In collaboration with the Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi, Indialogue Foundation organised a talk by Prof Sophia Pandya on “Women and Political Turmoil in the Middle East” at the Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi on 5th December 2018.
Prof Pandya is a faculty member at the Department of Religious Studies, California State University, USA.
She initiated her lecture by posing the question, ‘Can Women’s Activism during Conflict Lead to Lasting Change in their Status?’ She has done extensive fieldwork on the status and experience of women in the Middle East, particularly in Turkey and Yemen.
She talked about the ongoing political persecution in Turkey against the participants of Hizmet/Gülen Movement, thousands of whom are women. She said that around 18,000 women are being held behind bars in Turkey, a lot of them as hostages to force their husbands to surrender.
With regards to Yemen, she explained through her case studies how the prolonged war in the country has given rise to sexual and gender-based violence against women.
During the moments of when there were no wars, women with education were actively involved in spreading the messages and uprising their voices against the corrupt government and strategies of Yemen and Turkey. However, in times of war, or post-war situations, women were targeted in large numbers. Women were forced to stay in fear and under the threat caused by people with hyper-masculinity.
While presenting the stories of victimized women, Prof Pandya highlighted the poor conditions of women in the Middle East, especially in Yemen and Turkey. In Turkey, human rights violations have increased to the extent that around 16000-20000 women were held in prison as hostages to coerce their male relatives to return to Turkey from abroad, and as an intimidation technique to silence dissent among their families. Moreover, in order to keep the dictatorship, they blamed a botched coup attempt on the Hizmet/Gulen Movement and seized the opportunity to throw anyone in jail who raised a voice against the corrupt government.
The persistent cycle of order, disorder, and reorder of society in Turkey and Yemen have disturbed the lives of the people, especially women, that they have been consistently violated, sexually harassed, raped, and in order to have complete control over women, men in power or conservative people of the community have reduced the age of marriage for the women. Young girls aging 14 or 14+ were married to men of 30 or 30+ years old. However, with the decreasing ability and immunity of girls to rear and bear children, they face real life-threatening problems with regard to health. Some women do raise their voices against these kinds of policies and laws, yet their voices are ignored, due to which some women choose to flee away from the country and restore their lives in other countries.
Thus, Prof Pandya concluded her presentation with the view to support social inclusion and social transformation to restore lives back together again towards healing.
The presentation was followed by a very engaging and interactive discussion among audiences wherein many scholars and professors raised the questions, which were addressed by Prof Pandya with her expertise.