Increased violence against women, during and after conflicts, is clearly revealed in a report issued by former Secretary General Kofi Annan to the United Nations Security Council. Annan stated that “Women and children are disproportionately targeted in contemporary armed conflict and constitute the majority of all victims.”
The report indicated that sexual violence and torture have actually been used as a weapon of war. In other words, sexual violence and assaults are implemented consciously as a war strategy. According to Zainab Bangura, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, these actions are “premeditated”, “planned”, and “commanded” to “degrade, dehumanize and humiliate” the targeted group. Therefore conflicts result in increased violence against women and violence mostly results in displacement. By means of a quick glance at the figures in this context, it is visible that 68.5 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide; there are 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 asylum seekers around the world. Women and girls form the 50% of the refugee population. UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, declares that the world is facing the highest levels of displacement in recent years and one of the most terrific data on this issue is that “there are an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.”
A recent data states that 44,400 people leave their homeland per day as a result of a persecution or conflict. When it comes to Turkey, a reality of cruel violations of women’s and children’s basic rights is encountered. There are more than 700 children in Turkish jails under the age of six and over 10,000 women, who are politically and arbitrarily jailed. According to the Bangkok Rules that were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2010, non-custodial sentences for pregnant women and women with dependent children shall be preferred. (Rule 64) In spite of these considerable rules and laws about the pregnant women, and women in their postpartum period, there have been several incidents of violence and ill-treatment of women in prisons.
Besides the drastic detention conditions that women and children have been facing in Turkey, there are some other violations such as prevention to access to basic services, exclusion by the society and lack of financial opportunities, which in return accelerate the issue of displacement.
Recently many people ask the question of whether or not it is worthy of risking the lives of babies and children while trying to flee the persecution in Turkey.
The respondents to this question are the people who have been trying to flee Turkey by boats through Evros River or Aegean Sea. Tens of people, including children, even babies, have drowned during these terrific and hazardous journeys. More painful reality is that, those people knew what they could go through. And in this case that question somehow makes sense!
Why are hundreds of people risking their lives to get away from their own countries?
The answer is actually very simple: They are indeed socially and civilly dead. Thousands of people were dismissed from their jobs, both from government institutions and private companies. They cannot work anywhere else since there is a great prejudice and hatred. It is the Turkish Government’s oppressive approach and media propaganda machine that lead this severe atmosphere, exclusion and isolation of these people from the society. The children of these families cannot even state or mention which schools they studied in the past – if affiliated with Gulen movement!
When all these circumstances taken into consideration, it is almost impossible to survive in Turkey if you are among a targeted group. Human rights resources indicate that there are thousands of Turkish people seeking for asylum in Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA and more. In other words, victims of Turkish Government purge have been scattered all around the world. On one side they are free and safe. However, all their lives have been reset. Since assets of many of these people were seized, they do not have anything to start from the scratch. Furthermore, most of the jobs do not have equivalence in the sense of graduation in many countries so the phrase “starting from the scratch” literally means being a zero for those refugees.
Along with the conditions mentioned above, there is another heavyweight issue for some: health problems. Thanks to the social state idea, many European countries provide refugees/asylum seekers with health services. Nevertheless, there are non-negligible struggles that especially women go through. One of them is Ms. Birgul Kocal’s heartbreaking story. Kocal once had been in Greece and moved to Germany by means of family reunification procedures. Her son, Nail (6), was diagnosed with leukemia when they were in Greece and Saban, their father, was in Germany. It was a great shock for them after fleeing to Greece by boats. And before that, Kocal had been in jail in Turkey with Nail for months. Fleeing civil death by risking actual death literally lies here, in this situation. Another example is Esma Uludag’s agonizing story. She passed the Evros River and walked hours and hours with her 3 children. They could make it to a safe and free country, but she died of a stroke because of great stress.
Nobody can risk a life that easily, especially no women can dare to risk their children’s lives! So those who ask that question accusing mothers’ compassion and sensitivity MUST think again by taking what it means to be a civil death into account and then assume they were in the same situation! What would they do? Would they stay and afford having nothing: no social identity, no jobs, no financial strength to survive, no freedom, no guarantee not to be arrested anytime, no promise for their children not to be spit on their faces in the school, no accusation of being a terrorist even if they have never committed a crime… just think again! Would they bear being already a dead?
Hafsa Y. Girdap is directing the Women Affairs at Advocates of Silenced Turkey (AST) and volunteering for Set Them Free platform which focuses on women and children victims of Turkey purge.