In the words of Intisar Cilliden: “No woman deserves violence for making her own choices”
Many Syrian women fled the ongoing civil war in Syria, escaping to Turkey. While gender-based violence is a common practice against them, many do not know much about how to report the abuse, local laws, their relevant rights, and options available in Turkey. Despite their fears, Syrian women in Turkey are expressing their experiences to create awareness among refugee and local women as part of the 16 Days of Activism campaign. Meet Intisar Cilliden, 25, from Syria, currently living in Gaziantep, a south-eastern province in Turkey. She joined the 16 Days of Activism campaign to share how it feels to find her voice after experiencing gender-based violence traumas. The local campaign is implemented by the UN Women Refugee Response Programme in partnership with the Refugee Support Center (MUDEM-RSC) and funded by the governments of Japan and Norway.
It was December 2019 when we moved to Turkey with our three kids from Syria. My husband recently divorced me under Islamic law and went back to Syria, but we are still married by common law. My family’s financial situation was not promising before I married. When there is a war, unfortunately any kind of violence against women is possible, which is why I married – to protect myself from the unknown.
I married my husband on one condition, that he would allow me to pursue my dreams of going to university. As soon as we were married in Syria, he went back on his promise and ordered that I stay at home. I sank into great unhappiness and told him he would either support me in my dream to have a higher education or I would end our marriage. For this reason, he let me study French language as it was not compulsory to attend all the classes in person. I had wanted to study healthcare services, but this required daily in-person attendance, and my husband preferred that I stay at home. This is another kind of violence, one where you cannot make your own choices about your life. It is normalised in our type of cultures for our husbands to decide for us, but we must not let this be normalized. During this time, I was exposed to all kinds of threats, pressures and violence but still did not give in.
Even though I arrived in Turkey devastated, exposed to violence, and one of my children has a disability, I can still dream about having a healthcare education thanks to the support I received at MUDEM-RSC. I have benefitted from health-related skills development courses, which enabled me to stay connected with my field of interest. When my children are older, I will study what I want to study in Turkey.
To try, dream and reflect about a violence-free world was not that easy during the workshop, but it helped me reconnect with my inner self. For the first time in my life, I opened myself in front of others about how I experienced violence. To be able speak freely and listen to other women’s stories made me realize the problem is not about me, but it is about the abusers. No woman deserves to be silenced. We see there are number of obstacles in our lives due to religion, traditions, and our beliefs but nothing prevents us from achieving a violence-free life. A religion is never a barrier for a woman to make a choice about her own life, fulfil her family duties and lead an enjoyable life. The workshop encouraged me to share my story with others and empowered me. I should not have any guilt about my what I want to do in life. I can make my own choices and I do not need someone else’s approval to be a free individual. Let us all take a stand to end violence against women and girls now and live as we deserve.”