Visionary Leadership from Pro-Democracy Women in the Middle East

The 1st Middle East Women’s Conference opened in Diyarbakır, Turkey this summer. The conference, a gathering of visionary women’s movement leaders from the Middle East, was dedicated to the memory of Sakine Cansız, Fidan Doğan, Leyla Şaylemez, who were brutally murdered in Paris on 9 January. It was organized by the Democratic Free Women Movement (DOKH), which started with local activism against rape and violence against women, sexism in government policies, political prisoners, and other anti-democratic, anti-women injustices.

adanadonneEarly this summer, they expanded their scope, organizing the first pro-democracy women’s conference in Turkey for Middle Eastern women. Their call for action was both visionary and practical, addressing specific injustices against women as well as the need for a true democracy in the Middle East.

On the 3rd June the last day of the conference the final statement that included 13 sections was read out by a Kurdish female activist Gülten Kişanak. It reads as follows:

  1. Creating a strong network of connection between the women attended the conference.
  2. Forming a committee that insures this connection.
  3. Stressing on the rights of mother tongue and confirming it as one of the women’s demands.
  4. Rejection of the model of nation-state suggesting democratic multi-national system and standing against any fascism and dictatorship.
  5. Creating a group in order to control the situation of women in the Syrian camps.
  6. Extending the level of activities against stoning, girl circumcision, oppression and aggressive behaviours both from men and the governing elites and also attempting against new-liberal politics abuses women.
  7. Hostility to any anti-ethnic, religious and gender issues.
  8. Attempt at emancipation of female political prisoners who are imprisoned due to their struggle for rights, freedom and democracy.
  9. Recognising 9th January as “ No for Killing Female Politicians” as this day is when 3 Kurdish female activists (Sakîne Cansiz, Fîdan Doğan and Leyla Şaylemez) were assassinated in Paris in 2013.
  10. Supporting the peace progress that is going on at the moment between Kurdish leader Abdulla Öcalan and the Turkish Government relating to the Kurdish issue in Turkey and asking for freedom of Öcalan from prison.
  11. Insistence on solution to the problem of nations of Kurds and Palestinians in order to stabilise peace in the region.
  12. Preparing for a campaign against women oppression.
  13. Attempt against damaging the environment, culture and historical places where war and colonialism threatening them. (from

According to the Voice of Women World, their slogan “women, life, freedom” included a powerful agenda: to remember the repressed  history of women in the Middle East, to call for women’s freedom as a core part of gaining general freedom for all, and to honor the remarkable, dedicated and united grassroots leaders who are fighting and dying for the advancement of democracy and women’s rights in the Middle East.

There has been little coverage of the growing women’s movement in the US media’s celebration of “Arab spring.” There may be good reason; DOKH and other women’s activist groups are sharply critical of the way the US has supported leaders who oppress women. It’s clear they are a strong force for democracy and equality.

This gathering of activists is a good sign of change, as is their emphasis on peace and democratic solutions to free women along with all the people living without democracy in their countries. A similar gathering in the US in 1848 galvanized the pro-democracy women’s movement that led to voting rights and full citizenship, transforming women’s role in American culture. As the great American suffragist and civil rights activist Susan B. Anthony said, “I have encountered riotous mobs and have been hung in effigy, but my motto is: Men’s rights are nothing more. Women’s rights are nothing less.”


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