Nadje al-Ali cached version 08/02/2019 16:33:16 en The double standards applied to academic freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The political right is not only cracking down on academic freedoms, but has started simultaneously to become a fierce advocate of an aggressively anti-intellectual freedom of speech. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The embattled Central European University in Budapest, November 24, 2018. Omar Marques/Press Asociation. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The Central European University (CEU) will move their main campus to Vienna. It has appeared inevitable for a while now due to a crackdown and targeting by Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Yet, the significance and repercussions of this fact are profound and remind us that academic freedom is not only under attack in places far away from home. My own area of interest, gender studies, has been particularly targeted not only in Hungary but more widely in anti-gender studies movements and lobbies, including in Germany where we have also seen the rise of the extreme right. </p> <p>Until quite recently, academic freedom, or rather the absence thereof, was something other people had to struggle with. Based in London, where I have been working at what is probably the most radical and progressive institution of higher education within the UK, I generally felt privileged and confident in my academic freedom. Meanwhile, I was acutely aware that colleagues elsewhere, mainly those researching and teaching in the Middle East, but also academics working in Middle East Studies in the US, were challenged by many different forms of encroachment on and violations of their academic freedom.&nbsp; </p> <p>In some extreme cases, such as those of my colleagues, friends and family in Iraq during the Ba‘th regime, it was not merely a matter of working in the context of severe censorship and political pressure, but Iraqi academics actually endured a struggle to stay out of prison cells, or even worse, to avoid execution. All these years, I assumed that my role was to be that of expressing solidarity, raising consciousness about the plight of my colleagues, and facilitating refuge. More recently, we have seen those extreme pressures reach the UK in the case of Matthew Hedges, imprisoned for over 6 months in the UAE, accused of being a British spy. And the devastating case of Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni, brutally murdered in Egypt, that still haunts many of us.</p> <h2><strong>Instrumentalised </strong></h2> <p>Nowadays, however, academic freedom has become a real issue within British higher education in general, as well as within SOAS, University of London, the institution I have been attached to for the past 11 years. Academic freedom is acutely under threat, and violated, but also instrumentalised and twisted in a most bizarre manner.&nbsp; </p><p>Certainly, the consequences and symptoms of these encroachments and manipulations are not comparable to what colleagues are enduring in the worst-offending places, for example, to what we have been witnessing in Turkey under Erdoğan in recent years. </p> <p>Yet, it is important to recognise that something significant has shifted and has affected our understandings of and debates about academic freedom in the UK.&nbsp; </p> <p>This shift within British higher education relates to wider changes within the political landscape in Britain and more broadly in western contexts. It is characterised by the securitization of migration, borders and ideas, the growth of racism, Islamophobia, and wider xenophobia as well as the broader increase and normalization of right wing voices, organizations and movements.</p> <h2><strong>The ‘Prevent Duty’</strong></h2> <p>More specifically, research, teaching, publications and academic debate in the UK have increasingly been under scrutiny and restricted due to the introduction in 2015 of what has been called&nbsp; ‘the Prevent Duty’, a set of rules and guidelines that are part of wider anti-terrorism legislation.&nbsp; </p> <p>Prevent contains a duty on specified authorities including universities to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’ (Home Office, 2015). Allison Scott-Bauman, Professor of Society and Belief at SOAS has studied how the Prevent Duty has been interpreted and applied at various universities. In her view and that of her co-author Hugh Tomlinson, the 2015 anti-terrorism act is unclear and potentially misleading:</p> <blockquote><p>Broad definitions of extremism seem to be linked to equally imprecise definitions of “terrorism”, “non-violent extremism”, “radicalisation” and “fundamental British values”. These definitions could be understood to mean that people who are, for example, critical of British foreign policy, are at risk of radicalisation and to suggest that academics and students accustomed to expressing personal views at university would need to be warned of the risks of discussing certain issues. But this is not correct, and universities should not let the imprecise and unclear language of the guidance draw them into placing unlawful restrictions on academic freedom and freedom of speech. (Scott-Baumann and Tomlinson, 2017).</p></blockquote> <p>The University College Union (UCU), a large union of academics and professional staff working in higher education in the UK passed a statement in 2015 setting out several objections to the Prevent Duty (UCU, 2015): [it] seriously threatens academic freedom and freedom of speech; the broad definition of terrorism will stifle campus activism; the intention to force union members to be involved in the racist labelling of students is unacceptable; the Prevent Agenda will force union members to spy on&nbsp; learners, is discriminatory towards Muslims, and legitimises Islamophobia and xenophobia, encouraging racist views to be publicised and normalised within society; the monitoring of Muslim students will destroy the trust needed for a safe and supportive learning environment and encourage discrimination against BME and Muslim staff and students; and the Prevent agenda will help racist parties such as UKIP to flourish.</p><p>The Prevent Duty is generally only applied in relation to speakers and events linked to Islam and Palestine-related speakers, with the latter more specifically those supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) against Israel. Right wing speakers and organizations promoting nationalist sentiments and policies, racism, Islamophobia as well as homophobia and transphobia not only seem to be excluded from the idea of spreading extremist ideas, but are ironically protected by the current government.&nbsp; </p> <p>In this wider context, SOAS has been particularly singled out within the media and by think tanks of a specific political persuasion. The right wing Henry Jackson Society, for example, issued a report in 2017 listing all universities who were supposedly in breach of the Prevent Duty for hosting extremist speakers. SOAS allegedly hosted more extremist speakers than any other university in the UK. However, when examining the 14 events that took place at SOAS in 2016/2017 listed in the report, many refer to prayer meetings, events organised by the Islamic Society or discussions around Palestine (Black, 2017). While most events were hosted by a student group working under the auspices of the student union, some events, especially those linked to Palestine-related issues have been organised by academics. </p> <p>So far, it needs to be stressed, that the violations of academic freedom which have ensued at universities in the UK and which have mainly involved the cancellation of events or imposition of control over their format, as well as instances of censorship in terms of content – have mainly emerged due to university management giving in to pressure from political lobbying groups or the media, as opposed to overt pressure exerted by the government. </p> <h2><strong>The ‘neutral chair’: a Troll’s charter</strong></h2> <p>A number of incidents together illustrate how academic freedom has been concretely under threat in the UK. Aside from cancelling meetings deemed to be too contentious and provocative, university managements have replaced panel chairs shortly before ‘controversial’ meetings. The two most high profile cases, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and University of Cambridge took place in November 2017 in relation to panels about Palestinian Rights, the BDS movement, and transnational solidarity. In both instances, the original chairs were deposed at the last minute by university management who gave in to external pressure. At LSE, management tried to implement the following guidelines: "At controversial events it is not prudent to have someone in the chair whose own views mean they may not be seen as a neutral chairperson"(Letter by LSE Academics, 2018). The university’s advice was strongly challenged by a group of LSE academics who signed a letter and started a campaign to counter its recommendations.</p> <p>One professor of Middle East history and politics, John Chalcraft, who has been involved in a successful campaign to challenge the university’s policy, put it the following way:</p> <blockquote><p>"To impose a Chair is very problematic in terms of freedom of speech, as it makes the beliefs and views of this or that academic a basis for determining the allocation of academic positions. It chills academic freedom on campus because it reduces the pool of available Chairs, and signals that certain views are beyond the pale and must be policed. It defines controversy and neutrality in simplistic, conventional terms, a particularly egregious error at a research university, which exists to question the received wisdom. There is a serious issue over equality and diversity, given that School-imposed Chairs are more likely to be white, senior, and male. Above all, to depose a Chair is to signal to academic staff and to the wider world, that certain academics, thanks to their beliefs, are not competent to discharge basic academic functions. If academics cannot observe due process in the Chair, then how can they mark exams or teach subjects that are deemed ‘controversial’? Far from protecting academics, these guidelines expose them to internal and external interrogations of their beliefs and views. It is in the words of one academic, a ‘troll’s charter’. So far there is little or no evidence that a neutral Chair has ever been imposed on a pro-Israeli event, or indeed, any event that was not concerned with Palestinian rights. On the other hand, the guidelines could be used, in principle, against any academic or event. As one worried academic said to me: ‘I am German, does that mean I cannot Chair a Brexit debate?" (Chalcraft, 2018)</p></blockquote> <p>Unsurprisingly, both academics who were deposed as chairs by management were women of an ethnic minority background.&nbsp; They were replaced by senior white male academics. The LSE female academic was of Turkish background but perceived to be unfit to chair neutrally due to her signing BDS statements. In the case of the University of Cambridge replacing a SOAS academic, her Palestinian heritage appeared to have contributed to the university’s decision, in addition to her support of BDS.&nbsp; </p> <p>An open letter signed by hundreds of academics criticised the decision by Cambridge University management, pointing out that much of the correspondence opposing the event and leading to the decision to replace the chair had originated in a well-known pro-Israel lobby group. The lobby group objected to the high profile panellists, including Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti and former President of the National Student Union, Malia Bouattia, the first black and Muslim woman to be in this role.</p> <p>Following the campaign objecting to the university’s decision, which involved not only an open letter but also a complaint sent by my SOAS colleague herself as well as supporting letters from senior colleagues at SOAS, the University of Cambridge’s management finally issued an apology, acknowledging that there was no evidence that her chairing would not have ensured a democratic debate (Mandhai, 2018).</p> <h2><strong>Knee-jerk reactions</strong></h2> <p>Both the University of Cambridge and LSE appear to have made a U-turn in response to pushback from academics. With reference to the successful campaign by LSE academics to challenge managements’ initial guidelines stressing the importance of ‘the neutral Chair’, Chalcraft states: "The new Code advances academic freedom here by removing the link between competence to Chair and beliefs and views. The School can no longer replace the Chair of an Event on the basis of the Chair’s beliefs. The School has accepted, and declared itself persuaded, by our core argument that the existing local regulations chill freedom of speech. It has changed the Code accordingly." </p> <p>Chalcraft stresses that collective action and concerted efforts allowed for the successful overturning of the university’s initial position and guidance. The new code, he states, is in line with ‘the new&nbsp;<a href="">Higher Education and Research Act 2017</a>, which establishes, among other things, e.g. at&nbsp; 14 (7) that staff are free to "question and test received wisdom, and . . . to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at the provider."</p> <p>Academics in the UK are struggling to retain their academic freedom against outside pressures, mainly linked to right wing Islamophobic but also extreme pro-Israel lobbies. It has become apparent that collective action within institutions, but also national and transnational lobbying, can be successful in reversing what appear to be knee-jerk reactions by university managements. </p> <p>Meanwhile, the conservative government, particularly the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, has taken it upon itself to make academic freedom central to their policy and rhetoric. However, perhaps predictably, the Minister and other conservative politicians have not been concerned about the potential impact of the Prevent Duty and right wing pressures on academics and students, but are worried about free speech being curtailed by ‘no platforming’ pressures at universities.<strong> <br /></strong></p> <h2><strong>Twisted defence of academic freedom</strong></h2> <p>In a most recent twist of the government’s mission to defend academic freedom in British universities, the former Minister of Universities Sam Gyimah, condemned students and academics at Oxford who protested when a portrait of Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the UK was added to an exhibition within the School of Geography and the Environment intended to inspire the next generation of female geographers (Weale and Elgot, 2018). </p> <p>Students and staff appear to have been incensed by the lack of consultation and questioned the appropriateness of including the portrait of May. As Prime Minister of a conservative government that has been instrumental in implementing severe cuts to higher education, is promoting immigration control and a fear-mongering discourse around refugees and asylum seekers, while leading a party set on Brexit, May has become an extremely controversial figure. Yet, the Minister of Universities used the protest as another occasion to criticise ‘no platforming’ voices, agendas and movements at universities. </p> <p>In 2017, his predecessor, Jo Johnson, brother of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, threatened to hit universities who were banning homophobic or transphobic speakers with fines and sanctions. In an interview with Pink News, an LGBT+ newspaper, he stated that universities which fail to comply “could be fined, suspended or ultimately deregistered” by the newly established Office for Students (Duffy, 2017). He further claimed that these new rules are needed “to protect freedom of speech” (ibid).</p> <p>Following in Johnson’s footsteps, Sam Gyimah, announced a year later that &nbsp;“When there are so many different interpretations of the rules, there is the risk that legal free speech will be stifled, either by well-intentioned but jittery managers, or by ill-intentioned wreckers” (Duffy, 2018). He continued stating:&nbsp;“A society in which people feel they have a legitimate right to stop someone expressing their views on campus simply because they are unfashionable or unpopular is rather chilling." (ibid).</p> <p>At face value, one might agree with his assessment that “there is a risk that overzealous interpretation of a dizzying variety of rules is acting as a brake on legal free speech on campus" (ibid). However, his enthusiasm for free speech is never linked to defending events that have been cancelled or subject to ‘neutral chair’ measures because of their perceived controversy in relation to Palestine/Israel. Nor does he seem to be defending Muslim students organizing prayer meetings or lecturers. Meanwhile, LGBTQ activists are concerned that the Minister’s attitude and future rulings, might enable speakers with homophobic and transphobic views to gain ground and platforms.</p> <p>While gender studies as a discipline has not been under attack in the UK as it has been in Hungary and elsewhere, it is apparent that conservative and heteronormative understandings of gender and sexuality are also key to right wing discourses and policies in the UK as well. We see extreme versions of the centrality of ultra conservative gender constructions in the way the Hungarian government, similar to many governments in the Middle East, try to replace gender politics with politics that revolve around the heterosexual family.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <h2><strong>Hate speech</strong></h2> <p>Aside from the government’s inconsistent approach to freedom of speech, there is clearly a tension between the idea of freedom of speech as an absolute right and principle and the notion of hate speech. Although I have to admit that I see these distinctions as complex and blurry.&nbsp; </p> <p>Personally, I worry about the growing tendency amongst students to demand safe spaces, given the grey zone between ‘hate speech’ and ‘listening to views you do not share’. In my view, an important element of education is pushing students out of their comfort zones and challenging established views. I share Joan Scott’s concerns, which emerged in the context of higher education in the US but, which are also highly relevant in the UK. Scott bemoans: </p> <blockquote><p>"the moralism that is apparent&nbsp; in some courses and some student activism, the calls for “trigger warnings,” the insistence on the authority of their experiences by those whose minority status has silenced or marginalized them – who look to “safe spaces” as a way to gain traction in an otherwise hostile or neglectful institutional and social environment, who erupt in protests that are sometimes ill-considered violations of the rights they need to respect and protect." (Scott, 2017). </p></blockquote> <p>While I share her concerns and view them as problematic, they do not justify the growing call by right wing constituencies to protect their freedom of speech. And here emerges a clear paradox and contradiction: the British government is critical of new generations of students being sensitive "snowflakes" "that should face reality and toughen up"; at the same time, the very same students "must be protected from radical ideas on campus." (Perfect and Scott-Bauman, 2017).</p> <p>Meanwhile, research carried out by Scoot-Bauman and her team on higher education in the UK shows that:</p> <blockquote><p>"the real risks to free speech come, not from the ‘snowflake generation’, but from government-originated initiatives. Specific pressure is applied to Muslim student groups and those interested in the Middle East. Our on-going research appears to show that students and staff, Muslim and non-Muslim, are already self-censoring their discussions and activities as a result." (Perfect &amp; Scott-Bauman 2017).</p></blockquote> <h2><strong>Vile pressures</strong></h2> <p>The complex problems and challenges we are facing in higher education in the UK and elsewhere, I would argue, force us to think about academic freedom in a more nuanced manner. Despite the blurriness, I would want to stress the difference between freedom of speech and academic freedom. Joan Scott provides a helpful distinction between freedom of speech, ‘the right to express one’s ideas, however true or false they may be’ and academic freedom ‘a protection of faculty rights based on disciplinary competence’ (Scott, 2017). In the context of US higher education, Scott further states: </p> <blockquote><p>"These days the Right’s reference to free speech sweeps away the guarantees of academic freedom, dismissing as so many violations of the constitution the thoughtful, critical articulation of ideas, the demonstration of proof based on rigorous examination of evidence, the distinction between true and false, between careful and sloppy work, the exercise of reasoned judgment. Their free speech means the right to one’s opinion, however unfounded, however ungrounded, and it extends to every venue, every institution. That may be why freedom is the principle invoked so forcefully on the Right these days – freedom in the sense of the absence of any restraint. From this perspective, the bad boys can say anything they want, however vile and hateful." (Scott, 2017)</p></blockquote> <p>The depiction of this specific situation, although clearly articulated in the context of the US, has many parallels with the growing encroachment and pressures by right wing politicians, media and think tanks in the UK. So far, the pressures in the UK have not been as ferocious and vile as in the US where the wider political divide seems to be even more extreme than in post-Brexit referendum Britain. Yet, Scott’s words above feel all too familiar.</p> <h2><strong>Leaving London</strong></h2> <p>As I ponder my imminent move to leave London after 24 years to take up a position in the US, I am anxious about ideologically motivated and often rather polemic attacks on universities and academics. According to US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, all university faculty, “from adjunct professors to deans,” are guilty of brainwashing college students. In a speech given at the Conservative Political Action Conference, DeVos accused academics of tainting students with “liberal ideology” (Jaschick 2017). While in my current world ‘liberal ideology” would be a derogatory term referring to conservative capitalist ideas, in DeVos’ and that of her government’s discursive horizon, ‘liberal’ seems to signify radical unpatriotic thinking. Yet, despite the attack on universities by the Trump administration, I take comfort in the fact that so many of my colleagues in the US have been at the forefront of speaking truth to power.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, which will be my new academic home, is also an excellent example to illustrate that academic freedom should not simply be equated with academic autonomy, although autonomy is, of course, a principle we have to defend. Trying to educate myself about our foremothers who fought for gender-based equality in academia, I am reminded of the struggle of Louise Lamphere, the professor who when denied tenure in the anthropology department at Brown in 1974, jointly with three other female colleagues, took the university to court. In an out of court settlement, the department was forced to reverse its decision not to grant Lamphere tenure, despite its argument that the decision was based on the department’s autonomy as a basic tenant of academic freedom (Porwancher, 2013). </p> <p>The out of court settlement established that transparency and the principle of equality were more important than the principle of autonomy. </p> <p>As we are joined in the struggle for academic freedom in different political and national contexts, we will have to negotiate the very principles that inform our respective conceptualizations and possibly recognise that there might be tensions and ambivalences in what we view as priorities.&nbsp; </p> <h2><strong>Concluding reflections</strong></h2> <p>I grew up in Germany where I learnt very early on that following government orders, blind obedience and silence might actually mean complicity in crime and can lead to terrible atrocities. Very early on I learnt that it was important to develop an independent moral compass and to follow ethical principles rooted in the respect for human dignity rather than the rules of an authoritarian regime. </p> <p>So I was very happy and moved to see that over a thousand Turkish academics were courageous enough to sign a petition in January 2016 in order to distance themselves from the atrocities and crimes against the Kurdish population, particularly in south-eastern Turkey. Since then, academics in Turkey have paid a very high price for speaking out, and for daring to challenge the authoritarian regime. </p> <p>All over the world, it has been the role of intellectuals, educators and researchers to speak truth to power and not to be silent when injustice happens. Academic freedom has been integral to the development of the social sciences and the humanities historically and globally. Whenever academic freedom has been under threat, we know that a country is in big trouble: the attack on academic freedom has previously meant that a regime is failing to convince its thinkers with rational arguments as it needs to use coercive measures to maintain control. </p> <p>I knew this not only from my history teachers and readings about Nazi Germany, but while growing up and becoming educated in a relatively free environment, I became acutely aware of the severe restrictions on both freedom of speech and academic freedom posed on researchers, teachers, writers and intellectuals in Iraq during the Ba‘th regime. </p> <p>During my graduate studies in Cairo in the 90s, I also learnt, for the first time, about the complicity of a university management that has given in to external pressures and calls for censorship instead of defending the academic freedom of their staff and students. This became apparent when a colleague and friend of mine was forced to change his reading list at the American University in Cairo after a student, whose father had an important position in the military, complained about the content of some readings being un-Islamic. Instead of defending my friend’s choice of readings, the university management caved in and asked him to change the reading list while withdrawing copies of the book from the library.</p> <p>Historically, a regime lost legitimacy, respect and credibility, not only in the eyes of its own critical and thoughtful population, but also in the eyes of the global critical mass of people believing in democracy, justice and human rights.&nbsp;These days, however, the rules of engagement appear to have changed drastically. Across the globe, rationality and logic, however broad the political spectrum they were on previously, are being challenged by populism, fake news and so-called alternative facts. In this new age where social media insidiously threatens to eradicate our freedom of mind, and where polarised positions are fostered in ghettoised ideological bubbles, the principle of academic freedom is contested and manipulated to different political ends. </p> <p>All of a sudden, the political right is not only cracking down on academic freedoms in different contexts, but has started simultaneously to become a fierce advocate of freedom of speech, thereby not only engaging in aggressive anti-intellectualism but also giving space and platforms to ideas and practices that are counter to principles of equality and justice. </p> <p><strong>References</strong></p> <p>Black, Richard (2017) ‘<a href="">Extreme Speakers and Events: In the 2016 2017 Academic Year</a>’, </p> <p>Chalcraft, John (2018) ‘<a href="">On ‘Neutral’ Chairs’</a>, in BRICUP Newsletter 119, March 2018.&nbsp; </p> <p>Duffy, Nick (2017) <a href="">Universities must allow anti-transgender speakers</a>, in <em>Pink News, </em>19 October 2017.</p> <p><a href="">Higher Education and Research Act </a>2017. </p> <p>Jaschick, Scott. 2017. “<a href="http://">DeVos vs. the Faculty.”</a> Inside Higher Education, February 24.</p> <p><a href="">Letter by LSE Academics </a>(2018) 20 February 2018</p> <p>Mandhai Shafik (2018) '<a href="//">Cambridge apologises for blocking Palestinian from chairing tal</a>k’, Al Jazeera News, 6 March 2018.</p><p>Perfect, Simon and Allison Scott-Bauman (2017) ‘An anatomy of judgement: how do snowflakes think?’, </p> <p>Porwancher, Andrew (2013) Prying the gates wide open: academic freedom and gender equality at Brown University, 1974–1977, <em>Paedagogica Historica</em>, 49:2, 273-292.</p> <p>Scott, Joan (2017) “<a href="">On Free Speech and Academic Freedom’</a>, in Journal of Academic Freedom, Vol. 8, 2017. </p> <p>Scott-Baumann, Allison and Hugh Tomlinson (2017) “<a href="//">Cultural Cold Wars: The risk of anti-‘extremism’ policy for academic freedom of expression</a>’, Inform’s Blog: The International Forum for Responsible Media Blog.</p><p>UCU (2015) ‘<a href="">The prevent duty guidance for branches</a>’. December 2015.</p> <p>Weale, Sally and Jessica Elgot (2018) ‘<a href="">Hung, withdrawn, and re-quartered: May portrait in Oxford row</a>’, in <em>The Guardian</em>, 8 May 2018</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jannis-grimm/policing-research-shifting-tides-for-middle-east-studies-after-arab-spring">Authoritarian Middle East regimes don&#039;t like academics – ask Matthew Hedges</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/umut-ozkirimli/fear-and-loathing-in-turkish-academia-tale-of-appeasement-and-complicity">Fear and loathing in Turkish academia: a tale of appeasement and complicity </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/franco-palazzi-michela-pusterla/giulio-regeni-murder-transnational-memory-egypt-italy">Remembering against the tide: Giulio Regeni and the transnational horizons of memory</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> <div class="field-item even"> Hungary </div> <div class="field-item odd"> EU </div> <div class="field-item even"> United States </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? Can Europe make it? North-Africa West-Asia uk United States EU Hungary UK Culture Democracy and government Ideas International politics Nadje al-Ali Wed, 05 Dec 2018 00:05:21 +0000 Nadje al-Ali 120852 at Kurds and Turks are at the edge of a cliff <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Body">Ayla Akat, women’s rights activist, has for many years sought a political solution to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict while defending the rights of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. She has been arrested. Interview.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ayla Akat Ata.</span></span></span></p><blockquote><p class="Body"><em>Ayla Akat, lawyer, former Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) MP for Batman, KJA Spokesperson and prominent Kurdish women’s rights activists based in Diyarbakir (Amed) was arrested a few days ago alongside other Kurdish women’s rights activists. </em></p><p class="Body"><em><br /></em></p><p class="Body"><em>They were protesting against the illegal arrest of <a href="">Gültan Kışanak</a>, co-mayor of Diyarbakir, who has been detained together with the city’s male co-mayor, Fırat Anlı. In addition, 27 elected Kurdish co-mayors are in prison in Turkey, while 43 of them were dismissed. On 11 September 2016, the central government appointed deputy governors as trustees to replace the dismissed Kurdish mayors who were elected by more than 70% of the public vote.&nbsp;</em></p><p class="Body"><em><br /></em></p><p class="Body"><em>The arrest of the co-mayors and women’s rights activists is part of the Turkish government's attempt to destroy local forms of governance and democratic structures with transparent processes. The locally elected municipalities have been very effective in providing welfare, access to resources and the requisite infrastructure to their populations, despite the multiple challenges imposed on them by the Turkish government and the extremely limited budget available to them.&nbsp;</em></p><p class="Body"><em><br /></em></p><p class="Body"><em>We interviewed Ayla Akat as part of our broader work on the gendered dimensions of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Ayla Akat has been involved for many years in trying to find a political solution to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict while defending the rights of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. </em></p><p class="Body"><em><br /></em></p><p class="Body"><em>She has also been at the forefront of addressing and struggling against gender-based inequalities within Turkey more broadly as well as within Kurdish communities more specifically.&nbsp;We wanted to know about the establishment of the Kurdish Women’s Congress (KJA – Congreya </em><em>Jinên</em><em> Azad) and her views on the stalled peace process.</em></p></blockquote> <p class="Body"><em>Nadje Al-Ali (NA) and Latif Tas (LT): Can you please tell us about the background to establishing a Kurdish Women’s Congress (KJA)?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>Ayla Akat (AA):</strong> Mesopotamia has played a key role in the history of world civilization. Sadly, it is also a place where oppression, war and conflict have continued for a long time. Especially in recent centuries, women have been more oppressed in the Middle East than in any other part of world. <span class="mag-quote-center">Women have been treated as objects.</span></p> <p class="Body">The Kurdish movement wants to end this oppression, and since the 1990s, women’s rights have been one of our most important priorities. There is not only oppression in the political arena, but it takes place throughout society, within the family, and in the work place. Women have been the subject of many kinds of oppression and brutality in almost every part of their lives. They have been treated as objects. Our aim, with the help of a range of new organisations, is to create institutions which empower women. We want women to take an active part in these, as well as making sure that we benefit from enhanced women’s rights across society.</p> <p class="Body">We are always keen to learn new things and to do new research about women’s rights; we want to know what is going in other parts of the world, and to understand different experiences. We are very keen to listen to new people, including academics, NGOs, and politicians. As part of this process, we organise workshops and conferences. <span class="mag-quote-center">They may now be trying to understand us, but I do not think that we have explained ourselves well enough to outsiders.</span></p> <p class="Body">At the same time as learning about what is going on in different places, we try to share our aims and experiences with outsiders. The subject of Kurds and the Kurdish women’s movement is not new, even if it looks very new to many parts of the world. They may now be trying to understand us, but I do not think that we have explained ourselves well enough to outsiders, and there are still many unknown issues. For that reason we set up the Kurdish women’s congress in 2015. But this follows on more than 25 years of experience for Kurdish women. </p> <p class="Body">The women sitting on the committee have been part of this experience in different roles. When you look at the CVs of the women just sitting here in the room, then you can understand what I mean. The creation of a women’s congress has also been one important element within the peace process. Mr Öcalan especially wanted women to be involved, and one of our members, Ceylan Bagriyanik, was our representative. <span class="mag-quote-center">We are the women’s congress.</span></p> <p class="Body">Unfortunately that peace process is now paralysed. But when it re-starts, a representative from the women’s congress will sit at the peace table. Unfortunately, we don’t have any legal foundation for the KJA, according to existing Turkish law. We have put all women branches under this congress, but there is no legal space for this, so we are registered as an association now. However, an ‘association’ is very limited and does not correspond to our aims. We are the women’s congress and we want to be registered as a ‘women’s congress’.</p> <p class="Body"><em>NA &amp; LT: We understand that the Kurdish political movement has focused on women’s rights for a long time. But what was the main aim for this congress, and why now?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>AA:</strong> It is the result of many different experiences. What happened before and after the 1980 military coup, the way Kurds suffered, the torture of women in the prisons, the first organisations of women in and outside of the prisons, all this was an important reason for the creation of a women’s association in 1991. </p> <p class="Body">Sakine Cansiz was one of the important symbols of this period and afterwards for the Kurdish women. And then the Kurdish political movement started to make space for women. In 2000, many different women’s organisation came together to discuss what more they could do, what kind of platform they can create to make women’s rights one of the main political aims in Kurdistan and Turkey. Almost every day and in every part of life, women have faced many barriers. Our aim is to ensure that different political and societal power-holders understand these barriers, and that they do something about these problems. <span class="mag-quote-center">It was not enough for us any more to just come together during International Women’s Day.</span></p> <p class="Body">It was not enough for us any more to just come together during International Women’s Day, or on one or two other occasions during the year. It was, and is, necessary to have a strong committee, with institutions dealing with women’s issues on a daily basis. It’s not just about focusing on specific problems and having demonstrations. It is about the creation of a new sort of politics, a new kind of education, new spaces for skill development, and equality in every part of life for women. Women make up half of any society, so at least one permanent institution should be there to deal with this half of the population, who have been excluded from politics, society and economic production for a long time. <span class="mag-quote-center">With a few sweets, half of society is still discriminated against.</span></p> <p class="Body">It is not enough to just have a few positions in lip-service. These sorts of games do not threaten the male-dominated power structure. With a few sweets, half of society is still discriminated against. These very bad political and social structures have to change. We are here to change them. All women should get involved. This is for all of us. We want to be part of the highest level of discussion, development, production, and implementation for every decision. This is the only way we can stop all violence against women. We need to destroy the politics, which justifies this violence and exclusion.</p> <p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>NA &amp; LT: How have your male comrades reacted to this? We know about the Kurdish co-chair system. Our <a href="">previous interview with Gültan Kisanak</a> analysed this issue in some detail. But do you think there is still a long way to go for real change? Or do you think that Kurdish men, your political comrades or men on the street, agree with you? Do they believe what you believe?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>AA:</strong> It’s not perfect yet, but evolution is happening in Kurdish society. It is not possible to have any definite ideas about the future. The kinds of change which will take place tomorrow cannot be guaranteed today. But our whole aim is to keep on working towards positive change. Our focus is to make pathways for these changes to happen. It may not be easy, but change will take place. If our current organisations and structures don’t make change happen, then we will keep on trying new ways to change the existing state, societal and patriarchal rules. The most important issue for us is to change old rules and habits. Whilst changing those old rules, freedom for women is the first priority of any new rules and their implementation. <span class="mag-quote-center">Öcalan has put the freedom of women before any national freedom. </span></p> <p class="Body">One way or another, we will make changes. We believe in this. We know that the Turkish state is very patriarchal. Seventy to eighty per cent of the Turkish and Kurdish population is very conservative. But Mr. Öcalan’s support of the women’s issue gives us huge power. He has also put the freedom of women before any national freedom. </p> <p class="Body">This perspective has helped us to make radical changes in a short time period. Of course, we have mainly discussed women’s issues with women and their organisations. Women take many decisions about women’s issues alone, without the involvement of men. This may not be enough. We need to expand our discussions to involve the whole of society if we are going to make real change. </p> <p class="Body">Now, we are working on this. We are planning to organise more seminars and conferences about freedom for women and gender equality and new gender roles. It may be possible, one day, to create a political party by women, for women, which can put gender issues first. We believe that the revolution starts from the involvement of each individual, and especially each family unit. If we don’t include families, how can you stop the violence?</p> <p class="Body">Of course, with the current levels of oppression, and under war conditions, it is not easy to keep gender issues and the new developments around this as a central focus. While a woman cannot find bread, when her house is destroyed by the state and she has no shelter for her family, it can be difficult to focus on the women’s movement and gender equality. The need for bread and shelter may easily overshadow many other issues, including gender-related inequalities.</p> <p class="Body"><em>NA &amp; LT: So, given the current war-like conditions, are gender issues being ignored now? </em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>AA</strong>: When I was an MP, at the Turkish parliament, I was part of a committee looking at the new constitution. I recognised that there are four different articles in the constitution that we want to change. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict and the interests of all ethnic groups could be resolved if these four articles were introduced into the constitution: 1.) To have a new definition of citizenship, with acceptance of the autonomy of Kurdish identity; 2.) To have mother tongue education; 3.) To accept the status of Kurdistan and Kurdish people; 4.) Pluralistic secularism. </p> <p class="Body">This is different from the existing arrangements. The existing secularism starts with a male understanding of gender, society and religion, while our secularism includes all different population groups. We can call it plural secularism. We could solve the Kurdish national cause in Turkey by addressing these four articles. <span class="mag-quote-center">We can call it plural secularism.</span></p> <p class="Body">However, changing gender inequality and violence against women is more difficult. Women’s rights do not depend on changing articles in the constitution. Every month between 20 and 30 women are killed in Turkey. State violence is an important contributor to violence within families. Men embody the authoritarian attitude and physical violence of the state. Our male comrades are also representing the power of the state. The freedom of women has to be a priority. Radical societal change is needed to stop this violence. Every institution, school, workplace, city council, and the government of the country have to be redesigned if we are to have positive developments. Only with this sort of collaborative work, can violence be stopped and real equality created.</p> <p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><em>NA &amp; LT: Can we explore this point? What about class? Kurds include different ethnic and religious groups and you want to make connections between these groups. You have urban middle class women and also poor, rural, and uneducated women. What about tensions or divisions between these groups?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>AA: </strong>From the beginning, the Kurdish movement has had three main aims: national struggle, class struggle and gender struggle. All of these three are as important as each other if we are to find a real solution for our people and geography. Three days have been considered important and celebrated by Kurdish women and men. 8 March is International Women’s Day and it is very important for our gender struggle and freedom. 21 March is Newroz and it is very important for our national struggle. 1 May is labour day and it is very important in the struggle to get rid of all class inequality. Sadly, gender, class and national inequalities have been created and used by dominant powers to more easily rule society overall. Without fighting against these three important elements of oppression it won’t be easy to create any real freedom. <span class="mag-quote-center">National struggle, class struggle and gender struggle are all as important as each other if we are to find a real solution for our people and geography.</span></p> <p class="Body">In the Kurdish movement, you can easily see a shepherd and a doctor, or a housewife and lawyer taking part together in an organisation, and acting as co-chairs for leadership positions. It may be difficult for outsiders to understand this, but this has been the reality of our women from the beginning. The national struggle may have started as the cement, but class and gender have always been a very real part of all of our work. The Turkish state and its different governments do not understand this.</p> <p class="Body">But we are aware of potential risks as well. If our members and their practices do not involve everyone, then there is a danger that our practice can turn into an ‘elitist’ movement, which can destroy itself. Revolutions can always be killed by their own ‘elites’. Today our revolution exists and is taking place step by step, because we do not have any class issue. But we need to continue to connect with our whole society, with young people, with different ethnic and religious movements, to include needs on the ground. As long as a movement stays connected to what is happening on the ground, that movement will not have problems. <span class="mag-quote-center">Revolutions can always be killed by their own ‘elites’.</span></p> <p class="Body"><em>NA &amp; LT: If your ideology is to be successful, then do you not need a stable, sustainable peace between Kurds and Turkey? Why has peace not been reached, despite many attempts during the last three decades?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>AA: </strong>When these power holders do not play their roles properly, then usually the world will face unresolved conflicts and wars. I believe that the world and all human beings are interconnected with each other. One person’s problem can easily become someone else’s, as we can see with the current refugee crisis. </p> <p class="Body">If western countries do not want to accept the arrival of millions of migrants, then they should first push for peace and stability and punish authoritarian regimes such as Turkey. It is never a good idea to just appease dictatorial regimes and their monolithic nation state structures, since these are usually the underlying source of conflict. </p> <p class="Body">When we look at the Kurdish movement in the last century, we can see that when states, whether it was the Ottoman state or today’s Turkish state, try to centralise power and ignore the existence of Kurds, then Kurds have risen up. Under the Ottomans, Kurds had their own autonomy. Turkey is one of the last nation states which follows the values of the French nation state. Turkey wants on the one hand to be a strong nation state with a unitary identity, while on the other it wants to be a continuation of the Ottoman Empire. They cannot be both of these at the same time. Turkey’s many problems come from this mental confusion. The lack of a clear approach for the Turkish state has been an important barrier for Turkey, if it is going to make peace with her pluralistic society, and accept the value of different ethnic and religious communities. </p> <p class="Body">In 1920, full autonomy was promised to Kurds, before the 1923 Lausanne agreement. But at Lausanne, they divided Kurds between four other nation states, and did not explicitly mention the existence of Kurds or Kurdistan. A nation with 40 million people was eradicated with the signatures of Lausanne. Kurds have been stateless ever since. It was not just representative of the Turkish government, but western powers too, who betrayed Kurds in Lausanne. This sad situation continues a century later. All this underlines why peace is difficult between Turks and Kurds, and why Turkey does not make any real attempts for peace.</p> <p class="Body"><em>NA &amp; LT: What do you think is needed to achieve peace?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>AA:</strong> In Turkey we Kurds have a legal problem with the state. We are not recognised legally or politically. Peace depends on the acceptance of, and the sharing of power between, many different identities: Kurds, Alevis, Assyrians, Arabs. As long as the government thinks of power only under a ‘Turkic’ identity, we won’t have peace. </p> <p class="Body">Federal states around the world, including the UK, USA, Germany and Spain, have in the end accepted their plurality and created a system according to their diversity as a way of creating peace. Turkey should follow in these footsteps. Our party, the HDP, is working for a peaceful solution. But the Turkish government system includes no peace lovers or revolutionary leaders. That is why we cannot move on from where we were a hundred years ago, why we keep on repeating the same arguments.&nbsp; But change is going to happen with or without the Turkish authorities.</p> <p class="Body"><em>NA &amp; LT: Is there any specific comparative case that you think can be taken as an example for Turks and Kurds?</em></p> <p class="Body">If we look at other examples, for example South Africa, then Mandela negotiated with the Apartheid regime while he was in prison. Our leader, Öcalan, has tried the same approach for many years. After his arrest he has become a leader of all Kurds. The Kurdish public sees him as their leader. International organisations, including western countries, have understood what an important role Öcalan has. He sacrificed his own freedom for the sake of peace between Turks and Kurds. <span class="mag-quote-center">That pressure and economic embargos forced South Africa’s brutal regime to take part in the peace process.</span></p> <p class="Body">But the Apartheid regime faced significant international pressure to sit at the negotiation table and talk with Mandela. That pressure and economic embargos forced South Africa’s brutal regime to take part in the peace process. There are not the same political and economic pressures on Turkey. Kurds have been left in the hands of the Turkish governments. Of course achieving peace is not going to be easy. For a real peace process, the role of international organisations such as the UN and EU, as well as other countries and people’s initiatives, are important. </p> <p class="Body">Different experiences can certainly help us. For example the role of the leader in South Africa, and the linkage that was made there between peace and the constitution is important. Mandela played a crucial role during the peace process and Öcalan is also actively helping the peace. But the process should be part of a constitutional change, not simply be under the control of a government. There are some similarities with the IRA movement. Some parts of the peace process in the Philippines can also be a good guide for us: it was with the help of parliament, that success happened. <span class="mag-quote-center">We Northern Kurds strongly support the Rojava revolution and the Kurdish movement’s independence in Iraq.</span></p> <p class="Body">But in the end we will create our own model. Kurdistan is divided between four areas and each area’s problems directly affects the others. The Rojava revolution has had important effects on our movement. While it is a good and operational model, that very success may be one of the reasons for the failure of the peace process between Kurds and Turks. The Turkish government wanted to destroy the revolution in Rojava because Kurds in Syria have created a pluralistic autonomous system. They are acting as a <em>de facto</em> federal government. </p> <p class="Body">Iraqi Kurds almost have an independent state. The Turkish government sees these developments as a danger to their imposed ‘unity’. They don’t hide their aims well. This is not just a policy of today’s Turkey. It has been a policy since the establishment of the Turkish Republic. We Northern Kurds strongly support the Rojava revolution and the Kurdish movement’s independence in Iraq.</p> <p class="Body"><em>NA &amp; LT: In recent years the aim of the Kurdish youth organisation is self-determination and the war they are waging in the cities against Turkish forces is another important development. This has affected the peace process and has changed the style of the war, bringing it from rural areas to the cities. Could you explain the reason for these changes?</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>AA:</strong> The main reason for these recent developments and steps towards the creation of ‘democratic autonomy’ is the Turkish state’s approach towards maintaining a strong centralised, unitary structure and its wish to continue a colonial-type of structure under the dictatorial regime. </p> <p class="Body">If this structure does not change, the strengthening of this new movement in Kurdistan is inevitable. Socially, economically and politically all of Kurdistan has been ruled like colonised lands. The Kurds don’t benefit from their own local resources and are left dependent on the state for survival. Kurdish lands are rich but they are not used and managed properly. There is huge unemployment in Kurdistan. Political and economic dependency has been created by the state. Almost all parts of Kurdistan have been ruled in this way. <span class="mag-quote-center">Even though they are at war with ISIS and under a Turkish military and economic embargo, Rojava has managed to become a more developed and tolerant part of Syria now.</span></p> <p class="Body">This creates narrow political and economic options for local people and their elected representatives. The state cannot even tolerate Kurdish elected politicians, though most receive 70-80% of the public vote locally. </p> <p class="Body">Rojava is moving from this dependency and creating its own independent economic and political structures. Even though they are at war with ISIS and under a Turkish military and economic embargo, Rojava has managed to become a more developed and tolerant part of Syria now. Rojava’s radical developments show that if local communities govern themselves and enjoy their own autonomy, they can be in better shape politically and economically.</p> <p class="Body"><em>NA &amp; LT: The level of the war has increased and even some have claimed that it is worse than the 1990s. Was it not possible for the Kurds to insist on peace and to remain at the negotiation table?</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="Body"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="// Ayla, Gultan and Nadje (Nadje Al-Ali).JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// Ayla, Gultan and Nadje (Nadje Al-Ali).JPG" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ayla Akat Ata, Nadje Al-Ali, Gültan Kışanak. </span></span></span><strong>AA:</strong> The Kurds insisted and continue to insist on remaining at the table to make peace, but the state has chosen war over peace. </p> <p class="Body">The state uses all criminal approaches against our friends and party members who ask for greater decentralisation. Thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced in just one year. </p> <p class="Body">This war is not the reason for the failed peace process. Erdogan’s peace process façade was part of his ambition to create an authoritarian dictatorship. This has put Kurds and Turks at the edge of cliff. </p> <p class="Body">The state’s perspective against the Kurds has not changed at all since the 1920s. The game they play against Kurds sometimes changes, but its actual aim is to rule Kurdish lands as colonisers. This strategy is also a very easy and cheap way to increase Turkish nationalism and to create a homogenous national identity. Nationalism and an authoritarian regime are very dangerous for both sides. Kurds and Turks are walking a tightrope under Erdogan’s regime. The current war in Turkey is between the continuity of this state dictatorship and the people who are asking for a more pluralistic, democratic system.</p> <p class="Body"><em>NA &amp; LT: This means the war has not ended the Kurds’ aim of creating their own autonomous system in Turkey?</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="Body"><strong>AA:</strong> The Kurds will create a democratic autonomous system against the centralist, barbaric and corrupt state system. To create something better for people might not be easy, but Kurds will succeed and this will benefit Turkey and the entire Middle East. This has been part of the HDP and KJA’s programme from the beginning. <span class="mag-quote-center">This is how nations become paralysed, as we saw in Europe during the 1930s.</span></p> <p class="Body">The corrupt political and economic system, which creates an unequal approach to class and gender, will only end when local power and autonomy is achieved. We want to create a strong parliamentary system with more power given to the regions. The existence of a one-man system of rule is destroying the democratic legitimacy of Parliament and has significantly weakened it. </p> <p class="Body">In such circumstances it doesn’t matter how many elections you have, democracy is merely reduced to a rubber stamp for dictatorship. Sadly a Turkish nationalist block exists and supports this type of dictatorial rule. This is how nations become paralysed, as we saw in Europe during the 1930s. However the Kurds’ fight is against such an undemocratic and unaccountable system, and our success will also allow the Turkish people to achieve a truly democratic and equal system. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/nadje-al-ali-latif-tas-g-ltan-ki-anak/kurdish-women-s-battle-continues-against-state-and-patriarchy-"> Kurdish women’s battle continues against state and patriarchy, says first female co-mayor of Diyarbakir. Interview </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/latif-tas/15-steps-for-turkish-kurdish-peace"> 15 steps for Turkish-Kurdish peace</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/evangelos-aretaios/rojava-revolution">The Rojava revolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/westminster/zeynep-n-kaya/women-in-post-conflict-iraqi-kurdistan">Women in post-conflict Iraqi Kurdistan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/nurcan-baysal/writing-from-diyarbak-r-under-blockade">Writing from Diyarbakır under blockade</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Can Europe make it? North-Africa West-Asia Turkish Dawn Latif Tas Nadje al-Ali Ayla Akat Wed, 02 Nov 2016 14:04:29 +0000 Ayla Akat, Nadje al-Ali and Latif Tas 106417 at Kurdish women’s battle continues against state and patriarchy, says first female co-mayor of Diyarbakir. Interview <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>After this military coup, the government may use this as an excuse to strengthen their sexist, militarist and anti-democratic policies further. We face this danger now.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="// 2.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="// 2.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gültan Kişanak. Authors' own photo. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p class="BodyA"><strong>The authors write: </strong></p> <blockquote><p class="BodyA"><em>The prominence of Kurdish women in Rojava (western Kurdistan/northern Syria) inspired us initially to understand the historical role of women in the Kurdish political movement. We were also interested in the role of Kurdish women in challenging traditional patriarchal society and rules. As part of this wider project, we wanted to hear the thoughts of Gültan Kışanak, the female co-mayor of Diyarbakır, the largest Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey.</em></p><p class="BodyA"><em><br /></em></p><p class="BodyA"><em>She has been a long-term activist in the Kurdish women’s movement in addition to being a former MP for the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Ms Kişanak was imprisoned as a student after the military coup in 1980, and as a woman’s rights activist and Kurdish politician has witnessed the violent aftermath of previous coups as well as the radically changing political landscape over the past decades.</em></p><p class="BodyA"><em><br /></em></p><p class="BodyA"><em>Given the recent developments in Turkey, we were also eager to enquire about the recent failed coup, particularly in relation to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, prospects for peace and gendered implications of recent developments.</em></p></blockquote> <p class="BodyA"><strong>Nadje Al-Ali (NA) and Latif Tas (LT): </strong><em>Based on your own experiences, could you tell us about the history of women’s roles within the Kurdish political movement? </em><strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>Gültan Kişanak (GK):</strong> Since the beginning of the Kurdish political movement in Turkey, women have taken active and important roles. However, we should accept that in the 1970s and 1980s women’s rights were sacrificed for the sake of general political and national aims. The slogan was to first have a revolution and then make some improvements in women’s rights and gender equality. This idea was not only part of Kurdish independence movements, but it was also followed by Turkish and other leftist and democratic groups who wanted to change the regime of their countries. </p> <p class="BodyA">A few select women were given some positions to further wider political aims but they were also forced to postpone any initiatives focusing on their own rights for the sake of the national and political revolution. Key roles for women were not taken by women themselves, but ‘given’ by a male-dominated political leadership. After any success or political achievement, women were easily forgotten and forced back into the home to continue in their ‘traditional’ roles. Sadly, this has been the destiny of women in almost all countries and many contexts throughout history. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">So we started to prioritize changes in democratic rights. This has become more important for us than the creation of an independent state.</span></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: Was this trend also evident within Kurdish political ideology? </em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK:</strong> In the beginning, the Kurdish movement was also influenced by this tradition. Our main aim was to promote national aims and a revolution. The movement had to show a strong and tough ‘male’ face if we were going to have any success with these political aims. Most of our male friends and comrades came from this old, patriarchal tradition. Patriarchal structures, even including many progressive leftist movements, did not want to change their position and include any real focus on women and their rights. But after a while, we, in the Kurdish political movement, began to strongly and continuously question - and we still question - this perspective. </p> <p class="BodyA">Especially in the 1980s and 1990s, the issue of women's rights became important internationally, and we benefited from this trend. We started not just questioning the position of the state and the regime but also challenged the role of patriarchal structures. We started believing and supporting the idea that if there was going to be a real, sustainable and positive change than this should include women’s rights from the beginning and at all levels. Without real democratization and inclusion of all minority rights, especially women’s rights, any new model will not be much better or substantially different from the old one. </p> <p class="BodyA">So we started to prioritize changes in democratic rights. This has become more important for us than the creation of an independent state. Within this new environment, women began to assume important roles and created their own separate branches, not just following what the general political movement says, but also creating alternative policies, which the party must follow. This change is not just limited to the political elements within the movement, but also includes societal changes. It has influenced all levels of the Kurdish movement. These changes were not easy and the rights were not just given by men: Kurdish women have fought at all levels and achieved these changes despite barriers within patriarchal society and despite the resistance of some of our male comrades.</p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: Give us more details about the kind of changes Kurdish women have achieved and what kind of positions and roles they have gained? </em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong>When society needs to make sacrifices in difficult times, like conflict and war, male-dominated societies may establish some new roles for women, including for women to sacrifice their lives. But after all these difficult times, the same people suddenly forget their promises to women. Similar to today, the 1990s were especially difficult for the Kurdish movement. The state was oppressive and applied considerable pressure. Women experienced those difficulties and paid a huge price. Women organized and led many demonstrations against state brutality in villages and towns. Many of our female and male friends were arrested, tortured and killed. They had to defend themselves during their trials. They read and researched about their rights. Women not only learnt about Kurdish rights and freedoms, but as women who were simultaneously oppressed by the state and by society, they recognized their rights, their equality with men, and their freedom. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">We have gained confidence and trust in ourselves. We did not simply follow established policies but also took part in creating new policies.</span></p> <p class="BodyA">This was an important element of the enlightenment of Kurdish women. We have gained confidence and trust in ourselves. We did not simply follow established policies but also took part in creating new policies. We came onto the streets with new innovative slogans. We challenged not just the state's perspective but also the established rules of society. The male-dominated political establishment usually does not make women’s issues their main argument. However, day-by-day, women’s participation and active demanding of their rights while coming out onto streets has been increasing. When women come onto the streets for a demonstration, some of them bring along their children. Others leave their husband at home, to look after the children. </p><p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gultan Kisanek photos. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: How do you assess the role of the Kurdish political leadership in addressing these changes?</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong>Women have fought a lot for their rights. But especially for the initial movement and involvement you need a strong leadership. We are lucky that we had - and still have - this. Of course the changes and evolution of the role of women within the Kurdish movement and Kurdish society would not be easy without the full support of the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned by Turkey since 1999, more than 17 years. Since the 1990s, Öcalan advised women's organizations to create separate branches to promote rights and equality within the wider movement and society. He repeatedly said that if women do not create their own free and autonomous branches, dominant and traditional men would try to destroy women after any achievements. These separate branches should not be just created within society or locally, but also within political parties and guerrilla movements. He also advised men to abandon the traditionalist perspective, the primitive ideology of men and masculinity. He believes that most societal problems are the creation of dominant masculine men. This is the reason why people make decisions for others without their agreement. This is the reason that many wars and conflicts are so often about power and ego. If we are going to change society, Öcalan and many of us believe that we should first eliminate patriarchal masculinity and the ego born from this masculinity.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: We have interviewed many different Kurdish women, including peace activists, mothers of martyrs, politicians, mayors, guerrillas, students, lawyers, community members and house wives. Different women experience historical developments and struggles differently. You have a very important role and hold a very important position as the co-mayor of Diyarbakir/Amed. What kind of difficulties and problems have you faced as a woman and a co-mayor?</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong>My own life story has followed the development of the Kurdish women's movement. In the 1980s, I was imprisoned in Diyarbakir prison. This had notoriously brutal conditions, with torture and killings. To be Kurdish, to be a woman and to be leftist created triple difficulties for me. I was kept in a dog kennel for six months because I refused to say ‘I am not a Kurd but a Turk’. Our older women friends, our mothers’ age were tortured because they could not speak Turkish. I still have signs of torture from those days on my body. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">If we are going to change society, Öcalan and many of us believe that we should first eliminate patriarchal masculinity and the ego born from this masculinity.</span></p> <p class="BodyA">This prison was a place for me to question everything about humanity. It was a place for me to recognize the importance of gender. It was a place for friendship and to create strong bonds with other women. After my life in prison, I became a university student. Together with many other Kurdish women, I took part in the women's struggle, both while I was in prison and also during my time in university. This destroyed any fears I had. In fact, the heavy burden and difficulties developed my self-confidence. If I think back to those days, when I was a 19-year-old university student, it is difficult now to imagine how I managed all those difficult challenges whilst almost continually being under attack for my Kurdish identity, for my mother tongue and most importantly for being a woman. </p> <p class="BodyA">It was not an easy period in my life and in the lives of many other Kurdish women. The difficult conditions forced us to make choices: to surrender and accept the state’s idea of a unitary identity and to assimilate&nbsp; – or to resist against all oppression. Under those difficult conditions, we questioned the role of state and society, and the established role and identity of women. But we also thought about human rights, the importance of diverse identities, and our own Kurdish identity and practices. We decided to work against all oppression since they fed on each other. Without that historical development and those experiences, I would not have my current advantages, and my strong role. The women who jump into politics, without the kind of experiences we all had, may well face some difficulty in the beginning. We fought with masculine politics at every stage of our movement.<em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: How did your political experiences develop after your university days?</em><strong> </strong></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong>In the 1990s, when conditions were very difficult and there was no sign of freedom – just like it is now – I worked for newspapers where Kurdish and women’s rights were the main issue. These were alternatives to the mainstream newspapers. The conditions for journalists, especially for Kurdish journalists were harsh - just like today. Some of our journalist friends were killed while they were doing their work. I worked as a journalist for 13 years and published sections focusing on women’s issue within the newspaper. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">But we also thought about human rights, the importance of diverse identities… We decided to work against all oppression since they fed on each other.</span></p> <p class="BodyA">During the hard time of the 1990s, many autonomous women's organizations were established. I took different roles within these, and worked to support their activities. In 1996, the Kurdish political movement created a separate women's branch. This developed into a system of political representation. In 1999 for the first time three Kurdish women were elected as local mayors. This number more than tripled in 2004 and we had 14 women mayors. Most importantly, we started co-chairing in 2004, although at the time this was not legal. But the women were all pressured by their male co-chairs. They were perceived as assistants. After 2007, women became more visible and powerful. The 2007 elections were revolutionary for both Kurdish and Turkish women. 8 out of 26 Kurdish MPs were women. Women became more confident as co-chairs and men had to accept them as equals. Other political parties were embarrassed and started to introduce a co-chair system as well. But it was not simply a matter of a quota and co-chairing, but the actual style and work of parliament changed. Women did not ask for permission any more to speak on important subjects such as the defence budget. All these steps have helped Kurdish women to develop their own independent branches. The aim was to put new brick on top of the existing ones and so to move forward women's issues. We are becoming stronger with every passing day. </p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: What do you consider as your main challenges in the past? </em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK:</strong> It might be difficult to believe but when I look back at my own experience and story, the hardest time for me as a woman was not in prison. It was not my time at university or when I was working as a journalist. But it was the struggle we had to fight in order to get a women’s quota for MPs. During the time before the 2007 general election when we made our first important moves towards a quota, our male friends were happy about our hard work. We were organizing meetings and demonstrations, and were facing the police on a daily basis as we worked hard in our political and gender struggles. In the 2007 general election, the Kurdish political party did not run as a party, because of the ten-per cent threshold, but put forward independent candidates, and the Kurdish women's movement wanted to achieve a women's quota even it was for independent candidates. We wanted an equal number of male and female MPs. The 40 per cent quota for women had been one of our party policies since 2002, but its implementation had been postponed to the next election. We did not want any further postponement. We wanted the policy to be put into practice. Our attempts created a big discussion within the Kurdish political movement. There were several barriers from the established political traditions and from dominant men. There were two main questions: first how many women should be put into electable positions; and secondly who was going to decide about these women candidates?</p><p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gültan Kışanak's photos. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: A woman’s quota was already part of your party policy. Why did many men in the Kurdish political movement object? </em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong><span class="print-no mag-quote-right">We started co-chairing in 2004… But the women were all pressured by their male co-chairs. They were perceived as assistants. </span>Yes, it was there and for that reason – theoretically at least – they could not be against our demands. We had already had this as a party policy for almost 5 years. However, some men created different excuses, such as society was not ready yet. Other argued that women should be happy with a smaller quota, and once society becomes ready we will put the 40 per cent into practice. In other words, we were supposed to wait years or even decades for society to become ready. They knew that a good number of women were going to be elected and also that it was going to affect some men’s chances to become MPs. We were ready to do political demonstrations in every part of the country, to communicate with people in the cities, but also to go to villages, to talk to old and young members of our society, to convince them about our role in representing them. We did not want to fail for lack of trying. However, many of our male friends continued to offer just a few positions to women. Even though we started co-chairing in 2004, until 2007 they did not really include women co-chairs in any meaningful way. They even called our female co-chairs <em>Yenge (</em>sister-in-law), as a way of showing they were not equals but assistants. We wanted to change this symbolic representation and instead make it full and meaningful. </p> <p class="BodyA">Most men and even some women following the old traditions did not want to recognize that the Kurdish women’s movement was not fragile any more. It was strong enough to take what it deserved. Yes, we had Leyla Zana as an example of an MP in 1991, but her role and power did not come from women's organisations or representation. She was the wife of a famous Kurdish politician, Mehdi Zana, a former mayor of Diyarbakir, who also went to prison in the 1980s for his political views. When Leyla Zana was first elected, her social status and her being the wife of somebody famous was the main reason for her to be elected. Of course, later she has become a very important Kurdish figure and politician in her own right. As an elected MP, Zana had to face prison, along with several other Kurdish MPs, and she stayed there for almost a decade, just like her husband and many other Kurdish politicians. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">We were strongly against accepting a few symbolic women. We wanted to exist and make decisions at all levels.</span></p> <p class="BodyA">In 2007, men in the Kurdish political movement accepted the number of women to be elected, but they came out with a new offer: to put a few famous women or the wives of famous men onto the list. According to our male friends, that would have been easier for society to accept. But we said no. Because the number itself was not going to be meaningful as long as the proper acknowledgment of women was not recognized by men and society. We were strongly against accepting a few symbolic women. We wanted to exist and make decisions at all levels. We also decided that the female candidates should not be decided on by men or in joint meetings. Women's organizations should decide on their own candidates. After long and harsh arguments, we won this battle as well. We created a women's election committee in parallel to the previous general election committee and the women's branches decided on their own candidates. In the end, 8 out of 26 women MPs were elected in 2007. Almost all our women candidates had more votes than their male colleagues. The women found it much easier to make connections with different social groups. Their messages were much clearer. Society was ready; even if the previous male dominated power holders were not. </p><p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gültan Kışanak's photos. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: Many commentators see the involvement and power of Kurdish women as a simple change in policy and practice. But your experience illustrates that it is an on-going struggle that has been difficult on many levels.</em><strong> </strong></p> <p><strong>GK: </strong>It looks simple now, but it was certainly not easy to put this simple action into practice. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Almost all our women candidates had more votes than their male colleagues. The women found it much easier to make connections with different social groups.</span> The discussions before, and the results of the 2007 election marked a radical revolution for Kurdish and Turkish women rights and position in Turkey. First, the idea of women not being able to succeed was destroyed. Second, the well-known male stereotype of society not being able to accept women was challenged as well. Society actually welcomed women. Third, the general tradition of electing only well-known, famous women or wives of famous men was challenged. Women were elected with their own identity, from a mix of economic, social, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Before the 2007 election, people in our society still called women who had been elected as mayors ‘Mr. President’ (<em>Baskan Bey</em>). When a mayor visited somewhere most people were expecting to see a man. They asked ‘where is Mr. President’, and found it difficult to see a woman in power. When a woman mayor was elected, people would speculate that the city was run by men behind the scenes. The outcome of the 2007 election destroyed all these ideas and women mayors or MPs can now be accepted with power without any shadows behind her. Our system of co-chairs at all levels has become more visible, strong and stable since the 2007 election. </p><p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: Do you feel that you have achieved gender-based equality within the Kurdish political movement and in Kurdish society?</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong>It is not easy to make deep societal changes in a short time, but it is happening. Now many Turkish and Kurdish people may not know the names of male Kurdish MPs, or politicians, but they usually know the names of Kurdish female politicians. 2007 was a big test for us. But the real test of success is continuity and the normalization of gender equality and representation in politics for the next generations. We have worked very hard, sometimes more than our male friends, to make this happen. The future generations, the young members of women's organizations, have important responsibilities for the continuation of equality and to change the established male-dominated tradition of power. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">We should also know and accept that there are many women who have played passive or even active roles in the continuation of patriarchal society.</span> We should also know and accept that there are many women who have played passive or even active roles in the continuation of patriarchal society. There are many women who have become masculinized and act like men in our society. They are a barrier we need to deal with and change. If our progressive women’s organizations ever relax with the power they have gained, then that power could easily be taken away again by male dominated power holders. Equality of power must be institutionalized and become one of the most important societal norms if our advances are to continue.</p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: </em><em>How have these changes translated into Turkish politics and affected the work of other parties?</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong>Our new gender role and practices have pushed changes in the Turkish political parties and the legal system. I would like to share a few examples, beginning in the Turkish parliament, where our Kurdish umbrella party at the time (DTP – Democratic Society Party) secured a female deputy leader in 2007. This was a ‘first’ for any political party in Turkey. This position allowed the leader, Fatma Kurtulan, to organize all party politics, and to speak in the name of the party. Other political parties joined in. The CHP (Republican People’s Party), which claims to be a leftist party, was embarrassed by this initiative and they also elected a woman deputy leader. And then the Erdoğan-led AKP (Justice and Development Party) also followed with these changes. It has almost now become a rule for political parties in Turkey to elect one male and one female deputy leader. </p> <p class="BodyA">The second radical change was that for the first time in the Turkish parliament, women started to talk about important issues, including defence, foreign relations, economic and energy investments and the state budget. I was the first woman who was elected to the commission of state budget planning and became the only woman working with 44 men. Previously, women were almost always limited to a few issues, like family matters and some social problems. All other topics, especially those connected with defence budgets and policies, were left to men to deal with. We challenged this conservative approach and our female MPs started to make proposals regarding almost all issues. </p> <p class="BodyA">This was another shock for the other political parties. They could not understand and accept that women should also take part on defence budget issues. They did not want women to have any involvement with important state matters. They wanted women just to speak about women's issues, children and family matters. We destroyed this very bad, men-oriented political tradition.</p> <p class="BodyA">The third important change is that with our party co-chair leadership system and practice we pushed for the Turkish legal system to be changed. Now it is legal in Turkey, other political parties can use the same system. However, until now, no other political parties except the Public’s Democratic Party (HDP), the Kurdish dominated party, have adopted this practice in parliament.</p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: </em><em>Thes</em><em>e very important changes </em><em>have challenged many traditions in the Turkish political system. Do you think these positive changes will continue and perhaps further close the gender gap in practice?</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong>Of course the long history of inequality has created huge gaps and it is not possible to close these in 10 or 20 years. After 2007 we did not stop. In the 2011 election, more women gained power, and in the 2014 local election and the 2015 general election we have reached almost equal levels of representation in the Kurdish political party, as well as at the levels of city, town and village representation. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">This is not something we were given. We have had to fight for every single advance.</span> As a party, we hold mayoral power in 102 different cities and towns in Turkey and in all of these, the mayors rule according to the co-chair system, with one man and one woman. We have had to fight for this. Our male friends started with the idea that they could understand equality at the level of the political party, but not for mayors. They thought it was a position where men can do better and make decisions more quickly. After a long battle we have won this argument as well. As you see at all levels we have to fight to have any meaningful equality. Now co-mayors make decisions together and equally. One is not more important than the other. We try to create full and permanent equality. </p> <p class="BodyA">This is not just about numbers of individuals but also about the equality of input from different genders. We are now working on making the co-chair system at the mayoral level legal: it is practiced de facto by us but is not yet legal. But we made similar changes around political leadership and I believe we will do it at mayoral level too. As a party and as a community, we have increased trust in women's roles and positions. </p> <p class="BodyA">This is not something we were given. We have had to fight for every single advance. For that reason I want to believe that these rights and the fight for equality is not going to be taken away from women. But we cannot relax and must keep on working even harder than we have already done. </p><p class="BodyA"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gültan Kışanak's photos. All rights reserved. </span></span></span></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: </em><em>From your experiences we can see the creation of any permanent equality is not an easy process. The outcome of our research in the Middle East but also other contexts around the globe indicate that in many places successful women forget their gendered identity after a while. Especially women leaders often buy into and project masculinist identities. As co-mayor of Diyarbakir what are the advantages or disadvantages of working as a woman? How much, and in what ways can you represent your gender identity? </em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="BodyA"><strong>GK: </strong>To be mayor of Diyarbakir is a very important and honourable position. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">Many of our male friends say that I can do it, because I have this great experience unlike other women. They do not want to see me as a result of the success of the Kurdish women's movement.</span> However, this can be sometimes a problem, especially if you come from a strong political background, like me. To have the experience of my political background and having been an MP for two terms, as well as having been the co-chair of the party in the past might all look like an advantage. But in practice, all this does not help women’s rights in general. Many of our male friends say that I can do it, because I have this great experience unlike other women. They do not want to see me as a result of the success of the Kurdish women's movement. Instead they want to believe and see that Gültan is an exception. I try to explain and fight against this very wrong assumption. There is the strong power of the Kurdish women's movement behind my individual success. Without this movement, I would not be here. We, within the Kurdish women's movement, now try to make those still adhering to the patriarchal tradition understand that every woman can be as successful as every man, at least if they are given equal support, chances and trust. My story is not just my story; it is the story of the success of Kurdish women. </p> <p class="BodyA">Another danger we should be aware of is that those in the male dominated tradition do not want to see a successful woman as a woman any more. They de-genderise successful women. They try to kill our gender identity, to see us as men, even expecting us to act like men. They believe that every successful woman has male hormones. We must not tolerate this. They do not mind if I as a Gültan, co-mayor of Diyarbakir, enter male areas, such as mosques or teashops. But they don’t want me as a woman. They say: ‘ you are welcome, because you are our President, but we don’t want other women here.’ According to them, if somebody is mayor, they have reached the level of men. When I remind them that I am also a woman they still hesitate to accept this idea. As you can see, there are still many barriers. One ends and another one starts. </p> <p class="BodyB"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: </em><em>If we look at work places and traditionally male dominated public spaces more broadly, what level of change have you witnessed over the last years?</em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="BodyB"><strong>GK: </strong>There were not any women deputy mayors previously in Diyarbakir. All four deputies were men. After several months of battles we managed to get a position for women. There were 19 different departments below the mayor of Diyarbakir and women were managing just two of them. Now we have increased this to six, but the aim is to have equal numbers. The problem was not that we did not have qualified women for these positions before, in fact we had much better qualified women than men ready to work. But these positions were seen as positions for men. </p> <p class="BodyB">Many women also accepted these traditions until recently. As part of Diyarbakir municipality, we have established a special department named Department of Women Policies. There are no similar examples of this in Turkey in any other local areas. This new department will have three main foci: 1. to deal with and reduce violence against women; 2. to increase women’s education, including making them aware of their rights; 3. to help women gain new skills and become more economically independent. This women’s department has the right and a sufficiently senior position to observe all investment programs and to evaluate to what extent these programs include the gender dimension or not. </p> <p class="BodyB">Our aim is to confront all male-occupied spaces and make women more independent socially, economically, and legally. Our previous mayor, Mr. Osman Baydemir, also tried to challenge this male dominated ideology. During his time, 20 women were hired for fire-fighter positions and 15 for bus driver positions. These are very important changes. The aim of these policies was to break down traditional barriers. But their male colleagues and the established male ideology made life very difficult for these female fire fighters and bus drivers. Many of them wanted to return to office work. Our male friends defended their actions and claimed that ‘fire-fighter and bus drivers are heavy jobs, requiring 24 hour work, including night shifts. How can women do this? We cannot create separate bathrooms and sleeping rooms for them. It will be too expensive and too complicated. Society is not ready’. Our answer is that if doctors, nurses can do their job with separate living conditions, something should be done for fire-fighters and bus drivers too. As you can see many of our male friends are not against women's equality in theory, but when it comes to practice and practicalities, they create many obstacles. </p> <p class="BodyB">Resistance is not simply coming from society, but it is coming from some of our male friends within our political movement. There is still a long way to go. We should not sacrifice our gendered identity and should not tolerate when they come to us with sexist offers. We also have to remember the obstacles society and we face all the time. It's not just about equality in leadership or gaining some specific numbers in more powerful position. New traditions of equality in the workplace and in society need to be generalized and normalized. If this does not happen then just having women in symbolic positions, like the one I have now, will not be enough for any real, meaningful and permanent equality and freedom.</p> <p class="BodyB"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>:&nbsp; </em><em>How do you evaluate the latest situation in Diyarbakir and in the region in general? </em><em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p class="BodyB"><strong>GK: </strong>As you already know, we have been going through a very difficult time with war and atrocities recently, following a more hopeful time starting with the peace letter of Mr. Abdullah Õcalan during the Newroz celebrations in 2013. We were hoping for true negotiations, reconciliation and democratization in Turkey. However, due to many reasons and developments, the ruling AKP government decided not to pursue a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue and waged another war on Kurds on all fronts, including our city Diyarbakir, other neighbouring cities and towns as well as Rojava. We have lost thousands of people, many of whom are innocent civilians, young children and women. Our cities and towns have almost been invaded and many districts were completely destroyed with all houses demolished, and the infrastructure destroyed. As if all this was not enough, we, as co-mayors are also facing judicial injustices. 22 of our co-mayors were arrested and 31 others were dismissed from office without any concrete legal grounds. Among them, 17 are female co-mayors. Despite all the difficulties and obstacles, we are trying to continue our municipal services on the one hand and show solidarity with the people affected by the clashes on the other hand. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">I hope the western world breaks its silence and puts more pressure on Turkey and the ruling AKP so that the government will shift towards negotiation for a peaceful solution.</span></p> <p class="BodyB">I cannot say that international bodies, organizations and the media have been sensitive and attentive enough to the problems we are facing. However, as we know from past experiences, international campaigns and solidarity work is crucial in stopping atrocities and clashes. I hope the western world breaks its silence and puts more pressure on Turkey and the ruling AKP so that the government will shift towards negotiation for a peaceful solution of the problems. </p> <p class="BodyB"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: How did the more recent wave of crack down and clashes influence your work and struggle for greater gender-based equality and justice?</em></p> <p class="BodyB"><strong>GK: </strong>I think Kurdish women are having a more difficult time now than at any other time in the last three decades. The state’s military operations in the Kurdish regions during the last year was no longer limited to rural areas. They have destroyed all city life and put a huge burden on people’s shoulders, especially on women. The Turkish Human Rights Organisation has published a report about what has happened between 16 August 2015 and 18 March 2016 in 7 cities and 22 towns in the Kurdish regions. According to this report, a total of 1 million and 642 thousand people were affected by the state’s operations and curfews. 320 people have lost their lives (72 children and 62 women). Tens of thousands of houses were destroyed. At least 250 thousand people are homeless now, because of the destruction of their houses. Women and children have been especially affected by this damage. Most of them have been living in uncivilized conditions in tents without water and electricity for months. They cannot find enough food and clean water to keep them alive. They don’t have access to any health system. Although women have tried to protect themselves and their children from illnesses, the rates of premature birth, neonatal deaths, stillbirth, and child deaths have all increased.&nbsp;Children are traumatised and most have lost their normal lives and trust.&nbsp;<span class="print-no mag-quote-left">I think Kurdish women are having a more difficult time now than at any other time in the last three decades.</span></p> <p class="BodyB">During the military operations, the death of 62 women illustrates how women have been used as easy targets by the state. In Silopi, the 57 year old Taybet Inan was killed by state forces but her body was left on the street for 7 days, because snipers targeted anyone who tried to remove her body. This shows how the state uses women’s bodies as part of its politics and sees women and their actions as dangerous. It is an important proof that the masculine state hates women.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyB">In the Kurdish women’s movement, we have tried to help our people. We continue our education programmes and close connections with women. We are organizing to help people with their daily needs. We try to limit the effects of trauma among women and children. Despite the relentless war by the state against our people, women have not surrendered. They continue to resist in many ways. Many of our friends and political activists have been killed, including Asya Yuksel (the spokesperson for the Cizre Women’s Council), Seve Demir (the Women’s Rights representative for Silopi), Fatma Uyar and Pakize Nayır. These women did not leave their towns, cities, but continued to help their people despite knowing their lives were in danger.&nbsp;</p> <p class="BodyB">Because of the war conditions and other urgent priorities, we are focusing less on violence against women within families. We are not ignoring this important issue, but most of our workers have to deal with other problems at the moment. This provides important evidence of yet another way that war and conflict increases violence against women, especially within families and on the street. I hope the war conditions will not continue - this would put women’s rights in further danger and even put us back to the old days. I hope this difficult time will end soon and will even help us to move the Kurdish women’s movement one more step further on, as we managed in the 1980s and 1990s.</p> <p class="Gvde"><strong><em>NA,LT</em></strong><em>: </em><em>Did you expect the latest military coup? How is the failed coup and its aftermath affecting Kurdish women and people in general?</em></p> <p><strong>GK: </strong>As I mentioned at the beginning of our interview, myself and many other Kurds have directly suffered as a result of previous military coups in Turkey. I was taken to the infamous Diyarbakir prison following the military coup (12 September 1980). I know very well the bad effects of a military coup. There has always been the possibility of a military coup in Turkey. For that reason, the recent military coup was no surprise to me. I am very angry that no proper measures were taken to stop this coup. As a mayor of Diyarbakir, I have responsibilities for my people. I worry that this will affect our city and our people negatively. This is what always happened during and after the previous military coups. If I go back to that evening, on 15 July 2016, we first tried to work out if there were any street clashes and conflict happening in our city. The leader of the HDP, Mr Selahattin Demirtaş, was in Diyarbakir that evening. I visited him and talked to him about the coup and its possible results. The HDP made a strong official statement straight away and made their position very clear: they were totally against any military coup. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">The HDP made a strong official statement straight away and made their position very clear: they were totally against any military coup.</span> We anxiously followed all developments that evening and afterwards, just like many other Kurdish people and HDP members. </p> <p class="Gvde">Looking at the results: we can see that the high ranking military generals and personnel who carried out a very brutal war against Kurdish people were directly involved in this military coup. This shows that the war in Kurdistan and the level of democracy in Turkey are directly connected with one another. Sadly we can see that these generals, who have carried out crimes against Kurds and violated all human rights in Kurdistan, are not blamed for this reason. They are only blamed for a coup attempt, carried out against democracy. But we should know that the war in Kurdistan and the coup mentality are interconnected. If the crimes and war in the country continue, especially what we have witnessed against Kurds in the last two years, there will be always a strong possibility that entrenched military ideologues will continue to attempt coups, as they try to control power. War in Kurdistan increases the military mentality and opens a way for anti-democratic actions in the country. With no shame, the generals who organised the coup, are claiming the significant role they played in the war against Kurds as part of their defense. They try to justify themselves by proclaiming what big Turkish nationalists they are. I am quite sure that the war against Kurds in the last two years, which was led by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government, was planned and carried out by these military generals and police chiefs. We understand exactly how well these generals and police chiefs understand democracy. However, even after the coup, the AKP government has not shown any clear sign that they are going to stop the war against Kurds. If the AKP is really keen on democracy and is a true champion of democratic values, they could learn lessons from the latest military coup and adopt democratic solutions to the Kurdish issue. We do not yet know what kind of strategy will now be followed by Erdoğan, the Turkish president, concerning the Kurdish issue. After the coup Erdoğan and the AKP have started a dialogue with most of the opposition political parties. However, since the HDP and Kurds are not included in this dialogue, this has created suspicions that a democratic solution may not be the priority for the Erdoğan and his government. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">War in Kurdistan increases the military mentality and opens a way for anti-democratic actions in the country. </span></p> <p class="Gvde">When I look at the reaction of the Kurdish people after the coup, I can say that especially Kurdish women and other leftist women’s organizations in Turkey have organized demonstrations and rallies with the slogan: ‘No to Coup, Yes to Radical Democracy’. In these demonstrations, tens of thousands of women have taken a strong stance against any military coup. But they have also made it clear and demonstrated that they are against authoritarian, sexist and militarist rules and structures. As I have said throughout this interview, women’s movements have always been critical of the divisive, unequal and sexist slogans and policies of the government. After this military coup, the government may use this as an excuse to strengthen their sexist, militarist and anti-democratic policies further. We face this danger now. Women’s movements are aware of this danger and for that reason keep advocating for societal and gender equality at all levels. We see this as the main starting point for all democratic values and practices. Without this we cannot talk about democracy: it can only be paying lip service while hiding their true agenda. Crucially, to be against the coup does not mean we have to agree with the government’s policies. We are continuing our work and struggle with a clear understanding of the connections between government policies, practices and military coups.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/abdullah-demirbas-eleanor-finley/sur-against-state-violence-in-turkey-interview-with-former-mayor-ab">Sur: against state violence in Turkey - an interview with former mayor Abdullah Demirbas</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/maria-christina-vibe/turkey-s-kurdish-peace-process-regional-implications">Turkey´s Kurdish peace process: regional implications</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/nurcan-baysal/cizre-don-t-forgive-us">Cizre, don’t forgive us! </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/beatrix-campbell/who-are-they-these-revolutionary-Rojava-women">Who are they, these revolutionary Rojava women? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/rahila-gupta/revolution-for-our-times-rojava-northern-syria">A revolution for our times: Rojava, Northern Syria</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 Can Europe make it? Turkey Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Equality International politics Turkey at the crossroads Turkish Dawn 50.50 newsletter Latif Tas Nadje al-Ali Gültan Kişanak Fri, 12 Aug 2016 21:32:34 +0000 Gültan Kişanak, Nadje al-Ali and Latif Tas 104740 at Sexualized violence in Iraq: how to understand and fight it <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Sexualised and gender-based violence in Iraq, highlighted in recent weeks in relation to ISIS atrocities, has been at the heart of sectarian and authoritarian politics and developments since 2003. How can we talk about it and mobilise against it? </p> </div> </div> </div> <p>In July 2014, whilst catching up with an older Iraqi male friend, he surprised me&nbsp; by saying: “ISIS, is going to rape even more women than were raped in Yugoslavia, particularly Shi’a women”.&nbsp; I was stunned because as a secular, previously staunchly non-sectarian Iraqi he had apparently bought into sectarian propaganda about the danger posed by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS). At the time, the threat of sexual violence from ISIS was played up heavily by Nouri al-Maliki, then prime minister. After ISIS and other Sunni militants took the city of Mosul on 10 June 2014, Al-Maliki and his allies tried to rally Shia Iraqis, using the threat of sexualized violence as a form of sectarian aggression. As we were having this conversation, I was reminded of reports and facebook postings alleging that ISIS had issued an edict that would force all Iraqi women under their control to undergo FGM. It took a couple of days before the media expressed their doubts and finally declared it a <a href=" ">hoax</a>. </p> <p>Initially, even leading women’s rights activists in Iraq stated that the government had seized on the threat of sexualized violence as a tool for political manipulation — part of a cynical sectarian strategy to maintain power. During this period, Hanaa Edwar, a leading women’s rights activist was <a href="">quoted</a> as saying: “Women are very low for them [ISIS]; women exist only to serve them. But we have to be careful now. The government is using this to scare people and to get people to protect the regime.” She also stressed that similar tactics were used during Saddam Hussein’s rule: “When the regime felt threatened, it spoke about defending Iraq and defending the honor of the women of Iraq. As if the honor was only with the women and not with the country as a whole.”&nbsp; </p> <p>Yet, while I was worried about this political manipulation, I was also painfully aware of the dangers that ISIS would certainly pose to Iraqi women and men. Based on the track record of both Sunni and Shia extremist Islamist groups, as well as ISIS’ own track record in Syria, I was anticipating that the strict control of women’s mobility and bodies including dress codes on the one hand, and violence on the other hand, would be central to their rule and their atrocities. At the time of writing, there have, of course, been many reports of forced marriages, forced prostitution, enslavement and rapes, mainly in relation to Yazidi and Christian women being held captive in Mosul. In mid-August, the United Nations <a href="">declared</a> the highest level of humanitarian emergency in Iraq and accused ISIS of carrying out acts of sexual violence against women and teenage boys and girls belonging to Iraqi minorities. A spokesperson stated: "Atrocious accounts of abduction and detention of Yazidi, Christian, as well as Turkomen and Shabak women, girls and boys, and reports of savage rapes, are reaching us in an alarming manner."</p> <p>The episode with my Iraqi friend recounted above sums up the conundrums of&nbsp; talking about sexualized violence in Iraq. There is no question that it is rampant. However, it is also the case that sexualized violence is politically instrumentalized, often sensationalised and overblown in terms of scope and the threat it presents. It is used as a dehumanizing device deployed as part of wider racist and sectarian culturalist discourses counterposing their ‘barbaric” culture as essentially different from “our” civilised culture,&nbsp; a difference is that is articulated most dramatically through&nbsp; the bodies of women.&nbsp; </p> <p>So how do we speak about sexualized violence? Do we just try to ignore it and focus on broader forms of structural and political violence? This is certainly not what I am suggesting here. Quite the opposite. Politically and theoretically, we need to recognise that sexualized and gender-based violence underwrites much of the broader structural and political violence we are witnessing. It is central to sectarianism and to extreme forms of authoritarianism. Too often thought about as an add-on, sexualized violence is, in fact, central to all forms and processes of delineating, controlling, oppressing, marginalizing and governing communities. For instance, Deniz Kandiyoti <a href=" ">challenges</a> us to problematize the different modalities of sexualised violence in relation to diverse social actors in Afghanistan, differentiating between the ‘privatised’ violence within families as opposed to the forms of violence used in conflict as a systematic tool intimidation, and finally the public performances of Islamic retribution we came to associate with the Taliban. </p><p>Talking about the ways in which sexual and gender-based violence is embedded within and productive of broader authoritarian, patriarchal and currently fascistic, trends is a challenge. Mobilizing against sexual violence and engaging in advocacy work is even trickier and remains fraught with tensions. How does transnational feminist solidarity manifest itself in this domain? </p> <p><strong>Calls for solidarity and feminist positions</strong> </p> <p>On 23 August 2014, the Iraqi Women’s Network issued a <a href="">statement</a>, calling on the international community to take action against ISIS. The network consists of over 90 NGOs throughout Iraq, with largely female activists of all ethnic and religious backgrounds involved in humanitarian assistance and lobbying. While focusing on women’s rights and gender justice, the Iraqi Women’s Network has also been at the forefront of challenging sectarianism and political authoritarianism. The coordinator of the network, simultaneously head of the <a href="">Al-Amal </a>organization, Hanaa Edwar, had clashed repeatedly with former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, as his authoritarian politics also translated into a cracking down on political opposition and civil society activism: </p> <p>“We, the Iraqi women, who participated in the struggle for dignity, equality and democracy, launch today our call to the international community and the women of the world to support us to expose and condemn the terror and crimes committed by ISIS (Da'ish).</p> <p>Since the 9th of June the Iraqi people have been subjected to the most heinous crimes of genocide, and ethnic and religious cleansing at the hands of ISIS terrorists, through the displacement of about one and a half million civilians from the provinces of Nineveh, Salahadeen, Kirkuk, Diyala and Anbar. Most of the victims are Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen and Shabak. Armed groups took many women and girls from those groups to unknown location. The news are coming from the displaced people, from Sinjar, Tal Afar districts, Bashir sub-district, Mosul city, parts of Nineveh Plain and Amerli sub-district about incidents of kidnapping and harassment against women and girls, as well as assaults and practices reminiscent of prehistoric times, such as the sale of women into sexual slavery, murder, threats, robbery and forcing them to abandon their religions and convert to Islam. This is in addition to the seizure of their houses, looting and destroying their possessions”.&nbsp;</p> <p>The statement mentions 160 women who are being held against their will in Badush prison in Mosul, subjected to beatings, torture and sexual assaults. Only the marriage to an ISIS fighter appears to be a way out of prison. On the 21st of August, a woman was publicly beheaded, accused of prostitution. The statement also refers to women being prevented from leaving their houses unless accompanied by male relatives and fully covered including gloves. It also mentions public whipping of women, particularly in the city of Mosul.</p> <p>At the end of their statement, the <a href="">Iraqi Women’s Network asks the UN</a>, particularly the Security Council and the international community to act and to take prompt measures to protect women and girls who are victims of ISIS oppression. Given this plea for help, what kind of action by governments and the UN would facilitate the liberation of women and children still held by ISIS? </p> <p>After consistently <a href="">opposing </a>military intervention in Iraq before and after 2003, I now find myself in doubt. I have not been able to get myself to go out on the street to protest against US-led targeted military strikes on ISIS. Yet, I fully know that Obama’s bomb dropping is not going to save Iraqi women and men, or make ISIS go away. I am fully aware of the dangers and long-term consequences of western military intervention. But I am currently equally sceptical about other short-term alternatives. I am not convinced that the&nbsp; Kurdish Regional Government and its affiliated fighters are fully committed to protect religious and ethnic minorities, particularly women. And I am worried about the use of weapons delivered to any militia once ISIS has been defeated.&nbsp; However, I have to admit that I found myself quietly cheering the <a href=" ">female peshmerga</a> of the PKK who have been fighting ISIS jihadis.</p> <p>The international US-based women’s rights organization <a href="">Madre</a> appears to be clear and unequivocal in its <a href="">demands</a>: in addition to the uncontroversial demands for humanitarian aid targeted specifically to the needs of women, and the support of progressive non-sectarian individuals and groups, it also demands the cessation of US airstrikes&nbsp; and of weapons transfer to the Free Syrian army. But what are the implications of&nbsp; this policy for the struggle against the horrendous Assad regime? </p> <p>Without wishing to belittle the heinous atrocities committed by ISIS, particularly <a href="">against religious minority women</a>, I still feel that a transnational feminist position of solidarity needs to recognize&nbsp; links to the broader continuum of gender-based and sexualised violence that has been part of the post-invasion scenario of Iraq and recognize that the issue does not start or end with ISIS. </p> <p>The threat that ISIS poses to Iraqis, particularly women of religious minority background notwithstanding, my frustration about recent discourses and reports, both within western media and Iraqi government circles, is based on widespread hypocrisy. Iraqi politicians and western governments have done nothing over the past decade to stop the rising sexualized and generalized&nbsp; gender-based violence, despite <a href="">repeated pleas</a> from Iraqi women’s right activists. To be more precise, Iraqi politicians and western governments have been complicit and, occasionally, even actively involved in various forms of gender-based violence since the invasion of 2003. Verbal and physical intimidation, sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, forced marriage&nbsp; - as well as increases in <em>mu’tah</em> or so-called pleasure marriages - trafficking, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation, and honour-based crimes, including killings, have been very much part of the post-invasion scene. According to a comprehensive <a href="//">report</a> published in 2011 by the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, gender–based violence is institutionalized: violence against women is not sufficiently criminalized and victims face harsh laws and practices that treat&nbsp; them&nbsp; as criminals.&nbsp; </p> <p>Sexualised violence, moreover, does not only affect women and girls: men and boys are also targeted. Most visible to everyone have been the instances of sexualised violence of male Iraqi prisoners at the hands of the US army in Abu Ghraib prison. The shocking <a href=",8542,1211872,00.html. ">images</a> of naked hooded Iraqi men have become emblematic of larger human rights abuses and atrocities in the name of democracy and human rights at the hands of an occupying power. Crucially, it is not only the American and the British army, which have engaged in the torture and frequent sexual assaults of its prisoners. Perpetrators of sexualised violence cut across ethnic, religious and class boundaries and have ranged from the occupation forces, to government officials and militants, resistance and insurgent groups, criminal gangs as well as families. </p><p>Men who do not fit in with the ideal of a militarised and heterosexual masculinity have been particularly vulnerable since 2003. Gay men, for example, have been <a href="">increasingly persecuted</a>, attacked, killed and many were forced to flee Iraq. But even wearing ‘the wrong kind of clothes” or haircuts can be lethal in contemporary Iraq: in 2012, Human Rights Watch and other sources <a href="">reported</a> frequent attacks on youth, mainly young men, identified as “emos” through their hair and clothes.&nbsp; These various forms of violence have been working to reconfigure masculinities and femininities in the post-invasion context. But they are also actively employed as tools for new forms of militarised and authoritarian politics.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>The ritualistic, performative sexualised violence of ISIS is particularly outrageous because of the extreme vulnerability of religious minorities, and because the violence is supposedly doctrinally justified. Yet I would argue that ISIS violence is part of complex interlinking configurations of power in which sexualised and gender-based violence are normalised and intrinsic to hyper militarised authoritarianism. Meanwhile my Iraqi friend just called me a couple of days ago, and said: "See, I was right about ISIS raping women in Iraq."</p><p><em><strong><em>This article was first published in September 2014. It is republished here in 50.50's series on</em>&nbsp;<span><a href="">16 Days: Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 2014</a></span></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/mariz-tadros/religious-minority-women-of-iraq-time-to-speak-up">Religious minority women of Iraq: time to speak up </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/anne-marie-goetz/stopping-sexual-violence-in-conflict-gender-politics-in-foreign-policy">Stopping sexual violence in conflict: gender politics in foreign policy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/amina-mama/challenging-militarized-masculinities">Challenging militarized masculinities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/nadje-al-ali/iraq-gendering-authoritarianism">Iraq: gendering authoritarianism</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/karima-bennoune-deniz-kandiyoti/your-fatwa-does-not-apply-here">Your fatwa does not apply here</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/karima-bennoune-mbarka-brahmi/opposing-political-islam-mohamed-brahmis-widow-speaks-out">Opposing political Islam in Tunisia: Mohamed Brahmi&#039;s widow speaks out</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/heather-mcrobie/from-war-on-terror-to-austerity-lost-decade-for-women-and-human-rights">From the war on terror to austerity: a lost decade for women and human rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/madeleine-rees/sexual-violence-access-to-justice-and-human-rights">Sexual violence, access to justice, and human rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/sasha-hart/rape-marriage-and-rights">Rape, marriage, and rights</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/amel-grami-karima-bennoune/tunisias-fight-against-fundamentalism-interview-with-amel-grami">Tunisia&#039;s fight against fundamentalism: an interview with Amel Grami</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/donatella-rovera/flight-from-mosul-%E2%80%9Cwe-left-everything-behind-to-save-our-lives%E2%80%9D">The flight from Mosul: “We left everything behind to save our lives”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/shirin-ebadi/shirin-ebadi-who-defines-islam">Shirin Ebadi: who defines Islam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/john-tirman/empathy-gap-from-iraq-war-to-drone-warfare">The empathy gap: from the Iraq war to drone warfare</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/zoe-holman/state-complicity-in-sexual-abuse-of-women-in-cairo">State complicity in the sexual abuse of women in Cairo</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/maria-neophytou/sexual-violence-and-war-inevitable">Sexual violence and war: inevitable?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/blog/jessica_reed/sexual_violence_as_a_weapon_of_war">Sexual violence as a weapon of war</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/mariz-tadros/mutilating-bodies-muslim-brotherhood%E2%80%99s-gift-to-egyptian-women">Mutilating bodies: the Muslim Brotherhood’s gift to Egyptian women</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/anonymous/forced-marriage-to-rapists-death-of-amina-el-filali">Forced marriage to rapists: the death of Amina El Filali</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/rochelle-terman/who-should-care-about-stoning">Who should care about stoning?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/deniz-kandiyoti/fear-and-fury-women-and-post-revolutionary-violence">Fear and fury: women and post-revolutionary violence</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Iraq </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 North-Africa West-Asia Iraq Meteoric rise of the Islamic State 50.50 Women, Peace & Security Continuum of Violence 16 Days: activism against gender based violence 16 Days: activism against gender based violence 2014 50.50 Women's Movement Building 50.50 Gender Politics Religion 50.50 Contesting Patriarchy 50.50 Editor's Pick women's human rights women and militarism violence against women Sexual violence sexual identities patriarchy gender justice gender fundamentalisms bodily autonomy 50.50 newsletter Nadje al-Ali Iraq war and aftermath Wed, 03 Dec 2014 06:18:39 +0000 Nadje al-Ali 86259 at Nadje Al-Ali <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Nadje al-Ali </div> </div> </div> <p class="BodyA">Nadje Al-Ali teaches at the <a href="">Centre for Gender Studies</a>, SOAS University of London. She is specialised in women and gender issues with reference to the Middle East; particularly Iraq and Egypt, and more recently Turkey and Kurdish issues.&nbsp; </p> Nadje al-Ali Mon, 15 Jul 2013 11:50:30 +0000 Nadje al-Ali 74049 at Iraq: gendering authoritarianism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Women in Iraq bear the brunt of increasing levels of gender-based violence, inadequate infrastructure and poverty. Yet women activists recognize that their struggle for equality and social justice as women cannot be separated from the wider struggle against authoritarianism and sectarianism</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//" alt="Woman stares into distance as - out of focus - soldiers retreat in background" title="" width="400" height="261" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></p><p>The recent wave of violence and political tensions in Iraq has been overshadowed by the daily gruesome news about atrocities, violence and deaths in Syria as well as the protests and brutal crackdown by the police in neighbouring Turkey. Clearly, the escalating situation in Syria has a direct <a href="">impact</a> on Iraq, at the same time as sectarian tensions and divisions within Iraq play out on Syrian soil as well. </p> <p>However, one of the ironies and paradoxes of the situation in Iraq today is that we almost seem have come full circle in terms of an authoritarian, highly militarized regime that is employing force, violence and intimidation to limit dissent, and eliminate political opponents. Nouri Al-Maliki is emerging as the new über-patriarch in a highly divided society, instrumentalizing - now frankly unrealistic - fears of a Baathi come back. While the government’s wrath is targeted at all political opponents, the regime’s wider tone, discourses and policies have been deepening sectarian divisions. Sunni opposition groups, including some extremist militias and Islamists, are regrouping and talking of their “Arab Spring.” One can only hope that those ready to take up arms once again and engage in devastating bombing campaigns, mainly targeting Shia civilians, are in too small numbers to further unsettle an already unstable and precarious situation. We are painfully reminded when we listen to the news about car bombings, that even small numbers can have devastating effects. </p> <p>Clearly, a decade after the invasion, security - or rather the lack thereof - is again on everyone’s mind in central and southern Iraq. In addition to the general on-going lawlessness and insecurity, the Iraqi government is failing to counter the increase in gender-based forms of violence, ranging from a high incidence of domestic violence, forced marriages, forced prostitution and trafficking, as well as FGM and honour-based crimes and killings. There is very limited political will to either criminalize gender-based violence , or even more importantly, to implement existing laws. Meanwhile, women bear the brunt of the extremely inadequate basic services, ranging from electricity, access to clean water, sewage, health care and education. A decade after the invasion, the Iraqi state has been unable to provide a proper infrastructure and sufficient employment opportunities, with large numbers of Iraqi men and women still being unemployed. The high number of female-headed households and widows without proper support accounts for the increasing&nbsp; feminisation of poverty.&nbsp; </p> <p><strong>Political participation</strong> </p> <p>Politically, Iraqi women have very limited influence and power to contribute to decision-making. To some extent, this is a direct consequence of the re-emergence of political authoritarianism under Prime Minister Al-Maliki: all political actors experience the systematic side-lining of political opposition, the&nbsp; lack of rule of law and widespread political violence. However, women are particularly <a href="">marginalized</a> in a context where they are perceived as incapable of leading and strategizing, where social attitudes have shifted towards more conservative gender norms, and where armed violence, political intimidation, attacks on political opponents as well as rampant corruption are shaping politics. </p> <p>Whereas&nbsp; there were 6 female-headed ministries from 2005-2006, no woman was appointed to a senior post in the new 44-member cabinet after the 2010 elections. Only two ministries of state were offered to women, one without portfolio lost her position as part of Prime Minister Al-Maliki’s downsizing, leaving only one female Minister: Ibtihal Al-Zaidi, who was appointed Minister of State for Women’s Affairs. She herself stated that her Ministry: “has no jurisdiction over the directorate of women’s welfare or increasing funds allocated to widows". In fact, she argued "the Ministry is no more than an executive-consultation bureau with a limited budget and no jurisdiction on implementing resolutions or activities". Her predecessor, Nawal al-Samaraie, resigned due to lack of jurisdiction and insufficient budget. </p> <p>Women have not been involved in many of the important negotiations in recent years, most recently to form a government coalition after the elections in 2010. Many women who made it into the Council of Representatives have been there to meet constitutional requirements, i.e. the stipulated quota of 25%, which translated into 82 women out of 325 at the last elections.&nbsp; Most of the women parliamentarians are often&nbsp; the wives, sisters or daughters of male politicians eager to fill the required seats with women without having to engage with wider issues of gender equality and women’s rights. Indeed, many Iraqi women’s rights activists I spoke to over the last years bemoan the phenomenon of female parliamentarians often being&nbsp; more interested in expressing partisan views – frequently of an Islamist and sectarian hue – instead of furthering the interests of Iraqi women. </p> <p>It is important to stress that the situation in the Kurdistan Regional Government area is slightly different for female parliamentarians and politicians, given that they have been allowed to play a more active role in shaping legislation and policy. Many Kurdish women’s rights activists, however, also complained to me about tokenism and lack of proper consultation, in addition to the small number of women in decision-making positions. </p> <p><strong>Women’s rights activism</strong> </p> <p>Despite the systematic marginalization and side-lining of Iraqi women in the official political institutions and processes, they&nbsp; have not merely stood by but have mobilized at the level of formal civil society organizations, social and political movements, as well as more informal community and interest groups. Women activists have been at the forefront of a growing political movement for democracy and human rights that, in line with current&nbsp; protest movements in the region, asking for greater transparency and an end to corruption and political authoritarianism. Many Iraqi women’s rights activists realize that their struggle for greater gender equality and social justice cannot be separated from the struggle against an emerging new dictatorship, the re-militarization of society, corruption and nepotism.&nbsp; </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//" alt="Crowd of women with flag smiling and clapping" title="" width="400" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest in Sulimaniya. Photo: Johnny Wichmann / Demotix</span></span></span></p><p>Women have participated in the protests on Baghdad’s Tahrir Square and in the Kurdish region, particularly in Sulimaniya. In June of 2011, a group of women demonstrating for peace and democracy were physically attacked and some sexually abused on Tahrir Square. For many months, groups of students and activists had been gathering in that square, demanding government reforms, jobs, more electricity and clean water. Protesters were brutally beaten by the police, arrested, some disappeared, and a number of organizers were killed, in what many activists allege are targeted assassinations ordered by Prime Minister Al-Maliki. At a human rights conference attended by international organizations in June 2011, one of the leading women’s rights activists, Hanaa Edwar, stormed in with a placard to protest against the disappearance of four activists who had been demonstrating publicly against the government. She was also challenging Al-Maliki’s allegation that some Iraqi human rights organizations were fronts for terrorists. </p><p>Iraqi women’s rights organizations have also been at the forefront of condemning the assassination of protesters, civil society activists and human rights defenders over the past years. Most recently, women’s rights activists and organizations joined the protest against the assassination of Jalal Dhiyab in Basrah on 26 April 2013. Dhiyab was a prominent defender of human rights with a special focus on the rights for full citizenship of black Iraqis. Prior to this incident, Iraqi women’s organizations were instrumental in starting initiatives to protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq. A few months ago, on the occasion of international women’s day 2013, a coalition of NGOs, informal organizations and individual activists jointly issued a statement condemning sectarianism, corruption, the lack of basic infrastructure and services. It is no surprise that Al-Maliki feels bothered, if not threatened, by the Iraqi women’s movement.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Meanwhile, mobilization around more specific women’s rights and gender-based issues has mushroomed over the past decade, despite the many challenges and threats to women’s rights activists. Women-led NGOs as well as more informal community associations have been campaigning about women’s legal rights, especially with reference to the unresolved dispute over the personal status code (Article 41) - the set of laws governing marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance - as well as criminal laws that do not offer sufficient protection against gender-based violence, particularly “honour-based crimes”.&nbsp; Women’s rights activists have also been mobilizing against domestic violence, trafficking, and honour-based crimes, providing shelters and advice to victims. Given the humanitarian situation, most organizations are also involved in welfare and charity work, providing income-generating activities as well as training for women.&nbsp; Very few activists, however, make a link between increased privatization and neo-liberal economic policies, on the one hand, and the increase in women’s unemployment and the feminization of poverty on the other. </p> <p>Women’s empowerment and leadership initiatives, trainings and projects appear to flourish in a context where many NGOs indiscriminately take funding from international organizations, including USAID, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). These organisations actively pursue neo-liberal economic agendas with buzzwords such as empowerment, entrepreneurship and leadership, but characteristically fail to address the devastating impact of privatisation and underlying structural inequalities.&nbsp; This is particularly evident in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) controlled areas in which the invasion is still largely perceived as liberation and not occupation. Women’s organisations in central and southern Iraq tend to be more cautious in terms of the sources of their funding.<strong> <br /></strong></p> <p><strong>Looking forward</strong> </p> <p>At the height of sectarian violence in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, it was clearly apparent that women’s bodies and wider gender norms and relations were used by militias to assert control in neighbourhoods, and to mark the boundaries of different religious and ethnic communities. It was also obvious that there was a link between the militarization of conflict and the increase in gender-based violence.&nbsp; Unfortunately, these trends have become entrenched in today’s Iraq, even if in slightly more subtle ways than a few years ago. </p> <p>Acute violence in the form of car bombs and targeted assassinations, as well as kidnapping, forced prostitution, trafficking and honour-based crimes are only the tip of the iceberg of much deeper and widespread forms of gender-based violence. Furthermore, there is a constant policing of women’s involvement in public activities, employment, general behaviour within the home and family, and dress code both by state and non-state actors.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>While there is ample evidence of the negative impact of the occupation on women’s lives in central and southern Iraq, the blame can not be exclusively&nbsp; laid at the door of&nbsp; policy failures and atrocities perpetrated by&nbsp; the U.S and the UK.&nbsp; A decade on, Iraqi politicians, militia and community leaders need to be held to account as well.</p><p>Although currently glossed over and forgotten, women’s&nbsp; struggles and challenges&nbsp; as women are closely tied to pervasive militarization and communal politics. But it is also women activists themselves&nbsp; who recognize that their struggle for increased equality and social justice as women can not be separated from the wider struggle against authoritarianism, sectarianism, corruption and nepotism.&nbsp; </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/zoe-holman/art-of-survival-in-post-saddam-iraq">The art of survival in post-Saddam Iraq</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/deniz-kandiyoti/fear-and-fury-women-and-post-revolutionary-violence">Fear and fury: women and post-revolutionary violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/opensecurity/john-tirman/empathy-gap-from-iraq-war-to-drone-warfare">The empathy gap: from the Iraq war to drone warfare</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/dlawer-alaaldeen/realpolitik-and-disastrous-consequences-10-years-on-from-iraq-25-from-">Realpolitik and disastrous consequences: 10 years on from Iraq, 25 from Iraq&#039;s genocide against the Kurds</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/conflict-iraq/iraq_deaths_4011.jsp">Deaths in Iraq: how many, and why it matters</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/conflict-iraqwarquestions/article_852.jsp">Iraq after Saddam: two generations in dialogue</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Iraq </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Iraq Equality 50.50 Women's Movement Building 50.50 Gender Politics Religion Women and the Arab Spring 50.50 Editor's Pick women's movements women's human rights women and militarism patriarchy gendered poverty feminism 50.50 newsletter Nadje al-Ali Mon, 15 Jul 2013 10:01:33 +0000 Nadje al-Ali 73994 at