Conflict in Syria, Instability in Turkey: Empowering Women in Times of Crises

Several CSOs in Brussels held a consultation meeting titled “Protection and Empowerment of Women in Humanitarian Crises” on Thursday, in a bid to address the various forms of brutality faced by women in cases of violent conflict or political turmoil.

Chaired by Dani Kranz, an anthropologist and the director of Two Foxes Consulting, the conference was organized by the Peaceful Actions Platform in support of the UN Women Solidarity Movement for Gender Equality.

The first speaker was Yasemin Aydin, a German-Turkish social anthropologist, and chair of the Friede Institute for Dialogue who, in her research, focuses on transcultural and transnational identities in heterogeneous societies.

Aydin made a speech titled “Women’s Rights Under Attack: The Situation of Women in Turkey,” which delved into the gender-based violence used by the Turkish government as a tool of the broader crackdown after a brief background on the regression that came to pass in terms of gender equality during the ruling AK Party’s term in power.

Quoting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and other AKP bigwigs, Aydin pointed out to the blatant embrace of gender inequality in favor of men, led by the higher echelons in Turkey.

Employing five-year statistics on gender-based violence, Aydin said that public record shows nearly 2000 women were killed in the last five years.

Aydin, setting the frame to provide a glimpse into the post-coup crackdown that targets Gulen movement, enumerated daily activities that became pieces of evidence for terror accusations due to Ankara’s narrative.

“They will beg us to kill them,” Aydin quoted AKP member former Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci as saying.

Aydin presented the case of Halime Gulsu, who succumbed to her illness due to negligence by authorities, and carried on with examples of unlawful post-natal arrests, which targets women who just gave birth.

Then came Zaina Erhaim, a Syrian journalist and the communications manager of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, made a speech titled “Women Exclusive Battles in Our Wars.”

Erhaim commenced by highlighting the gender-specific nature of the oppression during conflicts and instability and patriarchy’s role in society that reproduces and amplifies these consequences.

Erhaim illustrated a patriarchal hierarchy chart that puts Western men and women first, respectively, followed by local men and women.

Drawing examples from the Middle East and North Africa, Erhaim lamented the narrowing of the public sphere for even the pro-Human Rights feminist women activists in the region.

Perusing between the lines of steps meant to take on gender inequality, Erhaim said that practices that intend to create equality might end up being pro-inequality themselves.

Enumerating several empowering practices, Erhaim emphasized the essentiality of locally-led, grassroots, women-friendly spaces to fight gender inequality.

Following Erhaim came Samar Bradan, a Syrian refugee and a human rights activist, who drew examples from her experience as a woman who underwent severe trauma due to conflict.

Bradan pointed out to the current humanitarian crisis on the Greece-Turkey border, where thousands of refugees are stranded hoping to make it to Europe after Ankara announced that they would not prevent refugees from fleeing the country.

“I see myself in my dreams getting kicked out of the train that is supposed to take me to safety,” said Bradan, telling about the PTSD she suffered following the conflict in Syria and carried on with saying that she is one of the lucky ones for making it to Europe.

Bradan also voiced grievances of people from Idlib province of Syria, who denounced rights violations taking place amidst the humanitarian emergency dubbed by the UN as the biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century.

“We don’t have rights, everyone, depriving us of our rights.  It is difficult to be a woman over here. We face every kind of violence and repressing. Assad’s forces want us dead. and some other de facto authorities’ fighters want us weak, controlled, and unable,” Bradan quoted a woman from Idlib as saying.

Lastly, Aydın N., a Turkish refugee, took the floor. She spoke of her experience to unveil the relentless nature of the ongoing crackdown in Turkey, during her speech titled “Experiencing Political Persecution.”

Aydın and her husband lost their jobs in the wake of the failed coup. She said she was detained afterward, on terror charges, over her subscription to the Zaman newspaper and involvement with a women association affiliated with the Gulen movement. Aydın N. said that she was held in pre-trial detention for 16 months in Turkey’s prisons.

Aydın N. spoke of the overcrowded prison cell she shared with 25 other women who were arrested over similar charges.

Aydın also talked about the dependent children who share the prison cells with their mothers, asserting that callous concrete cells are no place for children to grow up in. She concluded her speech by expressing her hope in the future to establish justice for the wronged.

Dani Kranz, head of the session, took the floor to call out right-wing populist tropes in Europe, which are inclined to portray the refugee influx as comprising of overwhelmingly men, appealing to the racist stereotypes to Middle Eastern men. Kranz lamented that these tropes, even if they carry bits and pieces of truth with them, do not include the fact that women encounter greater obstacles along the road, making it more unlikely for them to make it to Europe.

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