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Turkish women's organization looks back on two decades of progress

For more than two decades, an organization in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast called KAMER has led the uphill struggle to empower women and challenge often deadly social norms in these patriarchal and war-torn communities.

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey — In the mid-1990s, at the height of the conflict between Kurdish militants and the security forces, violence became a daily reality in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. Amid the bloody clashes, extrajudicial killings and disappearances of detainees, other rampant problems in the region — violence against women, honor killings and early marriage — received little media coverage and public attention. One Kurdish woman, however, resolved to break the wall of apathy and offer women a ray of hope. The widow of a victim of an unresolved political killing, retired teacher Nebahat Akkoc, dedicated her life to the struggle for women’s rights, taking aim at die-hard patriarchal norms and women’s own submission.

Akkoc and her fellow activists set to work in 1996, conducting surveys among women to better identify and document their problems. The following year, they established the Women’s Consultation Center (KAMER) in Diyarbakir, the largest city of the southeast. Helping victims of domestic violence and protecting women whose lives were in danger for “staining” family honor became the focus of KAMER’s work in its early years. The center soon emerged as a rescuer of scores of women who suffered violence, fell victim to rape or feared death at the hands of relatives seeking to “cleanse” their family honor.

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