UNISON’s women leaders raise concerns about femicide and violence against women in Turkey

The Union of Public Sector Employees’ (UNISON’s) Falkirk Branch Chair Margaret Cook and UNISON Women’s Network Chair Pat Heron spoke to Yeni Özgür Politika about the work of women’s trade unionists in the United Kingdom and their project of women’s solidarity with Kurdish women activists against misogyny in Turkey. Heron also stated: “We should also make the British government impose sanctions on Turkey”.

Cook stated that more than 130 United Kingdom (UK) women trade union members signed a petition: “I hope the signature campaign will not just remain on paper, but turn into an action, so that misogyny in Britain and all around to world can be brought to the agenda. Misogyny is a universal issue and the approach should be universal as well”.

The petition – signed by leading activist campaigners, including Margaret Cook, Pat Heron, Kim Hall (Branch Secretary for Northern Ireland – UNISON), Margaret McKee (Chair of the International Committee – UNISON) and Michelle Stanistreet (General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists) * Called on trade unions in the UK to:
* Write to the UK government to raise concerns with the Turkish government.
* Send solidarity messages to our sister unions in Turkey.
* Seek an urgent meeting with the Turkish Ambassador to call on the Turkish government to maintain the country’s support for the Istanbul Convention and to take action to end Femicide and violence against women.

The petition also noted the following concerns: “In Turkey, the lives of women no longer seem to matter. As each day produces more reports of women being murdered, of women being raped by security personnel and of men being released from detention after committing serious crimes against women, the Turkish government plans to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention which commits governments to tackle violence against women and provide resources for victims of domestic abuse. Over 250 women have been murdered in Turkey this year, and the figure rises almost every day. These include murders by partners, fathers, brothers and members of police and army. These deaths are not the only story. Violence towards women has been rising in all areas with the authorities often ignoring this or excusing it. Women have been advised to keep themselves safe and not to provoke their partner”.

It emphasized that “the abuse of women by security personnel is particularly a feature against Kurdish women and women active in the women’s movement, trade unions and opposition political parties”.

Commenting on the debates in Turkey regarding the Istanbul Convention, Cook – in her interview with Yeni Özgür Politika – said: “I think this petition might have an impact on the full implementation of the Istanbul Convention in Turkey. The violence the women face in Turkey is considered seriously in the United Kingdom. We, in the UK, must put pressure on Turkey to comply with the Istanbul Convention”.

Cook has been actively working with Kurdish solidarity groups in order to promote international women’s solidarity. “We always discuss how we can stop the increasing violence against women in Turkey. We will continue to support the women’s struggle and voice. I also believe that Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom would have a positive reaction regarding women’s freedom, because Kurdish women see him as their leader”.

Pat Heron also spoke about women’s initiatives within UNISON and the situation in the UK. “We have taken significant steps towards women’s rights and freedoms in the UK, as well as the UK’s membership in the European Union (EU). However, the UK leaves the EU now and we are not quite sure how this might reflect on our work. We have been through a tough period here in the UK in terms of women’s rights and the rates of domestic violence against women was indeed very high. Right now, we have the Equality Acts which legally protect women regardless of their skin colour or sexual orientation. We believe that this act protects basic women’s rights”.

The petition launched in the UK parliament will draw attention to the increasing violence against women in Turkey. Heron shared the information that five MP’s have signed the petition, but she stated that: “We should work with our political parties, reach out to all women, to all our family members and to all fellow companions in our movements to collect more signatures from more MP’s”.

Noting the significance of campaign of “100 Reasons to Prosecute the Dictator” by the Kurdish Women’s Movement – Europe (TJK-E), which can be signed online, Heron clarified: “It is not just about highlighting the actuality of what is happening in Turkey to the workers’ party or to union circles, but to all people throughout Britain. In order for the campaign to be effective, we should also make the British government impose sanctions on Turkey. We should give voice to the campaign and let the world hear about it for all the women in Kurdistan. And we will continue to raise the voices of the women in the UK”.