Diyarbakır women get on their bikes against discrimination
At a time when emergency rule restrictions have begun to be imposed in ever-harsher ways and no permission is given for public marches, the women of Diyarbakır have got onto their bikes to increase awareness of the different forms of violence they face in their everyday lives. For some it was their first activism on two wheels.
Women pedalled through a sea of supportive whistles and horns from onlookers on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, giving messages of solidarity and showing their opposition to increasing numbers of child brides, attacks on women’s identities, violence and sexual abuse.
“We just want to live as women. Not only physical violence, we are against any kind of psychological aggression as well,” Çilem Akkaya, one of the founders of Amed Women’s Cycle Club, told Ahval. “Being a woman here is as difficult as in other parts of the world. In the male-dominated social sphere in Diyarbakir, being a woman on a bike is even more challenging.”
Amed Women’s Cycle Club, which was set up by teachers’ trade union Eğitim-Sen earlier on this year, has so far brought together hundreds of women who have never cycled with those keen to teach. They need their strength in numbers: Diyarbakir is notorious for its dangerous drivers.
Many of the bicycle handles were covered with white fabrics bearing powerful and humorous messages in Kurdish and Turkish, such as “leave the house filthy”, “of course we are resisting”, “no to violence against women”, “we are not afraid”, “peace, women, freedom” and “murdering women is political.”
“Riding a bike is not only a sporting activity, but also an independent stand in life,” adds Akkaya. When she opened a bicycle repair shop, she broke a taboo on women in Diyarbakir going into the profession, as well as beginning to teach other women voluntarily how to ride bikes.
Zeynep Aykat also took part in the women's ride, and said it was “effective” in drawing attention to “how the streets have become less welcoming for women in Diyarbakir”.
“Bikes are also a reminder of ecological life, of which women are a great part,” Aykat said. “I think this is one of the most appropriate ways to show how women are part of nature, and hence cannot be excluded from any sphere of daily life.”
She said that every woman was in one way or another a victim of violence in Diyarbakir, adding: “We lived through the war. The system always hits women first with its attacks, as they are seen easy targets. It is our historic duty to show we are resilient and call on other women to join us.”
Carrying a women's symbol on her bicycle, Pınar Akyıldız Çetin, who carried a women's symbol on her bicycle, shared the difficulties she had experienced on the roads.
“Whether in cars or on bikes, women are harassed and experience sexual abuse,” she said. “That's why we gave our message on wheels to say that women exist in traffic and everywhere else in the world.”
Çetin thinks the group used the mobility of bicycles very effectively to deliver messages of solidarity across the city, where unemployment-related violence against women is thought to be high. She says that when teachers were previously expelled from their work, they organised a bike tour in solidarity with them. Also, when a new law on rape was debated in the Turkish Parliament, women-only riders once again took to their wheels.
Many on their bicycles seem to be resilient, though some of them are struggling to pay their rents due to job losses after the coup attempt last July.
Çetin says some of their group have become even more vulnerable due to financial situations and have been left either staying at home and coping with their partner's anger or stepping outside to work in underpaid temporary employment.
“But we pedal together as a form of rebellion to stop women's exploitation,” she said.
A recent report on gender-based violence by the Diyarbakır Human Rights Association documented 11 women who committed suicide, 35 suffering domestic violence and another 10 experiencing violence over the last twelve months across Southeast Turkey.