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To See the Dawn

September 8, 1920 — Congress of the Peoples of the East, Baku, Azerbaijan


[The speech was delivered in Turkish and translated by a fellow delegate, Shabanova of Azerbaijan]


The women’s movement beginning in the East must be looked at not from the standpoint of those frivolous feminist who are content to see woman’s place in social life as that of a delicate plant or an elegant doll.  This movement mut be seen as a vital and necessary consequence of the revolutionary movement taking place throughout the world. The women of the East are not fighting merely for the right to walk in the street without wearing the chador, as many people suppose. For the women of the East, with their high moral ideals, the question of the chador, it can be said, comes last in priority. If the women, who form half of every community, are set up against the men and do not enjoy the same rights, obviously it is impossible for society to progress; the backwardness of Eastern societies is irrefutable proof of this.

Comrades, you can be sure that all your efforts and labors to realize new forms of social life, however sincere and however vigorous your endeavors may be, will be fruitless unless you summon the women to become real helpers in your work.

In Turkey, owing to the conditions caused by the war, women have been obliged to quit ethe home and the household and take on the performance of a variety f social duties. Women have had to take over the responsibilities of the men who have been called up for military service. What is more, in roadless localities of Anatolia that are inaccessible even to pack animals, women have been dragging artillery equipment for the troops. This fact cannot, of course, be called a step forward in the conquest of equal rights for women. People who view the fact that women are making up with their labor the the shortage of beast of burden as a contribution to the cause of equal rights for women are unworthy of our attention.

We do not deny that at the beginning of the 1908 revolution some measures were introduced for women’s benefit. In view, however, of the ineffectiveness and inadequacy of these measures, we do not regard them as highly significant.

The opening of one or two schools of elementary and higher education for women in the capital and in the provinces, and even the opening of a university for women, does not accomplish a thousandth of what still needs to be done. Of course, more fundamental or serious measures on behalf of women held in bondage cannot be expected from the Turkish government, whose actions are based on the oppression and exploitation of the weaker by the stronger.

But we also know that the position of our sisters in Persia, Bukhara, Khiva, Turkestan, India, and other Muslim countries is even worse. The injustice done to use and to our sisters, however, has not remained unpunished. Proof of this is to be seen in the backwardness and decline of all the countries of the East. Comrades, you must know that the evil done to women has never gone and will never go without retribution.

Because this conference of the Congress of the Peoples of the East is drawing to a close, lack of time obliges us to refrain from discussing the position of women in the various countries of the East. However, the comrade delegates are entrusted with the great mission of taking back to their homelands the noble principles of the revolution. Let them not forget that all the efforts they devote to winning happiness for the peoples will remain fruitless unless there is real help from the women.

In order to deliver us from all calamities, the Communists consider it necessary to create a classless society, and to this end they declare relentless war against all the bourgeois and privileged layers. The women Communists of the East have an even harder battle to wage because, in addition, they have to fight against the despotism of their menfolk. If you, men of the east, continue now as in the past to be indifferent to the fate of women, you can be sure that our countries will perish, and you and we together with the. The alternative is for us, together with all the oppressed, to begin a bloody life-and-death struggle to win our rights by force.

I will briefly set forth the women’s demands. If you want to bring about your own emancipation. Listen to our demand and render us real help and cooperation.

  1. Complete equality of rights.
  2. Ensuring to women unconditional access to educational and vocational institutions established for men.
  3. Equality of rights of both parties in marriage. Unconditional abolition of polygamy.
  4. Unconditional admission of women to employment in legislative and administrative institutions.
  5. Establishment of committees for the rights and protection of women everywhere, in cities, towns, and villages.

There is no doubt that we are entitled to raise these demands. In recognizing that we have equal rights, the Communists have reached out their hand to us, and we women will prove their most loyal comrades. True, we may stumble in pathless darkness, we may stand on the brink of yawning chasms, but we are not afraid, because we know that in order to see the dawn one has to pass through the dark night.



Source: To See the Dawn: Baku, 1920—First Congress of the Peoples of the East, eds. John Riddell and M’mud Shirvani  (New York: Pathfinder Press) 1993, pp. 232-235.