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How One Muslim Woman Is Helping Countless Others to Defend Themselves Against Islamophobic Violence

New Age Islam News Bureau

7 Nov 2017

Rishi Deka

A woman holds a “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” sign during Women’s March on the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday Jan. 23, 2017. (Photo by Rishi Deka | Daily Utah Chronicle)


 Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

 Hadiya 'Smiling And Safe', Says Women's Panel After Visiting Kerala Woman In 'Love Jihad' Case

 17-year-old girl commits ‘suicide’

 Another Swat girl named for Children's Peace Prize

 Crossroads’ ‘Mecca Tales’ shares struggles of Muslim women

 Conference of sports for women opens in capital

 Women in sports inspire generations, ICSW hears

 New Coke Ad About Saudi Women Driving Has People Feeling All Kinds Of Ways

 Iran: Little girls punished for speaking mother tongue in class

 Iran: Young women and men stage protest in Mashhad University

 Women of Turkey’s political parties: More female involvement in politics needed and we work to achieve it

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




How One Muslim Woman Is Helping Countless Others to Defend Themselves Against Islamophobic Violence

November 06, 2017

By Ilana Novick

At 16, Rana Abdelhamid was on her way to volunteer at a domestic violence shelter in New York City when she was assaulted by a stranger who tried to rip off her hijab. A black-belt in Shotokan karate, Rana was able to defend herself, but after her shock wore off, she realized that most women in her community didn't have the same opportunity. A year after her own attack, she started a self-defense class.

The series of self-defense workshops became WISE, the International Muslim Women's Initiative for Self-Empowerment, an organization dedicated to empowering Muslim women to fight back against physical attacks and cultural stereotypes. Now in six cities across the United States and three in Europe, WISE offers an intensive summer program, self-defense workshops and leadership development for young Muslim women determined, as Abdelhamid explained in a phone interview, to "shift ideas of where power and strength come from."

At first, the idea was met with resistance. Muslim New Yorkers, Abdelhamid said, "had been so policed after 9/11. People just wanted to keep their head down. People didn't want to talk about hate-based violence, didn't want to bring more attention. A lot of parents weren't enthusiastic."

Still, the classes were met with high demand. Over the past seven years, Abdelhamid, now 24 and living in Palo Alto, Calif., and WISE have trained thousands of Muslim women in self-defense, leadership development and community organizing. There's even an intensive summer program for girls ages 13-19, Mentee Muslimah. Those selected get eight weeks of training in all three program areas. Each cohort gets to partner with local entrepreneurs to help jumpstart their businesses. This year, WISE held its first National Muslim Women's Summit at Harvard University, training 50 Muslim American women in leadership and community organizing. The work has become even more necessary following the election of Donald Trump. According to a study from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in 2017, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 91 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2016.

While self-defense was the initial focus, WISE added entrepreneurship training because "financial empowerment is so important. Within Islamic history, women have been entrepreneurs." In addition to the self-defense introductions available on its website, WISE is creating a series of videos, to be released in early January, for training in basic financial literacy: how to pitch an idea, write a business plan and attract investors.

Abdelhamid notes that Muslim women are at the "intersection of two forms of violence, especially women wearing a headscarf," violence against their gender and violence against their religion. People assume they're weak, when in fact they're incredibly strong. They're fighting stereotypes both from Americans who don't know Muslims personally, and so get their information from "horrific news stories about tragedies that happen unfortunately in the name of Islam," as well as from their own communities.

It's frustrating, and Abdelhamid admits "it shouldn't be on women to learn how to defend themselves," that women are expected to do the work, while men are not held accountable for their behavior, but unfortunately, "the current reality calls on us." What makes Abdelhamid a little sad is some of the questions she gets following the workshops. At the Women's Convention in Detroit, "one young woman raised her hand and said if this happened to me, I wouldn't have the strength to react."

Still, the work is both emotionally and physically empowering. For the self-defense component, WISE classes start with basic techniques, "defense and stiff grabs, basic strikes, how to use your voice, how to de-escalate with language." A single class, she admits, "won't make you Jackie Chan, especially after years of female socialization." It takes practice, Abdelhamid notes; "it takes muscle memory. That's why we have eight-week sessions, three-day intensives. We want this to be a reflex. I try to really emphasize that."

The most rewarding part of the education is when women get over that hesitation and surprise themselves with their own strength. Abdelhamid heard one woman say, at a class she gave at the Women's Convention, "I didn't realize I could do this." It's a proud moment when she watches a 15-year-old topple someone twice her size.

WISE is about to get more national attention, now that Abdelhamid has been nominated for a L'oreal Paris Women of Worth award, which, she says, is a "huge honor for me because the other women are so incredible. Their stories are really incredible, and I'm so excited to meet them. Most remarkable is being part of a group, and an issue I care deeply about." The nomination comes with a $10,000 donation to WISE. Starting November 1, the public can vote at L'Oreal's website for the winner, who will receive an additional $25,000 donation.

The additional funding would help WISE achieve Abdelhamid's ultimate goal: to expand its programming to multiple marginalized communities around the world.



Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

ByBrook Williams

 November 6, 2017

What’s worse than a being sexually assaulted? Being forced to marry the perpetrator in order for their charges to be dropped.

Sounds completely twisted and insane right? This is not uncommon in parts of the world.

Some countries have laws stating that if a rapist marries their victim, all of their charges will be dropped because this is a “part of the institution of marriage.”

Women, being the most susceptible to rape, lose their basic human rights, their control of their destiny as well as their satisfaction to serve justice to their predator. They have absolutely no control in this situation. No power. No justice. This needs to change.

“While the legal system allows rapists to find immunity, many women also feel pressure from their families to marry the men who abused them,” stated Samantha Raphelson, a writer for NPR.

More often than not the woman’s family forces her to marry the man because of the unwillingness to go through the court process. The woman’s family is afraid of the embarrassment.

A 16-year-old girl in Moscow killed herself under the pressure to get married to the man who sexually assaulted her. This eventually prompted the law to be changed in 2014, but only in Moscow. It is extremely saddening that it had to cost a young girls life in order for the law to be modified.

There is also a practice called the “rape-revenge”. This occurs when a young girl is raped by a boy or a man, and the brother of the victim is allowed and sometimes forced to rape the predator’s sister.

“The panchayat that ordered the rape is led by influential landlords who settle disputes according to tribal customs that predate Islam. … the family of [a] 12-year-old girl [who was raped] appear to deeply adhere to the rules of tribal justice,” said Diaa Hadid, a writer for NPR.

This is a practice of the panchayat rulings to ensure that both families are equally “dishonored” by their daughters. Documentaries and books have been made about these instances in hopes that the practice can come to a complete halt.

People need to be educated on how to properly treat humans. Women need to be treated equally all around the world and the mistreatment needs to come to an end.

It’s 2017, why hasn’t the world come to its senses yet? It’s not so much a matter of time and place, but more so a matter of how and why this violence continues.

People need to be educated on these horrific acts in order to realize what is actually going on in the world to find solutions to stop these crimes.



Hadiya 'Smiling And Safe', Says Women's Panel After Visiting Kerala Woman In 'Love Jihad' Case

November 06, 2017

Akhila Ashokan, the young Kerala woman who converted to Islam and calls herself Hadiya now, is "smiling and safe", the National Commission for Women (NCW) has said. The commission's chief Rekha Sharma today visited the Kottayam home where 24-year-old Hadiya is currently living with her parents, who have alleged that her marriage to a Muslim man is a case of "forced conversion".

"I just met Akhila or Hadiya as the NCW was concerned about her well-being. She is in good health, is not being beaten up, she is eating, was smiling and is happy. I cannot tell you what she told me because the case is in court and the court will tell you what it decides. Otherwise her health and security are good," Ms Sharma said after the meeting, sharing a photo of Hadiya holding a bouquet of flowers that the NCW team brought for her.

The commission chief, who said she would file a detailed report soon, stressed that the young woman did not report any atrocities or harm done to her during their discussion. She said Hadiya is "waiting for November 27" to appear in court.

Last week, the Supreme Court said Hadiya at 24 is an adult and her consent is "prime," ordering her to appear on November 27 to tell judges in open court her version of how and why she married a Muslim man last year. The court is hearing the petition of her husband Shefin Jahan, who moved the top court against a Kerala High Court verdict annulling their marriage on her father's plea and ordering Hadiya to live at her parents' home.

Activists who have visited Hadiya reported that she is being confined against her wishes. In a video recorded in August and released recently by activist Rahul Eashwar, Hadiya is heard saying, "Get me out of here. Today or tomorrow, I am going to die. I am sure about this. My father is getting angry, I can make out. He pushes me, stamps at me."

While her parents have dismissed Mr Eashwar's video recordings, saying he betrayed their trust to gain access to the woman and is being used by sections with vested interests against the family, the activist said he will submit them in the Supreme Court. Mr Eashwar has said he does not believe that Hadiya's marriage is a case of "love jihad," in which vulnerable Hindu women are allegedly lured by Muslim men who are agents of terrorist groups. He pointed out that she had already converted to Islam before she met Shehin on an Islamist matrimonial site.

Elite agency NIA, which investigates terror cases, has told the Supreme Court that Hadiya's is an example of "psychological kidnapping" and has also cited two criminal cases registered against her husband to argue that the court should not go by her statement.

The NIA was asked by the Supreme Court to investigate if there are organised groups attempting to recruit Hindu women as terrorists by getting Muslim men to woo, convert and marry them.

The agency told judges last week that it has evidence of nearly 90 "similar cases" of indoctrination and radicalisation in Kerala.



17-year-old girl commits ‘suicide’

November 07, 2017

KARACHI: A 17-year-old girl committed ‘suicide’ inside her home in Shah Faisal Colony on Monday, police said.

Shah Faisal Colony SHO A.D. Chaudhry told Dawn that initial investigations showed that the girl consumed some poisonous substance in her home and died.

However, her body was sent to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre to ascertain the exact cause of death.

The SHO said that on Saturday night the girl had allegedly met a male friend in the same neighbourhood. Her father became furious and shot at the man. He sustained two bullet injuries and was admitted to a hospital.

The girl’s father was arrested on Sunday on charges of attempted murder.

Young woman assaulted in DHA hotel

A young woman was allegedly sexually assaulted by around half a dozen men in a hotel in Defence Housing Authority, officials said on Monday.

“A girl, in her 20s, was assaulted by around five men inside the hotel near the Creek,” said Karachi South SSP Javed Akbar Riaz.

The suspects attacked her modesty, slapped her and tried to tear her clothes apart, added the officer. The woman had gone to the four-star hotel in Defence with a friend of hers on Oct 29, when the incident took place.

However, the SSP said the woman, a resident of Defence, approached the Sahil police station to lodge a case on Monday. She is reportedly an American citizen.

The Sahil police registered an FIR (111/2017) against the suspects under Sections 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 337-A (Punishment of shajjah: causing hurt to any person) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The South SSP said the police had obtained the relevant CCTV footage from the hotel and were investigating the case to arrest the suspects involved in the incident.



Another Swat girl named for Children's Peace Prize

November 07, 2017

SWAT - Fourteen-year-old Hira Akbar has become the second student from Swat district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa after Malala Yousafzai to be nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize .

She is among six students shortlisted out of 200 across the world for the award.

“I’ll continue my struggle for the rights of my fellow students in Swat ,” Hira was quoted as saying from her home in Saidu Sharif, the main town in the picturesque district. “The nomination has motivated me to strive for children’s rights across the province,” she added.

Hira, the speaker of the Child Rights Committee’s (CRC) parliament, has been nominated for the award for her efforts for children’s rights in Swat . Other than working for CRC and raising her voice against underage marriages as well as the ordeal of physical abuse towards children in Swat’s schools, Hira, a student of grade 7 is also a pigeon-keeping enthusiast.

Hira expressed high hopes of winning the award owing to her efforts for child rights. The recipient of the award will be announced on November 15.

Malala, who was shot by Taliban militants after campaigning for girls’ right to education, had won the prestigious International Children’s Peace Prize in 2013.

The International Children’s Peace Prize , an initiative of the Dutch based Kids Rights Foundation, was launched in 2005 by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, when he chaired the Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Rome.

Malala later became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. International Children’s Peace Prize carries a cash value of 100,000 euros ($133,000) that is invested in projects relating to the winner’s cause.



Crossroads’ ‘Mecca Tales’ shares struggles of Muslim women

Nov. 6, 2017

“Mecca Tales” tells the story of five Muslim women who are on the pilgrimage known as the Hajj when their bus breaks down short of their destination.

Tempers flare and the women are tested in unexpected ways. In an attempt to move forward in their lives and find meaning in a spiritual journey, the women share their personal stories with each other.

The state premiere of the work by Chicago playwright Rohina Malik from Nov. 8 to 12 will mark the first for Tony-winning New Brunswick-based Crossroads Theatre Co. in its temporary location at Middlesex County College Performing Arts Center in Edison. The co-production with New York City-based Voyage Theater Co. explores the power of ritual and redemption and what it means to be a Muslim-American woman, producers said in a news release.

“I’ve been a fan of Rohina Malik’s work ever since we first met rather gratuitously some eight years ago at the Theatre Communications Group Conference in Chicago,” said Marshall Jones III, Crossroads’ producing artistic director. “I went on an evening boat ride as part of the conference. The driver got lost, and we circled Lake Michigan for what seemed like hours. All the artists and theater professionals on the boat got to spend extra time together as we all froze on the boat for what seemed like hours. Rohina and I struck up a friendship that remains today.

“As a result of that connection on the boat, Crossroads first presented Rohina Malik’s work, ‘Unveiled,’ a play that she wrote and starred in back in 2013,” continued Marshall, who, in addition to running the esteemed black theater company, is head of Rutgers University’s undergraduate theater program. “The show resonated with our audience because the bigotry, bias and systemic oppression of Muslims is very familiar to our community. At that time in my curtain speech, I lamented that when Ms. Malik traveled from Chicago, she decided to wear a hat in order to lessen harassment at the airports. I didn’t think that now, four years later, the anti-Muslim climate would be worse, but it is.”

Jones said it is important to inform audiences of Central Jersey that there are myriad similarities with the people of Islam.

“Mecca Tales” demonstrates that, he said.

“At the final moment, audiences will completely empathize with these five Muslim Americans,” he said, “and they’ll probably need a Kleenex.”

Premiered in 2015 at Chicago Dramatists, “Mecca Tales” was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Play. Malik is a resident playwright with Chicago Dramatists and an artistic associate with Voyage Theater Co., which staged the work last month.

South Brunswick Human Relations Commissioner Azra Baig said that as a Muslim-American woman in Central Jersey who has performed Hajj, she is looking forward to learning about the experiences of other Muslim women.

“The journey to Mecca comes with various challenges, and it is how one deals with these experiences that can be the real struggle,” Baig said. “Since it is a spiritual journey, having faith and trust in God is of the utmost importance and being just and fair to all is also very important.”

Malik’s other works include “Yasmina’s Necklace,” which premiered last year at Chicago’s 16th Street Theater, where she also is an artistic associate. That play also was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award.

“Mecca Tales” is directed by Kareem Fahmy, a New York-based talent whose recent productions include James Scrugg’s “3/Fifths” at 3LD, which was hailed as a “must-see” by New York critics, and Sevan K. Green’s “This Time” with Rising Circle Theater Collective. The latter was a New York Times Critic’s Pick.

Founded in 1978, Crossroads is one of the nation’s leading black theater companies and in 1999 won the Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in the United States. Stars of more than 250 works have included Oscar-winner Viola Davis and Emmy-winner Ruby Dee.

For the next two seasons, the heralded theater company will utilize a variety of venues, including New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, while awaiting the completion of the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center in the fall of 2019. Crossroads will be based there with fellow resident companies George Street Playhouse, American Repertory Ballet, and Mason Gross School of the Arts.

The like-minded Voyage Theater Co. presents new and unheralded plays and playwrights from around the world, creating opportunities for collaboration between theater-makers of diverse cultures and disciplines.

Voyage also serves the community in New York City with educational programming, internships, discounted tickets for students and seniors, and multi-language productions. The company works in partnership with other nonprofit organizations to broaden perspectives and build greater cultural equity across communities.



Conference of sports for women opens in capital

November 6, 2017

Abu Dhabi: The fourth edition of the International Conference of Sports for Women was inaugurated by Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of State for Tolerance in the capital on Monday. The two-day conference will see industry leaders, sporting pioneers and global icons including Olympic legend Michelle Kwan, Maria Teixidor Jafresa of FC Barcelona and Beirut Marathon founder May El Khalil deliberate over various key issues.

“Women’s sport reflects the commitment of women to grow mentally, physically and to create happiness and contribute positively to society,” said Shaikh Mubarak Al Nahyan.

“No wonder, therefore, that this leading conference, which includes elite participants from across the UAE and around the world, is organised under the patronage of the Mother of the Nation, Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Bint Mubarak,” he added.

The opening morning of the Conference also saw the first two panel discussions of five which are scheduled to take place over the two-day event. ICSW has attracted a stellar line-up of speakers, and Panel One saw a packed auditorium listen to an informative discussion around the theme ‘Empowering Women: Sports and Leadership’.

Panel One continued in the discussion of leadership in sport, with Maria Teixidor Jufresa and Michelle Kwan giving the assembled delegates an insight into their views of what goes into the creation of a leader and the importance of role models in sports.

“I had many role models growing up. At seven years old I watched the 1980 Olympic Games and was star-struck by the American Olympic skating team,” explained the American double Olympic medallist Kwan.

“In any sport, you learn many life lessons of hard work, determination, perseverance. Learning how to pick yourself up after falling down in front of millions. These are lessons that serve you well in life. The moments that I fell and made mistakes were when I learnt the most about myself,” added Kwan.

The second panel of the day was organised under the topic of ‘Behavioural Change: Sports as the Norm’ and featured a group of leading sports administrators from both the UAE and overseas. Each panellist was invited to begin the session by asking the question — ‘what is the single issue that the sports world needs to address in order to change behaviours, attitudes and increase opportunities for women in sports?’



Women in sports inspire generations, ICSW hears

November 6, 2017

The UAE ministers, young and experienced, highlighted the positive impact of sportswomen in the society and goaded them to keep moving forward to inspire generations.

On the opening day of the International Conference of Sports for Women (ICSW), the ministers highlighted the key role played by the Mother of the Nation, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of the General Women's Union, Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation and President of the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, in supporting sportswomen and encouraging the participation of women in sports both locally and globally.

Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi said with high focus on sports, the UAE should soon see a women champion.

"We have reached a moment when we have a champion in the UAE," she said mentioning about Michelle Kwan, the two-time US Olympic medalist, who was among the panelist for discussion on 'Empowering Women: Sports and Leadership'.

Noura said greater focus should be there to encourage and promote sports. "The Dubai Fitness Challenge focusses on making everyone practice sport every day. We have to encourage sports 24X7," said the board member of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

The minister said there was a leader in everybody. "We should help youngsters achieve their goals," Noura said noting sports as a 'common responsibility'.

In his address, Minister of State for Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan said: "Women leaders in sports inspire a generation. We should encourage sportswomen. There should be more awareness created about importance and benefits of being a sportswoman. A sportswoman does a lot of good for the society at large."

Minister of State for Youth Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui said the UAE women aren't waiting for opportunities to be presented to them but grabbing wherever it exist.

"It's no rhetoric but a proven fact that women are equal in all fields of work. Women can inspire others. Women are not waiting for opportunities to come by in future but making her own future," said the youngest minister in the world.

The day had panel discussions on topics of empowering women, behavioural changes, and workshops on leadership and making future champions. Day 2 on Tuesday will see further inspirational talks and sessions from top international athletes.



New Coke Ad About Saudi Women Driving Has People Feeling All Kinds Of Ways


A new ad from Coca-Cola features a Saudi dad teaching his daughter how to drive ― and people are having decidedly mixed reactions about it.

The commercial, posted on Nov. 2 on Coca-Cola Middle East’s YouTube page, shows a dad handing his daughter the keys to his car, and then sitting in the passenger seat as she makes several attempts to drive, starting and stopping hesitantly. But once she has a sip of Coke, she peels off down the road with confidence. “Change has a taste,” the ad concludes.

As of Monday, the video had garnered over 60,000 views.

The ad comes five weeks after the conservative Muslim kingdom announced plans to lift its ban on women driving, which will come into effect next June.

Under Saudi law, women still cannot mix freely with men, obtain a passport or leave the country without a male guardian’s permission. They also have to wear an abaya that covers their bodies down to their feet, among other rules.

Others have called out the global soft drink brand for capitalizing on this long-awaited social advancement for women in Saudi Arabia to sell its products:

Others still have compared the ad to Kendall Jenner’s notorious Pepsi ad, which was heavily criticized when it came out in April for capitalizing on recent U.S. protests:

“Coca-Cola is continuing its legacy of celebrating positive social and cultural change in its advertising campaigns by releasing a topical and timely ad in the Middle East,” Omar Bennis, public affairs director at Coca-Cola Middle East, told HuffPost in an emailed statement. “The campaign touches on the brand’s values surrounding diversity and inclusion and aligns with Coca-Cola’s commitment to enable the economic empowerment of women.”

The ad will run in Saudi Arabia but not in the United States, company representatives told HuffPost.

Last month, Coca-Cola announced plans to build a new $100 million bottling plant in Saudi Arabia, according to Arabian Business.

The new ad comes as Saudi Prince Muhammed bin Salman, the nation’s powerful crown prince, continues an ongoing push to modernize Saudi Arabia and improve its image abroad. Last week, the Kingdom announced that women will be allowed into sports stadiums starting in 2018.



Iran: Little girls punished for speaking mother tongue in class

06 November 2017

Pupils of a girls’ primary school near Ahwaz, southern Iran, were punished for speaking their mother tongue in class.

On Iran’s national Student Day, November 4, one of the teachers of Hamza Primary School for Girls, noticed that her pupils were speaking together in Arabic.

So, she yelled at the students and punished them by forcing them to write 100 times, “We should avoid speaking Arabic in class.”

Hamza Primary School is located in Beit Mahareb village in the periphery of Ahwaz where the inhabitants speak Arabic. (Farsi – November 5, 2017)



Iran: Young women and men stage protest in Mashhad University

06 November 2017

Students of Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, northeastern Iran, staged a gathering on November 5, 2017 to protest the horrible quality of food served at the university’s restaurant.

The students had earlier announced that they would refrain from eating the university’s food on November 4 and 5, 2017 as the officials refused to account for the bad quality of food.

After finding worms in the food, Ferdowsi University students decided to continue their protest until they receive a convincing answer.



Women of Turkey’s political parties: More female involvement in politics needed and we work to achieve it

November 3, 2017

The right to run for election and be elected was given to women in Turkey in 1934, making it one of the first countries to grant this right to women. Yet, the country still has the lowest number of females in politics. Despite the many developments implemented to encourage women recently and the fact that all political parties aim to further involve women in their organizational structure, the percentage of women in the parliamentary assembly is still no more than 4 percent. According to the Istanbul heads of the women branches of Turkey's biggest political parties, the main reason for this is women's social and economic struggle, preventing them from having the flexibility to become involved in politics.

Daily Sabah reached out to the Istanbul heads of the women branches of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and asked for more information about women in politics in Turkey. While agreeing on the fact that the number of women in politics is very small and something must be done to change this, all three leaders of the AK Party, CHP and MHP women's branches stressed that their parties do everything necessary to encourage women to participate in politics and yet, despite all these efforts, they are unable to achieve the desired result. Furthermore, these women also agreed that all females in Turkey suffer more from violence than males and should be given the freedom to act upon their own will, adding that the key to overcoming this problem is to unite as the women of Turkey.

AK Party: Reaching women will result in reaching the whole society

"We, as the women's branch of the AK Party, are mostly involved in activities geared toward voters. If you reach the woman of a family, you can effectively reach the youth and the men of the family as well," said fieyma Dö€ücü, the head of the AK Party's women's branch, while describing the duties of the AK Party women's branch.

Turkey's ruling AK Party's organizational structure is based in the capital city of Ankara and, from there, it branches out into every city of Turkey, through which it has organized its local branches. Each branch has its separate women and youth branches as well, which are independent in their internal matters but connected to the main branches in external matters. In Istanbul alone, with 960 neighborhoods and 39 districts, the party has more than 9,000 female members.

Working closely with the Family and Social Policies Ministry, Dö€ücü said that as the women's branch, they aim to solve the concrete problems of women and provide social assistance as well as education. "There is the AK Party Politics Academy [AKSEM]. It also has a women's academy, where women are provided training once a month on the way the government runs as well as other things such as basic politics," she said, highlighting the importance that her party gives to the education of women. Although there is no official quotas for women in party structure, traditionally, at least the 30 percent of AK Party deputy candidates have been women. In order to achieve the system they have today, Dö€ücü said they went to the Netherlands to see how that country has managed to integrate women into politics, doing so before founding the party's organizational structure. "Now, people come from other countries to examine the structure of our party," she added proudly, also saying that it is an advantage to be a woman in the AK Party since women who serve also have the opportunity to serve in politics. "When you do your work properly, it does not matter whether you are a man or a woman," she further added, saying that women should be in places where they can achieve concrete results. "For example, the Education Ministry should be directed by a woman, as women provide proper educations, as a result, raising better generations," she said. According to Dö€ücü, the biggest problem facing women in Turkey is unemployment and economic issues. Still, she says that this happens not because the country's economy is in bad shape but because the needs of the people have changed. "Before, children wanted chocolate but now they want a tablet, which makes everything harder economically," she said in order to highlight the issue.

Regarding violent acts against women based on their choice of clothing, Dö€ücü stressed previous bans on the hijab, saying that in Turkey women suffered immensely from intervention on what they wear. "Yet, we have learned that with violence, nothing can be achieved. We can't aim to be for freedom of thought and at the same time support interference into women's appearances. The words 'violence' and 'women' should not be used together. We have strict laws against violence targeting women but we need to reach the public and teach them how to love. Women are the ones who will bring peace," she said.

On a different note, when asked about how they approach female refugees, Dö€ücü clearly stated that it does not matter whether a woman is a refugee or not, that they try to reach everyone they are able to help. "No woman desires to be away from home even in the worst conditions. This means that if these women are here, it is because they have no other choice but to be here," she said.

CHP: Number of women in politics increases but struggle to exist in politics continues

Arzu Öner, the head of the CHP's women's branch in Istanbul, emphasizes the importance that her party gives to women by saying that the CHP is the party which supported women first by giving them the chance to become involved in politics. "The CHP is the party that gave women the right to elect and be elected and we, alongside our leader, aim to increase the number of women in our party on a daily basis," she said, adding that they are actually making progress in this respect since they are in a better situation compared the past. "Still," she said, "the struggle for women in politics is also increasing, as women do politics when they have concerns for their society and today they have that concern."

The CHP's headquarters is also in Ankara, but every city has its own party branch and all of these branches have their own women's branch that is connected to the headquarters. The towns in the cities similarly also have their own branches and women's branches.

The main duties of the CHP's women's branch, according to Öner, is to conduct activities that address the problems of women in Turkish society and also have the responsibility to introduce the party to the public to gain public favor, resulting in an election win.

"The responsibility of the party has been in line with how we see our responsibilities in the society. We conduct activities such as courses on the literacy, handcraft to help women connect and make it easier for them to get of the house and socialize," Öner said, adding that according to the party's code, there is the 33 percent quota for women, which means that at least 33 percent of party deputy candidates should be women. Also, she indicated, "During elections, in every electoral district, female candidates from the CHP have been placed on top of the ranks by the CHP authorities to guarantee that they will be elected as deputies."

Stating that as the CHP's women's branch works with multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and municipalities, Öner further added that they have international connections as well - like the Socialist International. According to Öner, women worldwide experience similar problems and, for this reason, a common language should be found to reach a common solution through such NGOs. "Women's problems are never a priority for men," Öner said, stating that the male-centered perspective of society should change to overcome the problems affecting women.

Yet, when it comes to the biggest problem facing women in Turkey, Öner pointed to violence against women.

"In the last four months, 127 women have been murdered, which means that every day more than one woman is killed. Why is this happening? Because, they decide for themselves. For example, they want to get a divorce and this leads to them being killed by their husband. Yet, this is a personal reason. The social reason behind this situation is the fact that there is no awareness of gender equality," Öner stated.

She went on to say that the difference between women, their appearance, what they wear or how they act is not a problem between women. "This is a problem for men. They use this as a political means for gains. As long as they benefit from these debates, they will not end them. No one can decide what a woman will wear or not, but herself. Women need to learn to act together in this matter. Women are the only ones who can put an end to these discriminatory policies," Öner said, referring to recent acts of violence toward women due to their clothes.

Lastly, Öner described the situation of refugee women as being an example of humanitarian shame. "CHP women reach out to as many women as they can. Peace is another name of women. So, the CHP supports every woman who fled war in their country in search of peace," she said about the issue.

MHP: Returning to our roots would balance the equation between men and women

The organizational structure of the MHP is different from that of other parties, since there is no women's branch separate from the main branch. Gülbeyhan Saylağ, the head of the MHP Istanbul branch committee that is responsible for women and family and is the deputy of the provincial head, says this gives women the freedom to be in every part of the party without any restrictions. For similar reasons, there is no quota stipulated by the party for increasing female participation. Sayla€ defines the atmosphere of the party organizations as a family that depends on their ideological unity, which prevents any discrimination between men and women in the party.

"We try to involve women in politics by solving both personal and social problems that may prevent them from working in politics. For example, when a woman has a child to take care of, she brings her child to party meetings and someone from the party takes care of the child while the mother attends the meeting," Sayla€ said, regarding the participation of women in the MHP.

She also said there are women's discussion meetings in which the problems of women are discussed and solutions are found.

"The percentage of women in politics in Turkey is 4 percent. The main reason behind this is the fact that Turkish society still does not accept that individuals who have different physiological features can perform the same jobs. How can we overcome this? If we return to our roots in ancient Turkish empires, then the equality between men and women can be established once again. Women should be given the right to act upon their own will," Sayla€ said when asked about the low percentage of women in the politics of Turkey.

"The place of women in the political party should be considered the same as their place in society. If women make up 51 percent of the Turkish population, we cannot claim that our democracy is working properly unless this same rate is achieved in the assembly as well. The number of women in our party might be small, but it is not like 500 women have applied and we only chose one of them. Women do not become involved in politics due to the problems they face," she further added.

According to Sayla€, the biggest problem that women face in the world is violence. "What we, as the MHP, understand from violence is that the women do not get same opportunities as men in social, economic and political realms, leading women to be excluded from these worlds. There is physical violence, economic violence and social violence and when all of these come together they cause the political violence," Sayla€ said, while indicating that they implement projects that aim to prevent violence before it occurs.

"On March 8, we started a project to create awareness of violence in society and to prevent it with the participation of our party's branch that is responsible for women and family as well as the law branch alongside all the lawyer members of the party," she added, while expressing that there should be a permanent commission in the assembly that is above all political parties to solve this issue.




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