Over 130 women trade unionists call on all trade union leaders to take action

 Saleh Mamon

Recently a Kurdish teenager Ipek Er was kidnapped by a Turkish soldier and held captive and repeatedly raped over a period of 20 days. The authorities failed to take action against him, and Ms Er took her own life some days later. It was only after protests and demonstrations by women demanding action that he handed himself in. However, he was later released with his lawyer threatening anyone who slandered Turkish soldiers with court action.

This shameful act of giving immunity to soldiers and police for terrible crimes by the Turkish government is very much similar to ‘protect our lads’ tendency here with the government bill being considered by Parliament to give immunity to British soldiers for torture and killings abroad. Effectively, Turkey is operating on the same basis as India which gives statutory immunity for its soldiers for human rights violations through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

As usual the Turkish government uses a default of fighting its ‘war on terror’ to justify its actions. The protests by women for the failure of the government to indict the soldier for torture and rape were described by a government spokesperson as simply a cover up for the actions of the outlawed ‘Kurdish Workers Party’ and the Kurdish opposition party the HDP. Many of the women on demonstrations were arrested and some of them when released reported that they were beaten by the police. Women who are active in the women’s movement, trade union and opposition political parties and amongst these Kurdish women are particularly targeted by security personnel.

In Turkey, the lives of women no longer seem to matter. As each day produces more reports of women being murdered, of women being raped by security personnel and of men being released from detention after committing serious crimes against women, the Turkish government plans to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention which commits governments to tackle violence against women and provide resources for victims of domestic abuse.

Over 250 women have been murdered in Turkey this year, and the figure rises almost every day. These include murders by partners, fathers, brothers and members of police and army.

These deaths are not the only story. Violence towards women has been rising in all areas with the authorities often ignoring this or condoning it. Outrageously, government propaganda blame women for provoking man and put upon women the onus of safeguarding themselves. It shows the extent to which patriarchy is deeply embedded in Turkish society as a whole supported tacitly by social institutions and politicians. Women are regarded as inferior beings subjugated to the will of male dominance.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has made his views on women clear publicly when in 2014 he said in a speech “You cannot put women and men on an equal footing … it’s against nature. They were created differently”. Using Islamic tenets, he confines the role of women to “motherhood”. Activist women organisations consider such remarks about women and how they should be treated exposes them to violence.

The case of femicide in Turkey highlights how important it is to increase awareness of the violence women suffer across the world beyond talking in general terms about human rights and women’s right. This is incomplete without detailed attention to particular situations- where, what and how violence is inflicted on women say in occupied Palestine, Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, India, The Republic of Congo, Central America etc. Not surprisingly, our mass media largely ignore such violence except when journalist see the opportunity to exoticise honour killings. Rape and killings by soldiers tends to be condoned by the mass media particularly when it occurs in nations who are considered to be Western allies. Women across the world are not passive and set up organisations to fight against violence. Women’s organisations often transcend national boundaries and link up giving support to each other. The future lies in all these different organisations across the world coming together to fight against violence and for justice for women.

It is a laudable act of international solidarity when 130 women trade unionists have penned an open letter to all trade union leaders. The letter calls on trade unions to write to the UK government to raise these grave concerns with the Turkish government. Furthermore, the trade union leaders should seek an urgent meeting with the Turkish Ambassador to demand action to end Femicide and violence against women and maintain the country’s support for the Istanbul Convention. Lastly all trade union leaders should send solidarity messaged to sister unions in Turkey.

Unison national executive member, Maggie Cook, who signed the letter, said: “As women trade unionists, we are responding to calls for support from sisters n Turkey and Kurdistan, where the situation for women has been getting worse. This is an issue in the home and in workplaces. It is worsened by statements from Turkish politicians that tell women to stay at home and defend perpetrators of male violence.”