Lead article from the March-April 2015 issue of News & Letters
by Terry Moon, Managing Editor
Another savage sexual assault and murder—this time in Turkey on Feb. 11—brought forth thousands of demonstrators, mostly women, throughout the country and beyond. Özgecan Aslan was a 19-year-old student taking a bus home at the end of the day.
Her murder is a reminder of a similar brutal rape and murder of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey in late 2012 that galvanized women throughout India (see “Rape protests in India,” Jan.-Feb. 2013 N&L). Like Pandey, Aslan fought back when the driver tried to rape her. Then the driver, Ahmet Suphi Altindöke, stabbed her and beat her to death with an iron bar. In an effort to hide the murder, Altindöke with his father and a friend, took Aslan’s body, burned it, defaced it by cutting off her hands and dumped her in a river so that when she was found she was only recognizable by her clothes.
‘NO MAN’S HANDS WOULD TOUCH HER’
Turkey erupted in demonstrations starting at Özgecan Aslan’s funeral, where over 5,000 came and women refused the orders of the Imam there to step back during the ceremony. Instead they stepped forward to the front lines and then did something unprecedented: women stepped forward to carry her coffin and to bury her, vowing: “No other man’s hands would touch her again.”
Since then the demonstrations have deepened and spread. As in India, the government’s first response was to attack the protestors. On Feb. 14, women protested in Istanbul and marched to Taksim Square, where they condemned the government for ignoring the issue of violence against women and for not officially condemning the murder and attempted rape of Aslan; 50 women trying to hang banners in the Square were arrested. Thousands more protested in the Kadiköy district. In Ankara, protesters had to contend with police attacks as they occupied a park. Over 3,000 demonstrated in Mersin. At the demonstration of thousands in İzmir the women banned men from their protest. Protests broke out in at least ten other Turkish cities and continued in Istanbul and other towns in the days that followed. The youth too made their actions felt, as 1,500 students marched in Gaziantep and high school students throughout the country are wearing black in solidarity with Aslan. Demonstrations of people wearing black continue with many chanting, “You will never walk alone” and men held a march in Istanbul wearing skirts in solidarity with women on Feb. 21.
Actions crossed national borders as Turks took their protests to Trafalgar Square in London. By Feb 17 protests not only continued in Turkey but were also in at least three places in Cyprus; 200 demonstrated in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as in Hamburg and Berlin.
ERDOGAN’S OWN WAR ON WOMEN
Ever the clumsy, slobbering, lying opportunist who is the leader of a misogynistic war against Turkish women, President Tayyip Erdogan realized by Feb. 16—fully five days after Aslan was murdered—that he better speak out. He vowed he would “personally follow the case so that they will be given the heaviest penalty. I am already following the case. Violence against women is the bleeding wound of our country.”
That is true—for just one example: from 2003 to 2010 there has been a 1,400% increase in the number of murdered women. When Erdogan’s so-called “Justice and Development Party” (AKP) came under criticism for those facts, they tried to alter the statistics.
Erdogan’s policies, however, are their own kind of violence aimed at depriving women of hard fought for freedoms. Erdogan opposes equality between women and men as going “against the laws of nature”; he has proposed limits on abortion, making that procedure extremely difficult for poor women by ending abortions in state hospitals; he aims to ban all abortions after four weeks of pregnancy; his government has enacted legislation making divorce more difficult; his deputy prime minister—revealing Taliban-like thinking—suggested that women shouldn’t laugh in public; his Prime Minister urges youth to marry before graduating from college; his Health Minister strongly suggests that “women should not focus on any career other than the career of motherhood.” These “suggestions” are backed up by incentives, like a $4,000 subsidy to couples that marry early, and university students who are married don’t have to repay some of their student loans. Without publicity—and evidently without discussion—he has destroyed three state agencies created only after years of struggle to help women; and the list goes on.
REVOLT REVEALS FREEDOM’S DIALECTIC
With violence against women so out of control in Turkey, the sexual assault and murder of Özgecan Aslan was no isolated event. But what is new—and what reveals the dialectic of freedom—is the reaction to it. It is this dialectic of freedom—self-development through contradiction—that we see everywhere when we look at women’s struggle for liberation and it is in that self-development that something new and challenging emerges.
It isn’t as if women don’t have a great deal to fight. So intertwined are repression and the revolt against it that it is sometimes difficult to gauge if what we are experiencing is the darkness before the dawn or the beginning of a deeper darkness. There are too many challenges to take them all up. Here we can only point to a few:
♀ The rise of ISIS is marked by brutal destruction of women’s freedom and lives. Anyone disagreeing with their inhuman theocratic view is obliterated. Women are bought and sold in cities ISIS controls in Iraq and Syria; and they are not sold just once, but over and over. They and others, including children, are enslaved. If a woman has any kind of public life not sanctioned by ISIS, she is sought out and murdered, often after being tortured.
♀ In the U.S. the war on women’s reproductive lives and decisions is cruelly directed against poor women as theocratic right-wingers in state and national legislatures, as well as from local courts to the U.S. Supreme Court, make laws putting contraception out of reach. They legislate laws delaying abortion for weeks until it is either more expensive or illegal; drive abortion providers out of business with laws mandating unnecessary surgery-like facilities; strip abortion coverage—in some cases even when a woman’s life is in danger—from insurance; and impose inhuman schemes aimed at shaming, intimidating, or outright lying to women in an effort to take away a woman’s control of her own body.
♀ For decades women in Latin America have been murdered with impunity, so much so that women created a word to describe it: femicide (see “Language and death in Juárez,” Jan.-Feb. 2014 N&L). In Mexico six women are assassinated every day. Maria de la Luz Estrada, head of the National Citizen Femicide Observatory, states: “The bodies show 20 or 30 blows. They slice off breasts and faces and throw the fragments in the garbage. In a macho society like Mexico, authorities are always questioning what the women did. What was she wearing? Was she sexually active?” The violence is endemic as well to Central America and when women and children flee for their lives they are locked up like prisoners by U.S. authorities and languish in jail-like conditions for months and even years.
DOMESTIC WORKERS ORGANIZE
Women fight back against all these oppressions, including against ISIS. For example, peasant women in Amerli, Iraq, helped fight off ISIS with weapons, including machine guns, for weeks. And the world now knows about the women of Kobanê. As we wrote in our webpage statement, “Support the people of Kobanê’s struggle for self-determination!”: “The thousands of brave women who are fighting in Rojava as equals on the front lines represent an entirely different idea of humanity than the ISIS’s misogynist thugs who have come from around the world to crush every expression of human freedom.”
Revolt erupts from those most trodden on and often where it is least expected. In Lebanon, domestic workers—mostly women from other countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Madagascar and Ethiopia—have organized themselves into a union two years in the making despite threats of violence from the Lebanese government. Such a union is unprecedented in the Arab world. The Minister of Labor, Sajaan Azzi, tried to prevent their founding conference, directly threatening the organizers as well as saying the police would attack the conference. The workers held it anyway. Two hundred made it to the founding meeting despite hundreds of workers being imprisoned in their employers’ houses and hundreds more being beaten and raped in an attempt to stop them attending.
Lebanon has locked their workers into a catch-22 with the Kafala system where the workers must be “sponsored” and the “sponsor” is almost always their employer. If they try to leave their jobs or fight for their rights, their sponsor/employer can cause them to lose their legal status. It is a system that seems designed to encourage slavery and abuse.
Laws like this for migrant domestic workers exist in most countries. In Hong Kong 300,000 domestic workers, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines, by law have to live with their employers and earn only a fraction of the minimum wage. If the employers break or terminate their contracts, the workers have only 14 days to find another job or they are forced to leave the country.
The U.S. is no exception and includes U.S. citizens under exploitative laws passed with racist intent. Domestic workers/direct care providers, farmworkers, day laborers, tipped minimum-wage workers such as restaurant workers, guestworkers, workers in so-called right-to-work states, taxi drivers, workfare workers, and formerly incarcerated workers are all excluded from the protections of most U.S. labor laws.
As domestic workers worldwide organize to change conditions, including in the U.S., the depth of their demands as well as the exploitation of their labor can be gleaned by the demand of a Filipina worker in Lebanon who declared: “We want to be treated like human beings, like real workers.”
WOMEN: REVOLUTIONARY FORCE AND REASON
Workers are treated so horribly in Lebanon that the Philippines now forbids its citizens from taking new work contracts there, which is especially significant considering that a large part of the Philippines economy depends on remittances from workers abroad. Of course Lebanon’s Azzi rejected the workers’ appeal for recognition of their union. Nevertheless, the meeting itself was a huge victory and it heralds the beginning of the end of the Kafala system and a new step forward for women throughout the Middle East.
When we look at women not just as revolutionary force but as Reason, we can see that what is being articulated by women worldwide is new. Women are not only railing against sexism and challenging men to change what is often deadly behavior and when not deadly, deeply oppressive; they are as well explicitly extending their critique to the state itself.
Women in Lebanon know they are not only fighting their employers—who are quite often women—they are as well fighting a state that regards them as less than human and creates laws that allow them to be treated as such. After Özgecan Aslan’s assault and murder, the anger of Turkish women was not only aimed at men, but at the state whose leaders, laws, and police force are seen as accomplices in her murder and in the oppression of women in Turkish society. This was also evident in India after the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey. The demonstrations in both countries spread like wildfires sweeping the nation and crossing borders, making explicit women’s determination to change the system.
This same newness is evident in how in the U.S., but also worldwide, the struggle against rape has developed from one where women worked to establish that “Yes means yes; no means no, whatever we wear; wherever we go,” to an attack on what is now rightly called “rape culture.” It reflects a movement in thought, in Reason, to seeing that the problem women experience of being comprehended as full human beings is not women’s problem alone. It is rooted in the entire society and, therefore, it is the entire society that must be transformed. This is a revolutionary perspective and a further needed development is to make that revolutionary perspective explicit.
Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution: Reaching for the Future
by Raya Dunayevskaya
Part I • Women, Labor and the Black Dimension
Part II • Revolutionaries All
Part III • Sexism, Politics and Revolution—Japan, Portugal, Poland, China, Latin America, the U.S.—Is There an Organizational Answer?
Part IV • The Trail to the 1980s: The Missing Link—Philosophy—in the Relationship of Revolution to Organization.
Section I—Reality and Philosophy
Section II—The Challenge from Today’s Global Crises
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