International Theoretical Seminar on Women’s Liberation in Bangalore dedicated to Sakine Cansiz

by The Region    


Between December 4th and 6th, the International Theoretical Seminar on Women’s Liberation took place in the Indian city of Bangalore, where hundreds of women met to discuss perspectives for women’s liberation. The three-day seminar was dedicated to Sakine Cansız, a pioneering leader and martyr of the Kurdish Freedom Movement, as well as Gauri Lankesh, a critical Indian journalist, who was assassinated by fascists in Bangalore in 2017. The seminar was attended by around 200 women from 16 different countries, including representatives of the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement. The delegates shared their struggle experiences and ideological perspectives for the liberation of women. The decision to organize a theoretical seminar of this kind had been taken at the 2nd World Women’s Conference, which took place in 2016 in Nepal.

‘We need to struggle differently’

Each day of the seminar, organized by members of the World Women’s Conference of Grassroots Women, started with a theoretical input speech that was followed by broad discussions. The first keynote speech was given by the general secretary of the All-India Revolutionary Women’s Organization (AIRWO), Sharmistha Choudhury, who stressed that the attacks on women in today’s day and age reached the stage of constituting an epidemic. At the same time, she stressed, women were struggling and fighting back more powerfully than ever before. Stating that violence against women must not be treated in isolation from general societal, economic and political conditions, Choudhury described the terrifying scope and dimensions of patriarchal violence in India in the recent years. She said: “What is the root of this violence? That is what we should really focus on. As Indian women, we stage large-scale protests against this violence, but we often fail to achieve lasting change with our protests. That indicates that we need a different kind of struggle”. Choudhury emphasized that in order for patriarchy to be defeated, class and state ought to be overcome. Calling on all left, democratic and revolutionary movements to work together, she said that “women’s liberation is connected to women’s place in social production”. Moreover, she argued that women must carry feminism into all leftist organizations, that women’s liberation and class struggle are dialectical processes, and that there is a need for independent and autonomous women’s organizations.

‘Women need a liberation ideology’

The second day of the conference began with a speech about the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement’s struggle experiences and theoretical approaches. Meral Çiçek, representative of the Kurdish Women’s Relations Office (REPAK) and Dilar Dirik, from the International Representation of the Kurdish Women’s Movement, held a joint speech to this end. Their keynote began with a description of the life and struggle of Sakine Cansız in the Kurdish women’s struggle. Stressing that women have played important roles in revolutionary anti-colonial, socialist and national liberationist revolutions in the 20th century, but often failed to secure their gains or demands in the long run, Çiçek and Dirik explained that the Kurdish Freedom Movement does not view the gender issue as a secondary issue, but in fact as the root of other issues. The presentation introduced the imprisoned Kurdish people’s leader Abdullah Öcalan as the architect of the women’s liberation efforts in Kurdistan and explained the parameters through which class and gender were analysed throughout the paradigmatic transformation period in the movement. The representatives of the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement, stressed the importance of radical gender and class struggles within revolutionary movements by providing examples. They explained that a strong women’s liberation struggle requires a deep analysis of masculinity as a system. By providing the movement’s experiences in its “Project for the Transformation of Men”, the presentation proposed the overcoming of masculinity as a system as a fundamental principle of socialism. The speakers explained the gains that were made with the different stages of Kurdish women’s autonomous and separate organization and provided an overview of their movement’s concepts, projects and notions, such as the “break-off theory”, “total divorce”, as well as the Women’s Liberation Ideology. Asserting that liberation cannot be postponed to an uncertain period “after the revolution”, the speech underlined that “each quest for liberation must put women’s liberation at its centre. Because the women’s question is neither a secondary issue, not a side contradiction, but in fact ‘the mother of all issues.’"

‘Separate and autonomous organization is essential’

Providing concrete examples from the practical mechanisms that came about as a result of the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement’s ideological and theoretical analyses in the recent years, Çiçek and Dirik claimed that in order for women to play historic, pioneering roles in revolutionary movements, they need autonomous and separate forms of organization. They said: “An end of patriarchy is possible. After all, it constitutes the shortest period in history. We can overcome it by realizing the 2nd women’s revolution everywhere. Without such a radical women’s revolution, liberating life from all forms of exploitation, enslavement, violence, and oppression will not be possible. But it is also not possible to make revolution with enslaved women. The extent to which society can be deeply transformed is determined by the extent of the transformation attained by women. The level of woman’s freedom and equality determines the freedom and equality of all sections of society.”

'The petty-bourgeois mode of thinking is the main obstacle’

The last day of the seminar began with a keynote speech by the ICOR general coordinator Monika Gaertner-Engels from Germany, as well as the World Women’s Conference European Coordinator Halinka Augustin. The joint speech was read by Halinka Augustin, because Monika Gaertner-Engels was unable to attend the event in person, as she was obliged to attend a court hearing of a case filed against her in Germany for holding a YPG flag in a demonstration against the Turkish state’s invasion of Afrin. The speech pointed out that women’s greatest achievements were obtained through revolutionary unity. Centring Marx and Engels’ concept of double production in relation to women, the contribution asserted that women’s and men’s conditions for liberation would only become possible in a socialist society. The speech underlined that the petty-bourgeois mode of thinking constitutes the main obstacle to liberation, an aspect that bourgeois feminism is guilty of. The presentation criticized the Kurdish Women’s Liberation Movement’s approach that takes the women’s question at its centre by analysing women as the first class in history and stressed that exploitation began with the emergence of private property.

‘We can learn from the Kurdish women’s movement’

Participants from Africa and Asia especially expressed their desire to exchange and learn from the experiences and approaches of the Kurdish women’s struggle. They expressed their curiosity and solidarity and asked many different questions regarding methodology, theory and practice. Meanwhile, the participants from Germany, emphasizing the meaning and importance of the struggle of Kurdish women, stated their belief that the main enemy is not patriarchy, but rather imperialism.

‘There is a need for deeper discussion’

Summarizing the discussions, REPAK representative Meral Çiçek, claimed that the members of the World Women’s Conference need to increase platforms for theoretical and ideological debates to deepen their discussions regarding concepts and theory. Stating that terms such as gender issue, class struggle, revolution and revolutionary are understood in a variety of different ways, Çiçek continued in the following manner: “As organized women, we ought to question and challenge the effects of dogmatism on our own thinking. We must be able to discuss openly, but we can only do so by developing a language and culture of discussion that is removed from masculinity.” The seminar ended with revolutionary women’s songs and traditional dances from different countries, including resistance songs from Rojava. The final resolution of the seminar is expected to be released in the coming days.