8th of March- We Want To Live
Inspired by the Azerbaijan Feminist Movement and the feminist revolution in Iran
Each year, we commemorate women’s historical resistance on the 8th of March, to celebrate and manifest the struggle for our lives and rights today. This time we situate our feminist thinking and bodies as a constant and collective composition to reflect on what we have gone through the last one year. In the heat of feminist protests across our regions, we observe the potentiality for setting new trajectories and strategies for resisting and politicizing our collective sadness and suffering.
Permanent wars and crisis
One more year full of wars, escalations, and disasters haunted our region and our geographical proximity. As expectations for a peace agreement around Nagorno-Karabakh gradually annihilated, the conflict situation deteriorated. In September 2022 a full-blown attack on Armenia, followed by a blockade of the Lachin corridor in December 2022 and current tensions around the corridor with the aim to disarm the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh and set the Azerbaijani check-points on the border vanished all the prospects for a fragile peace. Corporate clashes over the mining resources in Karabakh shamelessly revealed that colonial capitalist expansion is one of the mere culprits of the permanency of the war. As these transnational corporations compete over dispossession and looting of our common lands and resources, the regimes patronising them, keep militarizing and securitizing anyone that seems to seize their power and control. As feminists, we tried to voice our opposition and show resistance to end this hegemony. While amidst the total public support for militarism and ethnonationalism, our opinion created a difference, we must accept that it was a drop in the ocean.
We were targeted as peace voices, marginalized and threatened again, but we demand #WeWantToLive in peace!
The wars and disasters were not intrinsic only to the Caucasus. The devastating invasion of Ukraine by Russia continued. This attack shattered and questioned all our values and perceptions about militarism, nationalism and struggle. We questioned the limits of anti-militarism and anti-nationalism for small states amidst the rise of neo-imperialist appetites in the neighbourhood. While Ukrainian feminists mobilized against the existential crisis and demanded arms for self-defence questioning the idea of feminist pacifism, feminists in Russia also demonstrated a collective resistance that became one of the most well-organized anti-war movements in Russia.
We join the struggles of our Ukrainian and Russian sisters and repeat #WeWantToLive in peace!
Another disaster which stroke our region was a recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria, where millions of people were affected, and a hundred thousand died and were injured. Women and queer people were the most affected without having access to proper health services, and sanitary pads, becoming the first target of gender-based violence and immediate victims of the government’s inability to timely respond to the consequences of the disaster.
Today, we stand in solidarity with our Turkish and Syrian sisters and repeat with them #WeWantToLive in peace!
Lastly, we were inspired by the feminist revolution that set off in Iran as women hijacked the streets to respond to the gendered oppression of the regime over the decades. The protests that started with the state femicide of Jina/Mahsa Amini, gave a new meaning to “life” as resistance. The transversality of feminist struggles with class struggles was reapproved once the compulsory hijab was not seen outside of class rule and capitalist patriarchy. Only then did "the beginning of the end" of the 44-year-old regime commenced as protests became massive and radical. Since the start of the protests, the bodies of hundreds and thousands of women have become a new battlefield for the regime as it extensively punishes and oppresses anyone standing up for their rights. While the regime’s tyranny and cruelty expand as it tried to hold on to its power, the fight for the life of women and feminized bodies in Iran continues.
We join the feminist resistance of our sisters in Iran on their demand of Jin, Jian, Azadî (“women, life, freedom”) and we repeat #WeWantToLive in peace!
Democracy in absentia
As the alliance between neoliberalism and conservativism arise, we see how the democracies fail, and how the civil society that tries to reorganize certain reforms to address societal grievances and needs, dismantles within. As systems deteriorate in their imitation of democracy, more visible autocratic images replace them. It also does not bypass the civil society promotion systems that are equally problematic in their so-called non-governmentality or independency or democracy.
As we come to the edge of NGO-ization process that aimed to reproduce and circulate market ideas and sell capitalist reasoning as freedom, we also see how NGO funding conduits were also a way of reducing government spending on welfare services which they easily could get away with. The context in which NGOs were constructed and civil society was organized as a quintessential part of a “neo-liberal mode of transnational governmentality”, established professionalization and institutionalization of civic engagement or energies for the benefit of some individual autonomies. In other words, civil society promotion accelerated the proliferation of professionals, rather than grassroots and that already means the construction of control and dependency structures that are governed by the capitalists, the state, and their patronages.
Yet in the post-Soviet context civil society promotion ironically disturbs the system that discerns civic engagements emerging outside of their hegemony as a threat to their very existence. Securitizing civil society as “foreign agents”, and limiting and criminalizing their activities naturally come to the state agenda, when societal grievances and outrage raises. Recently we observed this tendency in Georgia, with the introduction of the new bill on “foreign agents registration”, which not surprisingly faced strong resistance last night in Tbilisi. Civil society space in Georgia for a long time was especially important for Armenians and Azerbaijanis in organizing peace-building activities or receiving funds for part of Azerbaijani civil society that was cracked down with a similar law back in 2014. Therefore, last night, civil society in Georgia not only saved itself from being completely controlled and destructed but also saved the space for possibilities for regional civic engagements.
Civil society and feminists in Georgia are mobilized to fight for their existence. We stand with them and repeat #WeWantToLive!
Securitizing civil society in Azerbaijan, by adopting a law regulating and banning foreign funding, and closing offices and bank accounts of many NGOs, in addition to imprisoning many activists, happened after the government took authoritarian learning from the Arab uprisings. Paradoxically this meant that the gap that was once filled with civil society institutions functioning as responders to the grievances and needs of the society, thus pacifying and depoliticizing them, became more profound, stimulating the radical resistance.
With declining of NGOs and an increase in the state control over civil society, alternative movements emerged. The feminist movement is probably one of the radical continuums of organic civil society mobilization, which was an example of how a "crackdown" pushes forward new ways of resistance. The emergence of non-formal networks such as the Fem-Utopia, Femkulis, Feminist Peace Collective, QueerRadar, Queerdian, Nefes LGBT, sporadic but still existing leftist groups and many others. This ban among other factors, stimulated the emergence of non-liberal, less hierarchical and more radical social movements, with ideologically aligned young people. Despite being weak and not organized, these movements continue to fight for their existence and democracy at the same time.
We are in this struggle and #WeWantToLive!
Gendered exploitation and extraction
Visible gendered exploitation in the waged and precarious labour of women and feminized bodies goes beyond simply recognizing differences in order to demand equality. The gender pay gap is famously put forward to end inequality in the workplace, yet we don’t want to decrease the gap in order to be equally exploited as men. Most often, systems of exploitation and subordination remain while some women’s individual autonomies are celebrated in the background.
The social reproduction work, on the other hand inherently stays as unpaid feminized work that women domestically and publicly undertake. For a lot of women, this also means a double burden once they are also forced to be a part of low-paid and precarious production work. Particularly after the 2020-Karabakh war, we notice the tendencies of women being pushed towards the production workforce as traditionally, men in the family who were part of the war, are no longer able to be the breadwinner of the family.
Predatory and neo-extractive formulas of finance that put a lot of families in debt, by providing loans and later exploiting their labour and looting their properties have increased precariousness critically. Strengthening the connection between indebtedness and economic autonomy not only encloses and subordinates women and feminized bodies but also limits their chance to escape violent environments, making everyday peace impossible.
We stand with millions of women in Azerbaijan who are deadlocked by the chain of this financial extraction and everyday private and public exploitation, and repeat #WeWantToLive in peace!
Beyond body, territory, and sexuality
In recent weeks Azerbaijani civil society is terrorized by the attacks on private life as part of revenge politics orchestrated by the government of Azerbaijan. The revealed private conversations of political prisoner, Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, with a number of women put their lives under threat inside this patriarchal dystopia. These conversations were captured by the government committing cybercrimes and using this method as a silencing of critical voices. The surveilling mechanism of the state in Azerbaijan, both online and offline, has targeted women's bodies and sexualities directly. While privately, men have been controlling and surveilling women within and outside of the family, publicly, the state is doing that job of male guardianship.
However, the revealed materials proved that the opposition and mainstream civil society cannot offer any qualitative alternative to the current regime. They share the patriarchal mindset where women’s and feminized bodies become territories of power and competition. It also proved that women and queer bodies and sexualities will be instrumentalized by the hegemonic masculinity that dictates gendered hierarchies. This in turn slows emancipation and precludes us as women and queers from being fully autonomous in fulfilling our agencies.
It is also not a coincidence that these developments take place on the background of constant and increasing femicides based on honour killings or gender-based violence. We painfully face the fact that only in 2021, 726 women have been killed in Azerbaijan, mostly by their intimate partners and yet our bodies are still inclined to face everyday insecurities at home, at the workplace, on the street or on social media.
In these hard days, we stand with our sisters who are victims and voice again #WeWantToLive!
Time to create our own machines of justice
All of these connecting issues of violence, insecurities and financial systems propose two fundamental questions: 1) What does it mean for us to form feminist self-defence to confront violence? 2) How can we bring together two contradicting features: massiveness and radicality?
While in Azerbaijan, state appropriation of feminism and general civil society is taking place, the possibilities to mobilize our civic energies and situate our ideological position has never been so essential. It is, therefore, now a moment for us as feminists to take a side and identify our tactics and trajectories to respond to the increasing violence. Recognizing that the state’s justice system will keep failing our demands, it seemingly pushes us to think of producing our own machines of justice. Going beyond feminist pacifism or non-violent ways of organizing, and practising self-defence becomes a logical conclusion for our struggles. Looking across our neighbouring regions and communities, the transnational aspect of reorganizing ourselves has the potential to collectively address this increasing violence.
Our radical position automatically means isolation, yet we want to propose an interconnection between radicality and massiveness as feminism can build transversality with other anti-system struggles. Most importantly, bringing back strikes as a form of refusal to work, refusal to be exploited and extracted will provide visibilization and recognition. Our local feminist resistance should not wait for the perfect equilibrium to add up to the regime change but rather create a political stance with strikes and by addressing the care crisis. In that case, it will not only dismantle the reform and revolution dichotomy but also directly destabilise the patriarchal autocratic regime that feeds from the tandem of neoliberalism and conservatism.
We #WantToLive, to unite against and resist violence and dismantle systems of oppression!