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Women Empowerment and Democracy: How Authoritarian Rules are Hindering Women Empowerment Prospects

On 16th March 2018, the Set Them Free, Pacifica Institute (California), and Silicon Valley UNA-USA, organized a parallel event during the 62th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women entitled “Women Empowerment and Democracy: How Authoritarian Rules are Hindering Women Empowerment Prospects”. The event had participation of more than 60 people from civil society organization and women rights activists.

The discussion was moderated by W. Alexander Morel, an Associate Professor of Art & Design at the St John`s University. The distinguished panelists discussing this critical topic were Hatixhe Berani Grbeshi, a Lawyer, Disability and SSI Representative from the Santa Clara Law Group, Dr. Zuleyha Colak, Lecturer and Coordinator of Turkish Language Program at Columbia University, and Dr. Sophia Pandya, Professor of Religious Studies at the California State University Long Beach. The panelists shared their experiences, anecdotes, and statistics that showed how women empowerment and democracy are inter-related with each other.

Hatixhe Berani spoke on the issue of challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. She stated that rural women have a less access to resources like land, livestock, financial services and education than men. Berani also discussed the fact that even though mainly rural women contribute to the family, as men largely control the sale of resources, they seem to have more decision-making power on the allocation of household income and stated that men have a substantial role in a family and community. She highlighted the lack of women`s integration into the society and how this fact is leading to mismanagement of the human capital. Berani also discussed the economic costs of having less rural women active in the labor force as well. Her speech echoed the importance of financial equality between men and women.

Dr. Sophia Pandya, spoke on the Turkish Refugee Women living in the US.  She commenced her discussion with the failed coup attempt in Turkey. She highlighted that tens of thousands of women, including housewives, journalists, teachers, academics, physicians, health care professionals and businesswomen have been detained in the aftermath of the attempted coup. Thousands of women had to leave their country as a result of the persecution and social labeling. Dr. Pandya discussed the collective trauma of women refuges and the consequences of this incident: depression, anxiety, financial stress, a sense of betrayal, ruptures in their relationships at every level, diminished ability to parent effectively. Dr. Pandya emphasized the importance helping the refugee and purged women to get their lives back together. She said that “reordering” takes place in the aftermath of political conflicts. For the most vulnerable victims, Dr. Pandya underlined that getting lives back together for healing will be an immense challenge.

Dr. Zuleyha Colak, who presented a case study in Turkey, discussed the women rights under attack in Turkey after the failed coup attempt.  She commenced her discussion with State of Emergency, which is imposed following the coup attempt, and remains in force till then. Dr. Colak underlined that the current government passes Decree Laws without parliamentary and judicial scrutiny. She highlighted how the purge renders women more powerless than ever in Turkey. Economic freedom of thousands of women has been taken from their hands. According to the figures compiled by the Women`s Coalition, women constituted at least 19.6% (19,774) of the 100.797 public employees who were dismissed by Decree-Laws of the State of Emergency in Turkey. One third of 226 students, whose financial aid for study abroad canceled are women. Thousands of academics dismissed from public universities are women. Dr. Colak underlined that they are having difficulties finding another job because they are smeared. She stated that the women are forced to live under the social security of their family members or their spouses or to work unregistered.

Lastly Dr. Colak mentioned that women`s civic activism in Turkey is totally crushed as hundreds of local women`s associations closed during the state of emergency period. She concluded that tens of thousands of women from all walks of life, with 650 children aged between 0-6 are kept in prison aftermath of the failed coup attempt in Turkey. Dr. Colak informed that audience that currently there are 65 pregnant women imprisoned and 5 babies lost their lives as a result of miscarriages in jails.


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