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Zozan Ozgokce, woman activist

Rural Van - Copyright © by ESI
Rural Van

Even in Van, there are cautious signs of change, such as the influence of activists like Zozan Ozgokce.

On 9 April 2004, Ozgokce and six other women formally established VAKAD (Van Kadin Dernegi) [Van Women's Association] to offer support to victims of family violence. With ten staff and a network of 30 volunteers, they provide advice and training cours Even in Van, there are cautious signs of change. The influence of women activists like Zozan Ozgokce is one such change.

On 9 April 2004, Ozgokce and six other women formally established VAKAD (Van Kadin Dernegi) [Van Women's Association] to offer support to victims of family violence. With ten staff and a network of 30 volunteers, they provide advice and training courses. One of their goals is to help Kurdish women overcome their reluctance to deal with state institutions (many Kurdish women in the region do not speak Turkish). One study by WWHR found that 57 percent of women in Eastern Turkey had experienced physical violence, but only 1.2 percent had notified the police and 0.2 percent had filed a complaint.

VAKAD is not the only such organization in Van today. Yakakop – the first women's NGO to be established in Van town – organises training courses for women on health issues and basic skills. "No woman ever left the house without a man from the family"', Gulmay Ertunen remembers from her own time as a young bride. Now she runs Yakakop. Yakakop began with a small World Bank grant. Ertunen struggled for months to persuade husbands to permit their wives to leave home alone to attend the courses. It took the intervention of the local imam to reassure the men that Yakakop was an 'honourable' organisation.

The political environment for these activities is also difficult. Zozan Ozgokce explains that some women's organisations in Ankara and Istanbul resist her attempts to raise the specifically Kurdish cultural context for gender inequality. "They tell me not to create a hierarchy of victimisation, arguing that 'we are all women and need to struggle together'." Yet from within Van, VAKAD is at times denounced as a missionary agency or agent of foreign interests, owing to the funds it receives from international sources, including the European Union. Upon her return from a CEDAW meeting in New York, word spread through the town that Ozgokce was carrying bibles in her suitcase. In fact, they were brochures by international women's organisations. Conservative circles attack her for undermining families and for generating negative publicity for the town. She has received death threats from the families of the women she supports.

September 2007

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