Thursday, September 26, 2013

On Economic Democracy, Women's Liberation and System Change by Ann-Kristin Kowarsch

Conference on Democracy, Self-Determination and Liberation of Peoples
Brussels, 23 September 2013

On Economic Democracy, Women's Liberation and System Change

by Ann-Kristin Kowarsch

CENÎ – Kurdish Women's Office for Peace

Dear Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear  friends,

On behalf of Ceni – Kurdish Women's Office for Peace I thank the organizers of this important conference on Democracy, Self-Determination and Liberation of Peoples. We are living in a decade that is characterized by new destructive wars and crises of the capitalist system as well as by peoples' struggles and initiatives for democracy and self-governance.

 Against this background we see this conference as an important step to join the experiences and voices of progressive forces towards the respect of all people's individual and collective rights.

The second part of this panel has been dedicated to the issue “Economic Democracy, Women's Liberation and System Change”.

In this context I would like to share some of the experiences and the perspectives of the Kurdish women's movement with you.
1. Situation of women's collective rights, self-determination and freedom

The status of women can be described as “the first and last colony”1. While patriarchal oppression was the basis of ant form of oppression, at the same time the dynamics of women's liberation contain a potential for fundamental changes.
The enforcement and institutionalisation of the patriarchal family model formed the conditions for oppressive state structures, enslavement, economical exploitation and territorial occupations. Using myths and religions –later also philosophy and science - as tools of ideological justification women were categorized as “inferior gender”. Hereby women were excluded from all fields of public live. Being degraded as objects women were dispossessed of their collective rights and right to self-determination. Similar to this; peoples were declared as “inferior” or “uncivilised” for justifying colonialism and racism.

The universal declarations on people's individual and collective rights were important outcomes of peoples' struggles for democracy and their right to self-determination in the 20th century as well as the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was a result of women's struggles.

The CEDAW Convention defines discrimination against women as "...any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field." Also the adoption of the UN Resolution on Women, Peace and Security (S/RES/1325) in 2000, was an important gain of women's struggles.

Nevertheless patriarchal violence against women, structural and social sexism continue with growing quantity and quality. Women's lives and women's rights to self-determination and freedom are systematically threatened by gender-based physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence. Its ideological, structural and institutional dimensions contribute to the legitimization of gender-based violence in society and on individual levels in daily life.

Every year 66,000 women loose their lives due to male violence. Worldwide, the ratio of murdered women to  men is 5:1.2 According to figures published by the UN 32 % of all women and girls in the world have been subjected to physical male violence at least once in their lives.

Rape is the most obvious expression for a system that breaks and denies women's free will and self-
determination on the basis of patriarchal, racist and militarist ideologies. Any kind of exploitation and
occupation are closely related to the concept of rape that degrades women, peoples and nature as “objects”.

Accordingly, rape and sexualized violence are systematically and widely used as strategies of war and ethnical cleansings. State forces, armies and paramilitaries use rape systematically as a means  aiming at breaking the resistance of people's movements.

Recently leaders of the Salafist “El-Nusra Front” which are one component of the oppositional “FSA” in Syria have called for raping and killing Kurdish, Ezidi and Armenian women as an act of their “holy war”.

These calls were followed by El-Nusra members committing mass rapes and massacres in the region of West-Kurdistan.

Economic violence and poverty also have a gender dimension: 2/3 out of 2,5 billion people living on less than 2 dollars a day are women. Due to poverty every year about 700,000 to 2 mio. Women are forced into trafficking and prostitution networks. This goes along with growing numbers of forced migration and labour slavery.

These are only some examples to demonstrate the global dimension of feminicides which mean a systematic abuse and neglect of women's individual and collective rights and has a close relation to the neglect of peoples' rights.

2. Experiences of the Kurdish Women's Movement in the process of establishing peoples' self governance in Kurdistan: Building up a democratic, ecological and gender-liberated society

The continuing resource wars in the Middle East, the wars in Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are results of the history of colonialism and the continuing imperialist policy of “divide and rule”. Hereby the USA and EU countries are striving for gaining control over oil, water and other resources and markets in the Middle East. The aim of these wars is not as they claim “to bring democracy and women’s rights”, but to establish an order that serves the interests of the Western powers and multinationals.

Being divided and occupied by the states of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey after World War I, the Kurdish people have been in the cross fire of resource wars in the Middle East, while their right to self-determination has been denied. Therefore Kurds in all 4 parts of Kurdistan have been the confronted with oppression, massacres, torture, assimilation, ban of the Kurdish culture and language. Against this background Kurdish women have been suffering from triple oppression: as Kurds, as women and due to the poverty caused by confiscations and wars. While being confronted with the restrictions of the patriarchal concept of “honour” within their own  families and society, millions of Kurdish women were displaced; hundred thousands were systematically tortured and raped or murdered in massacres and extra-juridical killings by state forces.
Kurish women were killed by chemical weapons or sold as “spoils of war” by the Saddam regime in Iraq; they have been imprisoned and executed as “enemies of god” in Iran; they have been expatriated and displaced by the Syrian government; no matter if alive or dead - Kurdish women have been raped and tortured by Turkish state forces.

With the AKP government, the feminicide in Turkey has gained a new dimension. The sexist neo-conservative concept of “political Islam” has lead to a high increase of violence against women, including murders and (forced) suicides.

Prime Minister Erdogan initiated the ban of Caesareans and abortions in Turkey. While propagating the role model of a woman who “wears a veil, supports her husband, and bears at least five children”, progressive women’s organisations and cooperatives have been raided and criminalized. Since 2009 over 3.000 Kurdish women activists of the Democratic Free Women's Movement (DÖKH) have been arrested, among them Members of Parliament and mayors of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), academics, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, students, human and women’s rights defenders.

The ruling system perceives women activists who break with the patriarchal roles of being “week and submissive” as a great danger. Therefore guidelines of CIA counterinsurgency programmes advice “Shoot the women first!” This is the reason why Kurdish women's rights defenders, politicians and leaders are especially targeted – and even in exile. An example is the assassination of 3 leading members of the Kurdish Women's Movement in Paris on 9 January 2013. Three of our friends who symbolize three generations of the Kurdish women's freedom struggle Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Saylemez were viciously assassinated with bullets of silenced guns being shot in their heads. Although this political murders were carried out in the centre of Paris till today the French authorities have not shown any intention to solve the crime and to identify the involved political forces.

Despite all forms of oppression Kurdish women and the Kurdish Women's Movement have become important political actors in social and political life in the last decade in Kurdistan, Turkey and the Middle East. In may 2013 the first women's conference of the Middle East was held in Amed (Diyarbakir) which was initiated by the Democratic Free Women's Movement DÖKH.

Realising that patriarchal and capitalist concepts of power, state and production have caused great destruction for humans and nature, the Kurdish women’s movement works and struggles for its own alternatives within the context of the establishment of the Democratic Autonomy in the different parts of Kurdistan.
The Democratic Autonomy means the self governance and self-determination of the people
It is not a status that has been requested from the occupying state forces, but it is an alternative system of peoples' democracy based on democratic confederate structures, communal people's councils, academies and cooperatives. While being an active dynamic within this process, the Kurdish women's movement has its autonomous structures. Women elect their own representatives into people’s local councils and congresses, which connect women and peoples beyond the boarders of national states unifying step by step the people of Kurdistan.

Hereby spaces for collective, democratic decision making processes and an alternative economy have been established. This process has been progressing in North-Kurdistan and Turkey since 2005 and was formally announced by the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) in 2011. Since 19 July 2012, the democratic autonomy has also rapidly developed in West-Kurdistan, which has also been described as a “women's revolution

After the forces of the Syrian government had to withdraw from the territory of West-Kurdistan congresses of the women's movement Yekitiya Star were held, women's councils were established in all communes, a number of women's centres, women's academies, women's popular education and health facilities were opened to educate, organise and empower women in all fields of life. A first women's textile cooperative was set up in Efrîn. Beside campaigns against violence against women, so-called „honour killings“ and patriarchal traditions like child marriage, the general assemblies of the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) in which all local people's councils and grass-roots organisations of West-Kurdistan are represented passed laws to outlaw these practices.

Women in West Kurdistan have also established their own Women's Defence Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Jin –YPJ), which have two important tasks: On one hand the YPJ units defend women and women's rights against sexist attacks and patriarchal violence, on the other hand together with the People's Defence Units ( Yekîneyên

Parastina Gel - YPG) they defend the towns and villages of West-Kurdistan against military attacks from outside. These can be attacks of Salafist groups, the Syrian army or any other reactionary forces, that are threatening rights and security of the population.

By organising under the umbrella of the Kurdish women's movement, by building local women's councils,cooperatives, media, academies, parks and institutions, by establishing platforms and networks, by leading campaigns against so-called honour killings, rape and all forms of violence against women, by working towards the establishment of alternative ways of life and production, and by mobilising in support of peace, democracy and human rights, Kurdish women have successfully broken through the patriarchal norms and taboos.

The confidence of the Kurdish society towards the political activity of women becomes obvious by the fact that  female representatives and mayoresses of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party BDP were elected by 70- 80% of the votes in their election districts in the Kurdish region. On every executive board of the BDP, in the leading positions of the Movement for a Democratic Society (TEV-DEM) and other institutions of the Kurdish society the co-chair-system has been established. This means that one woman and one man collectively are responsible for coordinating and representing a certain institution.
3. A Women's Perspective for Economic Democracy, Women's Liberation and System Change
From past and present we know, that women have always played a vital role in social struggles and revolutions. But after new regimes were established, women were always sent back to homes and kitchens, while violence against women continued in private and in public. The peoples' uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are current examples. Therefore any struggle for democracy, self-determination and liberation needs to comprise a women's

liberation perspective and an organised women's movement. At the same time we are aware that it is not possible to gain women's freedom by demanding shares of power in an unjust system or just by struggling for legal equality. Women's freedom can only be reached by overcoming hegemonic patriarchal, nationalist imperialist and capitalist logics and structures. There is an urgent need for new democratic economic, social and political concepts and models. Women played a central role in production, in the distribution of essential goods and organising live and society.

This is also reflected by the actual meaning of the word "economy", which can be traced back to the Greek words “oikonomos”,meaning "one who manages a household". In this sense economy was a communal and democratic activity fulfilling vital needs and interest of all members of society. Patriarchy and capitalism on the contrary  confiscated women's labour and values – without an independent economy women (and peoples) are dependent on masters and rulers.

The capitalist system is not economy but exploitation, which has destroyed households and social economic activities of the majority of the world's population. This system and its logic has not only created a crisis but it is the core reason for the multi-layered crises that our societies are confronted with.
The present structural crisis of the capitalist system has once more revealed the need for fundamental changes. There is an urgent need to establish alternative economic structures which are not based on profit-making, consumption and alienated labour that is categorized into “reproductive” = unpaid and “productive” = paid labour.

In contrast we need an economy that is based on the real needs of the people, justice and ecological sustainability. Therefore communal means and ways of production should be established. Producer and consumer cooperatives which can ensure a fair exchange of goods between rural areas and cities as well as between cooperatives in different parts of the world can be steps towards the constitution of a new ecological and social economic system based on solidarity and mutual benefit.

Although it is a very new subject for the people in Kurdistan some first steps in this direction have been made. Against the neoliberal doctrines that want to make us believe that there is “no alternative” to the system and wars of capitalist globalisation, there are encouraging examples for the development of women's liberation and peoples' struggles creating democratic political and economic alternatives in Kurdistan and different parts of the world.

We can only achieve the realisation of women's as well as peoples' collective rights, self-determination and freedom by overcoming the mental and physical borders of the ruling system and by strengthening our networks of solidarity.

Finally, I would like to close with two demands and calls for solidarity, that are essential to be fulfilled for realizing democracy, women's liberation and peoples' right to self-determination in Kurdistan and the Middle East:

- Freedom for the Kurdish people's leader Abdullah Öcalan and all political prisoners!

- Justice for Sakine, Fidan and Leyla!


Other speeches presented at conference :

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