Women and Conscientious Objection: Ferda’s Story
In an extract reproduced from WRI's 2010 anthology of women conscientious objectors, Ferda Ülker, a feminist, LGBT, and antimilitarist activist, as well as one of the first women to declare herself a conscientious objector in Turkey, explains how she came to make the decision to do so in 2005, and the gender dynamics she encountered along the way. Her declaration itself is also included.
Conscientious objection has been associated with men who declare themselves conscientious objectors. The issue has been molded and defined by them, most importantly by the compulsory military service duty they face. We women saw ourselves not as agents but supporters of the struggle. As we got involved however, we started to see the crucial importance of women's inclusion in the conscientious objectors' struggle. On the other hand, it still took us a long time to find the courage to say ‘yes, here we are’. One of the reasons for this may be the militarist culture which has had its effect on us. Having been raised in this cultural environment, even when we participate in oppositional movements, we may fail to get rid of the marks of it. We get fearful as women even when we are a part of the oppositional movement's gatherings. When we come up with a claim and need to make it, we wait to make our point intact, clear enough to deny any space for discussion. But time passes while we wait.
We failed to argue that conscientious objection is not an area limited and peculiar to men, that if accepted as such this might lead us into sexism and that conscientious objection, though it points to the army and military duty, still necessitates a broader perspective. It has taken a considerable amount of time for women to pluck up our courage and come out with our views. On May 15, 2004, at the first 'Militourism' gathering in Turkey, five women friends declared their conscientious objection. Their courage despite the criticisms levelled at them, which implied 'OK, what is it to do with you?' encouraged more of us to declare our conscientious objections later on. Currently, there are 62 conscientious objectors in Turkey and 13 of them are women. These numbers may seem small but when the short history of this struggle and the effect of militarist culture are taken into account, it is not to be underestimated.
What happened to make women pluck up their courage and 'come out' as conscientious objectors? In my opinion, the main reason for this was that we reached a point where we had to decide whether we wanted to stand up and be counted. What we were fighting for was more than to be associated solely with demanding exemptions from military service for conscientious objector men. It would be possible to broaden the agenda of conscientious objection only through the appearance of women in the struggle and questions being asked. Yet we were expecting a difficult process and we were waiting for the suitable time. For me the right time came when some ‘pioneer’ women appeared and came out before me. For those five women, on the other hand, the right time was the National Tourism Festivity preparations which had taken a great deal of time and which had excited all of us. That all five women had decided to acknowledge their objection together can be accounted for by their togetherness encouraging them. We knew that there would be many 'why' questions but we had come up with and matured our answers to such questions over the past years. The time had come.
Men still try to explain women’s role in the conscientious objection movement as her being a wife, sister, or mother to a male conscientious objector. This view has been generally accepted. Even if no such connection exists, men say 'maybe the woman has a close friend among male conscientious objectors'. But obviously all these reasons for women’s involvement in the conscientious objection movement define women's existence as necessarily relative to men. Our declarations elaborate why we are here, in the struggle, on our own terms. Of course we support the stances of male conscientious objectors refusing to comply with compulsory military service, as everybody else sensitive to the issue does. But what we do primarily is make visible the militarism which penetrates all sectors of social life and social relations. We want it to be clearly visible, so that we can fight against it.
Since I have defined myself as an anti-militarist and a feminist, naturally, I believe I am an objector. By means of this declaration, I turn this 'informal' situation into a 'formal' situation!
The conscientious objection movement is not only a struggle against 'compulsory conscription'. This expression includes a wider dimension. And we, women, have a bigger voice and status, than only being a 'supporter' of the movement. Conscientious objection is the direct opposition of militarism and every aspect it entails. Militarist thought does not only remain within the border of the military, but it envisions a military world that affects daily life. And in this world, women are degraded and disregarded. Her status is always positioned behind, even though occasionally circumstances require her to further her position. Its terms are: authority, hierarchy, and obedience.
These expressions are very familiar and significant to us, women.
These are the well known barriers of a world that continuously pushes us back. Militarism is always like an unannounced and shameless guest in every aspect of life, especially for women living in this geography; in the streets, at home, at work, in our relationships, at our fields of struggle, and everywhere.
I declare that, today, as much as before, I shall defy every secret and obvious form of militarism and to show solidarity with anyone who defies militarism.
As much as militarism is determined to affect my life, I am determined to continue my struggle.