Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Women's Conference in Turkey on Gender Discrimination - by Soraya Fallah

Women's Conference in Turkey on Gender Discrimination 

- by Soraya Fallah

Conference 2013
The First Middle Eastern Women’s Conference on Gender Discrimination, Women's Role in Recent Political Changes, Problems and Possible Solutions in the Middle East
By Soraya Fallah
On May 31st to June 3rd, 2013
The First Middle Eastern Women’s Conference was held by DÖKH (Democratic Free Women Movement) in Diyarbakir (Amed) in Southeastern Turkey.  It was attended by more than 250 women from 27 states and non-state nations primarily from the Middle East, North Africa and some observers from South Asia. 
We all gathered in Diyarbakir (Amed) under the slogan Women, Life, Freedom, (in Kurdish: Jin, Jyan, Azadi) to mobilize the blooming women’s democratic movements in the region and to strengthen the existing organizations already working tirelessly towards equality. We held various educational discussions concerning the common struggles facing women in the Middle East. We exchanged constructive ideas regarding ways to strengthen the current women’s resistance movements within local communities. We established relationships across states to form larger regional collaborations that might help create resistance movements encompassing the entire Middle East.
Women who attended this conference were politicians, academics, and activists. They were mostly representatives of political parties, national organizations, women’s organizations, civil society organizations, and journalists from regions and countries such as Afghanistn, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, all Kurdish regions (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and diaspora), Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen.
Many great renowned women were in attendance. I was honored to meet them and have an opportunity to share this conference with them. I will mention a few such as: Layla Zana, Kurdish politician, parliamentarian, and several times noble peace prize nominee and recipient of several major awards was present at this conference.
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureates, was invited to this conference as well. She was not able to attend due to another conference in Brussels, but sent a message of solidarity. I was honored to deliver the message on her behalf on Sunday June 2nd. She recognized the conference as progress and wrote eloquently on the importance of human rights and democracy.
Unfortunately due to security reasons Kurdish women from within Iran and Syria were not able to attend. The Kurdish women from inside of Iran who were in attendance are currently living in diaspora.
The media was present but not limited to traditional forms of media such as TV networks. The conference was highly technologically equipped, which allowed attendees to live broadcast, tweet or send their speeches across social media within minutes.
There were several days of back-to-back sessions covering various topics from history to more effective forms of activism. Each session included expert speakers and question and answer sections. The first day of the conference was on the Construction of Social History and Social Sexism based on Women in Middle East. Some of the topics discussed were:
-Women history in Middle East
- Construction of sexism in the Middle East
- The process of colonization and nationalism in the Middle East
- Oppressive systems of power and political Islamic approach to women
The second and third days were called “Experience Sharing” where the main idea was that women are the owners of different cultures, beliefs, and experiences and can fight against the problems stemming from a patriarchal mindset.
The role of Women’s Movements Experience and Recent political changes in the Middle East were the main focus of discussion.  Academics and activists spoke and shared their expertise on various topics related to:
- The role of women in the process of revolution resistance in the Middle East and their quest for freedom
- Political structures during changing process against women rights and women struggle against the structures
- Middle East women’s rights, civil, political expression in public life, participation in decision-making and the issues of representation
Some other topics of note were:
- Stoning to death in the Middle East, parenting rights, polygamy, circumcision, home confinement, child marriages - The neo-liberal policies of capitalist modernity against women
- Common problems of women’s movements battle in the Middle East and solutions
Women’s geographic and social similarities with
- Common organization models,
- Structural problems (alienation, miscommunication, and so on)
- Building and Strengthening women struggle and solidarity development ties
- Discussing how should a democratic society model based on women can be created
I can say that more than 80 participants had a chance to speak on behalf of either their delegates or themselves and deliberated on these topics. And 30 others talked during questions and answer. Women talked about their experiences and their struggles. Overall this was a very interactive conference and the majority of the attendees stayed engaged throughout the conference with a high turn out every session. The organizers were great at keeping everyone informed regarding the schedule.
Unfortunately an Israeli delegation was not in attendance. From the discussions the Palestinian and some of the Egyptian women would boycott the conference if they were to be invited. One of the members of the organizing committee said that they had invited one woman from Israel but she could not attend.
It is very important to have a representative from all the Middle Eastern nations and non-state people. Since it was claimed that this is non-governmental non-discriminatory conference for women in the Middle East it is important to be inclusive and promote peace in the region.
My  topic was originally on “ Political and Civil Participation and the Arab Awaking; Kurdish Women’s case” but due to the interest of time (I only had 10 minutes) I cut it down to “Kurdish Women from Iran and Their Political Participation.” This was a topic that the other women had not covered yet.
In my short speech I pointed out that Kurdish women have always significantly participated in politics through resistance.  The growing population of women in political parties proves their involvement. Whether these women’s motivation is to fight patriarchy or political oppression, they are aware that their participation in political activities empowers them.
Part of The Final Declaration that aims joint struggle and international solidarity among the women from the Middle East, North Africa and Arab Countries has an historical importance in terms of its function for being a road map for the upcoming years. We are the 250 women from 27 countries who are in opposition to repression, colonialist regimes, occupations, neo-liberal politics and racism came together and shared their experiences with the occasion of the 1st Middle East Women's Conference between 31 May - 2 June 2013 in Amed.  We have discussed recent political developments as well as women's struggle for equity and freedom.
As the conference delegation we thanked the Democratic Free Women’s Movement for bringing us together. We salute the Union of Free Women of Kurdistan which provides an opportunity for revolutionary change for the freedom struggle of women. We perceive this conference as a result of Kurdish Women' struggle.
We are going through a historic and important process. The Middle East and North Africa are living a conversion and restructuring process. This critical process means an opportunity and risk, as well, for women.   As Middle Eastern countries get more freedom in their areas we are hoping that the women of those countries will also get more liberties to pursue their dreams for themselves and their daughters.  This is especially true in the need for women to become literate and to get a better education.  I am hoping that we declare more summit conferences where we can follow-up on Middle Eastern women’s accomplishments and we can analyze what still needs to be done.
Our conference is a new political ground for women and promises hope to internationally struggle against tyrants, dictators and male-dominant system. We must sustain a better life for the Middle Eastern region and to strengthen the ground is up to us.
We as women trust ourselves and say that the peace will come to these lands by the women.
For complete section on the declaration please read the interview:
An opportunity to see the great city of Diyarbakir; it is one the oldest cities in the Middle East
The participants were able to make a few short stops.
On the first night all attendees were invited to Kashan Koshk (Kashan Castle) where the famous Kurdish singer Rojda sang along with her musical group.
The conference attendees visited a courthouse to observe the legal proceedings of several activists in Turkey.   Some conference attendees were able to go to Dersim to pay a visit to Sakineh Gansiz’s memorial.
Despite the conditions in Southeast Turkey (Kurdistan) some clear differences can be observed. People are voicing their dissent openly. For example, on the tour of the city of Diyarbakir (Amed) a person was wearing a pin with a photo of Mr. Abdullah Ocalan.  He was asked if he was not afraid of getting arrested?  “Why should I be afraid? They should be afraid of me,” he responded.
A part of our tour through the city was a trip to the courthouse of Diyarbakir. A group of 100 of the conference attendees were taken as observers to a Turkish criminal court to the trial of 40 Kurdish women and men.  They had been arrested on charges of membership of parties such as the PKK or arrested individually under anti-state charges. They were allowed to speak Kurdish with the presence of an interpreter. This is a new development within the Turkish judicial process. Up until 2012, Turkish was the only spoken language and Kurdish was banned.  Recently a massive hunger strike, lasting more than two months by Kurdish prisoners in Turkey, led to some reforms, such as the right to speak Kurdish with the help of an interpreter. The prisoner or his/her family must hire (out of pocket) their own interpreters, which many cannot afford.

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