The 25th Congress of Women’s Refuges and Solidarity Centres is being hosted in Diyarbakır, Turkey, from 12-14 November. Over 300 women, from academics to activists, joined the congress to discuss subjects including the family, sexual violence, crimes against children, and women and children’s access to justice services.
A key item on the agenda was the ‘Special War Policy’ employed by the Turkish state that aggravates “uniformed violence” in Kurdistan by allowing a policy of impunity towards uniformed officers who commit violence against women.
While analysing the policy, Kadın Zamanı (Woman Time) Association member and lawyer Ekin Baltaş stressed the importance of a unified resistance against violence against Kurdish women.
Baltaş began by explaining that the special war policy implemented in Kurdistan is multi-dimensional. “Torture and prison practices directed at women in particular suggest that it is only men whose issues need to be addressed. No matter how much violence and persecution men are subjected to there is always a question of violence directed particularly at women,” she said.
“The arrests on 8 March [Women’s Day] indicate that there is no question of addressing women’s issues,” the lawyer continued. “We see how men, little representatives of the state, remain unpunished. When state officials personally rape and torture women, even cause suicides, the state rewards them directly with impunity.”
Baltaş evaluated the policy of impunity for men who commit violence against women as a “reflection of the identity of the state.”
She added that, “While in the west [of Turkey] perpetrators are mostly men, in Kurdistan they are mostly uniformed representatives of the state […] The state is saying: ‘We see violence against women as legitimate and will pursue it with all means at our disposal. The people implementing this are carrying out our orders. So, we will not punish these people.’”
The lawyer said the struggle against “uniformed violence” is not yet unified. “The women’s movement always has a common voice, but there is additional persecution in Kurdistan because of the Kurdish identity. And because the women’s struggles for identity and for nation can be seen as being opposed to one another, it is harder for that voice to reach the west,” she said. However, the two struggles overlap explained Baltaş, “We are not oppressed just for being women or just for being Kurds. We are being oppressed both for being Kurds and for being women. As a result, it is important to emphasise that this is both a women’s struggle and a national struggle.”
Baltaş noted that there are certain sectors in the west of the country sympathetic to the women’s struggle in Kurdistan but that a unified resistance is still needed. She said, “Action was organised very quickly in [the case of] Garibe Gezer* and the matter taken in hand. But we must not let go of the fact that we need a common voice. A different model or organising must be drawn. When talking about matters specific to the west the different make-up and ways of Kurdistan need to be pointed out. Because the struggle is not currently like this, violence against women is seen as purely sexual. To support the struggle in Kurdistan we need to unify and to get it onto the agenda. We believe that the solution is to strengthen the women’s movement. We can only oppose such widespread violence with the requisite loud voice.”
* Garibe Gezer was a Kurdish woman who died in prison in Kocaeli in western Turkey after repeatedly reporting physical and sexual violence at the hands of prison guards.