The Feminist Caravan met the Campus Witches in Antakya in March 2016.
This article is a translation of the one published in Lower Class Magazin. You can find it here
“THEY’RE RIGHT TO BE AFRAID: THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING!”
APRIL 3, 2016: An interview with activists from Campus Witches (Kampüs Cadıları)
On Tuesday, a group of feminists from Ankara University attacked a tough guy who had sexually assaulted a whole series of victims. Despite widespread approval, scathing criticism was also heard, asking why so much violence? Can’t the situation be resolved by peaceful means? The debate was reproduced in mainstream Turkish media like Cumhuriyet and Hürriyet, and even in the British press via the Daily Mirror. Max Zirngast interviewed the Kampüs Cadıları activists who were heavily involved in the action.
Last Tuesday, an incident occurred at Ankara University’s Faculty of Language, History and Geography when a group of women attacked a male classmate. A video and comments on the incident quickly spread across Turkey, first in the social media and then through various newspapers and television channels, and even some mainstream media. You yourselves participated in the action. Can you tell us exactly what happened? And give us your interpretation of reactions to the incident?
This is what happened: one of our friends wanted to break up with her boyfriend, Ersel Çetin, another student at our school. But he did not accept the break-up. Instead, he showed up at her home uninvited, wanting to have sex. She refused, and he became violent and sexually assaulted her. In addition, he has also made insulting remarks about women to various media. After what happened to our friend became public, we learned that other women had been physically and sexually assaulted by this man.
10 days ago, our friend explained the situation to us and asked us for help. So we sounded the alarm among the school’s feminists and talked about what we could do. We then gave the man in question a warning, but he continued his violence and harassment of women, so we denounced him publicly. On Tuesday, March 29, we exercised our legitimate right to self-defense against Ersel Çetin who, despite our warnings, had not stopped his reprehensible behavior and who even sat at a table behind us to taunt us.
When we headed over toward him, the other students there encouraged us with thundering applause. After the incident, a lot of people on campus came up to thank us. A large number of women have reached out to us, telling us about all of the violence and harassment they suffer at the hands of men and asking to join forces with us to fight the patriarchal world order and denounce the perpetrators of sexual harassment.
Now let’s look at why our self-defense action generated all of this agitation… Although at least 300 women are killed each year in Turkey, it is still a common practice for convicted men to get time off for repentance or good behavior. Women bear the burden of proof of their harassment or rape before the courts, yet these are acts that typically take place in private and are difficult to prove. As a result, it is often decided that the incidents took place with the woman’s “consent,” shifting all of the blame on her.
And as if that were not enough, government representatives are constantly belittling women’s bodies and gender, paving the way for policy that relegates women to the background. In a recent scandal, it was revealed that the Ensar Foundation, which enjoys the government’s moral and material support, hired a teacher who had raped at least 45 children over several years. But the minister in charge of reporting back on the matter went so far as to say that “in many cases, it has already been proven that nothing happened.” In this country, from the State to the media, by way of the education and justice systems, it would seem that the mission of institutions is to legitimize and protect men and the patriarchy. And this for countless reasons. As a result, when women are assaulted, they can only rely on themselves for protection. Our self-defense actions showcase women’s courage and let them know they’re not alone.
In parallel to the communications about our self-defense action and the support that we received, critics also voiced their opinions. Some responded with a justification of rape culture, while others out-and-out threatened us. But we don’t take that too seriously and are not afraid of their threats. On the contrary, we are fully aware that these men, who are so self-satisfied with the patriarchal system they have built for themselves, are panic-stricken at the thought that their system could be weakened by a group of girls. And they’re right to be afraid and to panic, because this is only the beginning! To be honest, the reason the reactions to our action have gained such momentum is, above all, because the current situation of women has, quite simply, become intolerable.
Our problem is not men in general, but rather patriarchal ideology and its concrete manifestations. We condemn a judicial system that protects men and punishes women. We’ve lost all hope in a judiciary that glorifies masculinity instead of protecting women. This is why we will continue to employ our methods of self-defense until women are no longer harassed or abused, and until women are respected.
We will also be continuing our action in the form of self-defense classes in cities across Turkey in the months to come.
Can you tell us more about your organization, Kampüs Cadıları? When did you create it and why did you choose that name?
Kampüs Cadıları – or Campus Witches – is an independent organization created by students in 2013. We founded it with the aim of getting together to resolve the women’s gender-based problems in student dorms, classes, on campus and on the street, and to unite, in a movement of solidarity, against harassment, rape and violence.
We deliberately decided to call ourselves witches because, in the Middle Ages, women who fought the patriarchy and its scientific discourse that rejected the legitimacy of nature were treated as witches by the Church and the Monarchy, and were tortured and burned at the stake. Today’s patriarchal mentality, which denies the value of women and relegates them to the background, is not fundamentally different from the mentality of the Middle Ages, when women rebelled against the patriarchy and were burned alive for their trouble. We are continuing in this resistance, like the great-great-great-great-granddaughters of the witches they failed to weed out back in the day.
What do you do besides self-defense actions?
Women have the right to protect themselves from the violence of men. They need to wrest the power to make decisions about their own bodies from the hands of men. But we can see that the State and the judicial system do not do enough to fulfill their mission of protecting women against men. This is why we offer self-defense classes so women can protect themselves against violence and feminicide, whose numbers continue to grow.
In reality, though, self-defense actions are only one part of what we do. We also conduct our fight, as women, against the patriarchal system at the mental level, raising awareness by basing our practices on solid theoretical foundations. In this arena, we organize exchanges of experience, debates on ideas from articles and books, and discussions of current policy.
Universities, like any other sector of society, tend to reproduce the patriarchal value system, making them fertile ground for women’s political combat. Consequently, we reject a system of education that imposes gender roles and that fosters sexist stereotypes, through textbooks and other materials, both in universities and other institutions. As an alternative, we demand classes that openly discuss the roles that are socially attributed to each gender.
Additionally, we campaign for corrective measures to be taken against gender-based discriminatory behaviors in schools and universities, particularly the humiliating, repressive actions taken against teachers and students for any differences in gender identity, and for the perpetrators of those actions to be sanctioned. We also believe that students and teachers need to be informed about harassment and sexual abuse. And, as mentioned before, we stand by women against sexual harassment, rape and violence in universities by exercising our right to self-defense and through public denunciations.
As young female students, we face another major problem: the discriminatory handling of disciplinary issues in student dorms, which penalizes women as compared to men. We are subject to a different curfew than men and to much stricter controls going in and out of the dorms by requiring daily sign-ins, under penalty of the female students’ parents being immediately informed if they miss a curfew, etc.
The campus is a place where women live, and the dorms are a part of that campus. As a result, we demand that female students be allowed free access to their dorms and be able to enjoy life on campus under the same conditions as their male counterparts.
Is there anything else you want to overcome?
The difficult road ahead – that of overcoming a patriarchal system that was gradually built up over the course of millennia and of imagining a march toward freedom – may seem like a pipe dream, given the current conditions, and this road will undoubtedly bring its share of major disappointments and despair for those of us who aren’t satisfied with just imagining that freedom and who deliberately, voluntarily and courageously take the first steps down that road. That is the price we have to pay, and we need to see it as a natural part of the process, without giving in to panic.
This is the road that any woman who wants to fight for freedom without sinking into despair must take. We are not the “other” to a man’s “self”: we are our own selves, and the organization that we have created together to free women from thousands of years of oppression and to establish a generation of free young women will need to promote the practices that lead toward self-liberation and self-construction.
And so, we are on this road as the Campus Witches, a self-organized group that unites female students’ capacity for action and their courage and that reinforces the bonds of solidarity between them. The road will be long and arduous, but not insurmountable.
* Translated from Turkish to German by Max Zirngast and Alp Kayserilioglu.
Translated to English by Laurel Clausen