective. We analyse the societal structures which have led to this murder, and we judge them. Here the reality is that five women are killed every day. Innumerable women suffer from violence and the estimated number of unknown cases is even higher. Women are often portrayed pornographically in the media – against this sexist image, we want to advance our coverage. So it is a matter of a change in society as well.” The employees at JinHa bring language and customs radically into question: “When we report about women, we only name the woman by her first name, and not her surname. Because the surname does not belong to her, but to her husband or her father. We reject that women are defined by men.”
Representatives of the human rights organisation IHD explained the situation for women in prisons, the heavy repression and the trials, which they are themselves affected by: “More and more women are becoming politically active and so the number of women in prison is rising too. Through these arrests, the state is trying to intimidate the women. Recently, a very sad letter from an ill prisoner arrived, which said that she was in a cell meant for 15 people, with 45 women.”
At the same time, women are turning to the IHD because of sexual assault, murder and violence in the family. It cooperates effectively with women's organisations and centres. So they managed to make public the systematic sexual violence against girls at a school, and to bring the matter to court. One of the main culprits was sentenced to 46 years and 8 months in prison. Such a high sentence had never been given for similar cases. This is thanks to the effective cooperation between organisations.
Also, talks with those involved with the Association for Solidarity with Displaced Persons Göcder and with the district mayor of Sur, Abdullah Demirtas, took place. For his commitment to multilingual – that is, also Kurdish-speaking – services in his district administration, Andullah Demirtas was sentenced to a total of around 500 years in prison. However, due to a serious illness and international protests, he was finally released.
The delegation will continue its talks tomorrow in Wan. There, they will meet with representatives of the Confederation of Trade Unions for Public Services (KESK), with the Mothers of Peace, and with the women's group VAKASUM. Following that, a meeting with the mayor of the district of Bostanici, Nezahat Ergunes, is planned. She was arrested in the 7th June operation, in which the mayor of Wan, five district mayors, as well as 10 members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) were arrested. Three days later she was released, the criminal procedures against her are ongoing.
After the return of the delegation, different informative events about the situation of women, the repression of women's movements, and the current work and projects of women's institutions in North Kurdistan, will be planned. The first of these takes place on Friday 20th July 2012 at 20:00 at the No Border Camp in Cologne.
Enquiries for events featuring participants of the delegation may be directed to Ceni – Kurdish Women's Office for Peace.