A protest against domestic violence and for women’s rights in Sofia: voices of Bulgarian activists and refugee women come united

The event took place on 25 November 2022 in the Bulgarian capital

On 25 November 2022, for another consecutive year, Bulgarian feminist organisations, NGOs fighting against domestic violence, activists from different minority communities and refugee women organised a protest in Sofia to demand better protection from family violence and greater tolerance in society towards the different and the weak. Cross-border Talks offers below a video of the event and a transcription of all the speeches. 

Hello! Hello, everybody! We are Feminist Mobilisations, an informal collective active since 2019, fighting for social, economic and political gender equality. Thank you for being here to show your solidarity, for coming out despite the cold, despite all the tasks and difficulties of everyday life. We are the whole world. We are celebrating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women because on this date, 25 November, 62 years ago, three women, the Mirabau sisters, were murdered in the Dominican Republic on the orders of the government for their active political resistance against the dictatorship and their active feminist position. Today they are symbols of the struggles against patriarchy, violence and authoritarianism everywhere. 

This year, we are inspired by them and by the struggles of Iranian, Kurdish and Ukrainian women who are fighting for a life free from fear and violence in the family, on the street, at the border, in institutions, and by all women in our country and around the world who are fighting for survival from their abusers. We want to call on you to cry out with us: No more! and Woman, life, freedom!

In March of this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Bulgarian authorities failed to take timely action to prevent the death of yet another woman in the country who lost her life in 2017, just 18 hours after filing one of many reports against her abuser. Urgent and coordinated measures to protect her were not taken by the institutions and she is not with us today.

According to the latest data compiled by a newly established organisation in the Ministry of Interior, there were four times more victims of domestic violence in Bulgaria in the first five months of this year than the police recorded for the whole of 2021. There were 1,738 victims of domestic violence from the beginning of the year until May. Among them, there were 1 194 women and 409 children. More than one woman loses her life every month in Bulgaria due to gender-based violence. Since the beginning of November alone, four women have been killed by their partner, husband or relative. Although the Council of Ministers submitted new amendments to the Law on Protection from Domestic Violence for consideration this summer after a long wait, no one has yet gotten around to voting on them. We welcome this long-awaited attempt to improve the updating of the legislation, but once again a flurry of elections and constant political intrigue have taken precedence over the serious work that lies ahead in implementing all the urgent measures to tackle domestic violence set out in the Bill.

While we wait for the effective legislation and good practices in the institutions that we have been promised for years to become a reality, we continue to count the victims. Until when? We know that we have MPs and politicians from various political parties here with us tonight who have contacted us to express their sympathy with the problem. We urge that this attention and energy does not just come on today’s date. More than sympathy is needed. We need real action and political accountability. 

We must not forget that legislative measures against domestic violence are only one small part of the overall fight against the pandemic of violence against women. That is why we at the Feminist Mobilisations Collective are demanding much more than that, we are demanding crisis and counselling centres, decent social workers and adequate upkeep in crisis centers.

It is absolutely unacceptable that, despite the annual escalation of registered cases of violence, crisis centres with temporary priority in the territory. In Bulgaria, there are only 8 state-funded places, or rather only 94 places in the whole country. State funding for feeding people in the centres, as well as for paying psychologists and social workers in the crisis centres, is woefully inadequate. Two leva and 17 cents and 3 leva per hour, respectively. How long will the people who carry out the life-sustaining work of a special club continue to receive pennies? We urge that the Domestic Violence Protection Amendment Bill be prioritised and voted on immediately. Enough waiting!

We demand the active introduction of more appropriate modern approaches such as restorative justice that put the needs of the victim at the heart of the justice process. We need not just aggression tracking and anger repair programs targeting batterers, but a comprehensive long-term approach that incorporates various aspects of a batterer’s psychology and socialization. At the insistence of the National Register of Domestic Violence Cases, which is provided for in the amendments to the Protection from Domestic Violence Act, to become a reality as soon as possible. It is shameful that Bulgaria still lacks annual, comprehensive and reliable statistics and studies on the causes and extent of violence against women and domestic violence in the country. The social, economic and political consequences of it, as well as the necessary measures that need to be taken to curb the problem. We demand sexual education and reproductive rights. The lack of adequate sex education in schools leaves many girls without knowledge about their own bodies and is one of the main reasons why violence is not recognized in time by both the victims and those around them. We demand justice, dignity and a package of measures to guarantee the human rights of vulnerable women, migrant and refugee women, women from Roma and other minority backgrounds. The petition excluded women prisoners, women with disabilities, women with addictions, sex workers and underage mothers. We also insist on ensuring gender equality conditions in the scribal work. Effectively combat economic inequality and democratize governance through targeted training of women from all marginalized groups in political decision-making. We must not allow a series of interrelated crises – health, political, economic, humanitarian – driven by the brutal war over Ukraine to be used as an excuse for lack of attention and political action related to violence against women and domestic violence.

On the contrary, it should push us towards even more urgent and pressing measures. We will not let this issue remain in the background. We must not forget that ours is a life of dignity for all and is linked to that of women in many other countries. We stand in solidarity and on the side of all those whose. Lives are being destroyed because of military conflict for people in Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Yemen, Ethiopia, Myanmar and many others who are also being torn apart by wars, while missiles are flying on Ukrainian soil, we stand in solidarity with the women of Iran who have stood up to the moral police and started a long-awaited revolution in their country. So let us once again shout ‘Women, life, freedom’.

We will not be silent. We will not tolerate and we will not be silent. We will not stand by and we will not be silent. We will not stand, we will not be silent. 

I give the floor to Julia Andonova of the Pulse Foundation. 

Thank you! This morning, the first thing I saw when I woke up was a message from a woman, “Help, help me before I am killed.” That is the first thing my team and I see and hear very often in the morning at noon at night, on weekdays and holidays. The Pulse Foundation team has been helping people who have been victims of violence around the clock for 23 years. Every single person who needs help in such a situation can turn to us. I am here today to appeal to each and every one of you who in any way feels affected by violence, each and every one of you who is afraid to go home, each and every one of you who is living in terror and does not know whether you will survive until tomorrow – seek us out, turn to us. There are a dozen other organizations like ours in Bulgaria that provide help and support around the clock, despite the lack of adequate government policy, despite the fact that there are not enough crisis centres in our country. Even if we don’t have beds, we will stretch sofas. But a person in need of help will find it in our organization and others like ours. 

Today I would like to appeal to the politicians who are here. Please stop just promising. Start keeping your promises. Start looking after people. Pass the changes to the Protection from Domestic Violence Act at last. Listen to the experts who are on the ground around the clock. Listen to the people who hear the screams, the horrors and live with the thought around the clock – ‘Will we get there in time this time? Will the police officer who calls be understood and send a patrol car right away?”

And what about the woman who has to travel more than 200 miles and is pregnant and has a 2-year-old and nowhere to go, and the crisis centre closest to her is 200 kilometres away? Please! NGOs and civil activists are on the line around the clock and have good practices. Around the clock, for years, we have been developing and implementing the world’s most advanced standards for helping people who have suffered violence. We have done our work. It’s your turn.

Hi, I’m Michaela. We are all women survivors coming out of domestic violence. We are used to hearing that domestic violence is what there is blood from, there are wounds, but in our foundation we pay attention for the scars that are not visible and the internal wounds, the mental abuse, because there the signs are not visible, they are silent, they take time and a lot of us don’t see what’s happening to our friend, to our sister, to ourselves it even takes time to understand that it’s not love, it’s being blamed, being insulted, not being valued in your own home, being devalued, it’s not love. Every day we at the Foundation help women. To understand what the first signs are to help themselves and to. I would like to seek help to understand that they are not alone, that we are there for them every day. We just need to not leave ourselves alone.

I’m very glad that there are so many people here this year. Thank you very much for that, because actually we are talking about the rulers, we are talking about the state, but each one of us touches this violence – sexual, psychological, emotional. All of us, every one of us, whether in our personal family, whether in our close circles, whether we know violence, whether we know a child who is around us. It is up to each one of us to stop the violence, to reach out, to ask sincerely – “Are you all right, are you all right, what is going on at home?” and to help. Only when we are all together and united will we defeat violence. Thank you.

Thank you all for being here. Woman, Life, Freedom! This is not only a slogan of the political activists of Kurdistan today. Today, this slogan is a symbol of the Iranian revolution and of the solidarity of all those seeking freedom and equality in the world. The slogan that became the anthem of the struggle after the assassination of Zina Amini in Kurdistan and became a symbol of the Iranian revolution and the philosophy of the struggle against the patriarchal system that rules Iran. This slogan is at the heart of the Kurdish struggles in the Middle East against the totalitarian and dictatorial systems ruling their countries and has almost 100 years of history in Kurdistan. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the first organisation defending the rights of Kurdish women, the Kurdistan Democratic Women’s Union, was established in 1946 in the city of Mahabad, along with the formation of the first Kurdish party against the imperial government. Around the same time, the most famous Kurdish poet Kemal Mariani wrote this poem, which Kurdish women fighters sang, “Until a woman is not free, the source of life is a swamp.”

Equality was always part of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Struggle in 1979 when the Ayatollahs took power and forced women to wear the hijab. The Kurds opposed this and at that time Kurdish women formed the first women’s guerrilla battalions to defend their rights. They were formed to fight the sectarian regime. In the Kurdistan struggle, women are not only a driving force on the front. They were government and military commanders. For the struggle there became a distraction. There are doubts, fantasies everywhere. In the religious and traditionally patriarchal Middle East, Kurdish struggles are intertwined with the struggles of women and their rights, and on the other hand, in Syrian Kurdistan in Rojava, the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom” in 2014 became the slogan of the fighting women of Kobane and Rojava against the brutal forces of the Islamic State.

“Women, Life, Freedom” is at the heart of the struggle against the enslavement of women in the reactionary religious system and their exploitation in capitalist systems. Women, life, freedom means that life cannot be free until women are free. Long live the Iranian revolution. Women, life freedom!

Hello, and I too begin with Woman, Life, Freedom! I want to talk about a country which has  always silenced the voice of those seeking freedom. This regime where men make decisions instead of women. The decision making body for women’s issues consists of 12 religious men who believe that women’s issues should only be dealt with at home. While women live in their father’s house, their whole life goes as their father and friends want. They are lucky if the family is intellectual and they will have a more peaceful life. But if that is not the case, besides struggling in the society, they should think about the revolution in their family – so that one day they can live as they want.

After marriage, however, the situation becomes 1000 times more difficult. She has to have her husband’s permission for anything you think of. Marriage is contracted with the permission of the father and then all relations in the girl’s life depend on her husband. Permission to leave the country. Permission to work. Permission to continue education. If there is a child, there will be no rights over it. If one day a woman asks for a divorce, it may take years until her husband agrees to the divorce. After that, the mother has the right to keep her child only as long as it survives without breast milk. After that, she may not even be allowed to see her child until the child turns 18. None of you are fighting for these rights because many years ago there were women who did. Now these issues are very obvious and basic to you. Honestly, up until 40 years ago, we also had these struggling women who fought for many years, and the lives of the other women went forward because of internal struggles. But with the coming of Khomeini, our women, like other members of society, went back culturally hundreds of years. We, Iranian women of today, do not want to go backwards. The way each of us has fought for years today we are fighting for a brighter tomorrow, hoping for freedom. Women, life, freedom!

I just want to take this moment to say for those who do not know that a few days ago on November 19th Erdogan started bombing Kurdistan. People who have actually been building this movement for decades, for almost 100 years, as was said in a previous speech, they are under attack right now and it is extremely important that we all stand in solidarity with their bombs because we have a lot to learn from them and they deserve our support. On Monday, there will be a protest at 5 pm outside the Turkish Embassy, not the Iranian Embassy, not the Presidency. That is what they are telling me.

Zan, zendegi, azadi. Woman, Life, Freedom! I am Afif from Iran. On 16th September 2022 the morality police arrested a 22-year-old Iranian woman, named Mahsa Jina Amini for not wearing proper hijab. Some hours later they took her to hospital and after some time she passed away as a result of police brutality. Her death resulted in the first female revolution of our time. Women are protesting on the street. They are not only removing their headscarf, but are setting them ablaze and cutting their hair and protesting. The slogan women, life, freedom is a declaration of opposition against a regime, which has built itself on being anti-woman and repressive towards women. 

The compulsory hijab is the most visible sign of subjugation of Iranian women. It is also about the denial of all Iranians their freedom. Women inherit half of what man inherits. They have to carry obligatory hijab, otherwise they would be punished by law. Legal marriage age is 9 years. There is no freedom of assembly, freedom of expression. You can safely consider that ispart of Iranian culture, but violation of human rights cannot be part of any country. Iranians are risking everything for the world now. Men nowstand together with women in protest. It is because the minority in society has realised the majority in gender equality and all the other basic rights which have been denied to them. Since this protest started there are testimonies the Revolutionary Guards picks the most beautiful of the protesters and rape them. It is our job to put light into what is happening in Iran. It will be worse for the Iranians if this dictatorship continues to rule. We need to stand united for a future in which women are not subject to harsh law and any systematic control over their bodies. No woman should be married forcefully or raped. Be their voice. Zan, zendegi, azadi!

Good evening everyone! My name is Silsila Mahbub. I am from Afghanistan. I live in Bulgaria. I remember very well last year we were also in the same place and I also remember last August when the Taliban took power in Afghanistan. And it was hard for me to talk about it then and it’s hard for me now because of the obsessions of not making things harder. There, in my country,  there is no life there, no man’s rights, no women’s rights. If we talk more about women, women don’t have any rights. Already one year and some months passed and there is no access for learning. Women are not going to school, there is no education. School is already banned, it is already closed. Even a few days ago they have closed the parks so that women do not go to the park.

If  our countries are peaceful, we won’t come anywhere else. It is just that in Bulgaria, where I have lived for so many years, things are not getting better, they are getting worse for us. They accept us, but there are still people coming now. There are people looking for a better life. There are people who still need a secure life, but unfortunately when they travel over here, Europe or somewhere down there they are not accepted because of their roots, because of their religion, because of their way of dressing. If Europe talks about freedom, about everything, we must not talk about the way a woman or a man or a family lives. Hopefully there are better things to come in Bulgaria to make that happen. Unfortunately, that is how it seems to us, but we hope there will be for us who come from the other side to other countries and seek a safer life with you. We hope it is not for anyone to leave their country by force, but rather to be a voluntary departure from somewhere. Not by force. 

Foreigners, refugees, you are all welcome. Foreigners, refugees, you are all welcome. 

Good evening, everyone! My name is Diana Dimova and I am the founder of one of the NGOs that have been banging their heads against the wall for twenty-three years. I am from Stara Zagora, I am a social worker by education and believe me, thousands of women – victims of violence, and children have passed through our center. Some of them lost their lives because the institutions did not help us in time. This year in Stara Zagora, two women were killed. One woman, who was a nurse, left an orphan child because her husband committed suicide after killing her. A nine-year-old girl was left alone. The next case was a few weeks ago. A 67-year-old woman in a village was killed. At the beginning of 2022, there happened another infamous case: for 11 hours, doctors were saving both hands of a woman whose husband tried to cut them off. This is happening in 2022, in your 21st century in a European country. This is absurd.

I can tell you a lot of things before I read you an excerpt from an open letter by six women victims of violence in Stara Zagora, with whom we work and who have moved forward a lot in their courage to seek their rights. I would like to congratulate in particular that tonight at this forum, at this protest, there are MPs who are here and who support our protest action. There are MEPs who are also here supporting our demands for ratification of the Istanbul Convention. It is time for Bulgaria to look forward and stop with its medieval and traditional practices of patriarchal notions of the family. We need you, politicians. Be responsible and do not be afraid to defend the truth. It has a very high price, but you must stand by it because we have elected you to do so.

I am reading you a few sentences from this very emotional letter of 6 women – victims of violence from Stara Zagora.

“Who are we? We are 6 women of different ages. For several years we have been attending a club of women who have suffered violence. Some of us have broken away from this situation, others have not. We are at a young and mature age. We are wives, some divorced, but all loving mothers. Some of us not only have children, but have grandchildren. Of the many problems we are constantly trying to solve, we often have no time for ourselves and our children. What have we experienced? We have been through a lot. Almost all of us know the physical pain of combat, but that’s not all. We know what it’s like to be time-constrained, to be required to return even before the end of the work day. We are familiar with wanting all our money at home to even make us take out loans that no one will pay back. We have to pay them back. Many times our partners have not supported us to get treatment when we should have. They have not allowed us to study, specialize and develop professionally when we wanted to. They have dictated who we see, how we dress, where we go out and when we come back. It got to the point where they manipulated us through our own children? That hurts a lot. We have been cut off from friends, family and loved ones for long periods of time. Our husbands have made us feel guilty and gradually believe in our unproven guilt. We have also been subjected to experiencing violence against our own children. From all we have experienced so far, we believe the psychological pain is much more terrible and much deeper than you can imagine. What advice can we give to other women like us to talk about the pain, the struggle, the hurt and the limitations, to clarify for themselves what is happening and what they want to change? To not give up and to not put up with violence. To support anyone who helps survivors of violence. To talk more in the media about this. To meet famous women like us who have overcome violence. To remember the women we were before the violence and the women we can be in the future.

If you have a friend, if you have a colleague, if you have a relative who has told you that something is happening to them in a partner relationship, don’t pass it by because that woman may not be alive tomorrow. It’s happened to me 8 times with women I’ve worked with. We have lost four children. Don’t overlook or ignore any complaint from your significant other that someone is harassing her, even sending her messages. Mental harassment and bullying on the internet is huge and very often we ignore it. I send you greetings from these women and tell you that they are very strong. Any woman who is hurt has much more power than anyone else because she has the ability to recover. We believe completely. Thank you.

We will not be silent. We will not tolerate it. We will not be silent” 

Good evening from me! Nadezhda Dermendjieva from the Bulgarian Fund for Women. I don’t know what more can be said except that this is the fifth protest against violence against women in Bulgaria. We started 2018 all together. This protest is ours. In 2018, we closed the Eagles Bridge. Last year, our protest was attacked by nationalists. We have been through all kinds of things. What remains as a lesson from this protest for all of us is that it makes sense and it has meaning. Because no matter how many women are assaulted and killed – everyone is too many. That is why we are here today. We are here to express our civic will for change. Today, the Protection from Domestic Violence Act has been introduced, amendments have been made to it, and we will be watching organizations like the Bulgarian Women’s Fund and all of our other colleagues. We will be watching to see whether the MPs who were here will defend the amendments. Will the politicians who were here keep their promises? You will be watching to see if they keep their promises, and if they do not, we will be at the protest again next year. Because it makes sense. It makes sense to be here every year and it makes sense to protest every day in different ways: to call the police, to support friends, to write, to seek help. It makes sense. Not one more!

Hello everyone. I am Natalia Tsekova and I am Roma. I am also a representative of the Roma community and all Roma women in Bulgaria. I’m here to support every abused scorned woman, and many of the Roma women I know claim that if her husband beats her, it’s because she’s guilty. They live with inferiority complexes. I am here to say that women are not objects, and besides giving life, we give meaning to many other people around us, not just our children. What I have heard so far has had a very emotional effect on me, so I can only say women, life, freedom. Women, life, freedom. Women, life, freedom.

Hello, good evening! Thank you so much for gathering here. I will take this podium today, not with my name, but with my body and my voice. I come out here today as a queer woman. I will not use my name because many women like me do not have the freedom to do so because for them the consequences would be harassment, discrimination, loss of jobs, violence from loved ones, violence from institutions. But that’s not the worst of it. It is the institutional LGBT-phobia that we have seen for years, that we see everyday, that has allowed fascist and far-right ideologies to flourish unchallenged. And so don’t be surprised when I tell you today that we are under attack in our community centers, which are supposed to be safe spaces. But it is not just that. They are attacking us on our streets as well. They attack us only when they think we look like gay people. A medical student lost his life because of this back in 2008 and never got the justice he deserved.

I would like to appeal to all the politicians who are here today. It was 19 years ago that my fellow activists first introduced changes to the Criminal Code to criminalise crimes that are committed because the person they are targeting is part of the community. Unfortunately, to this day, we do not see this change. Nineteen years later, we stand in this square demanding that something so small happen. I just want to remind you that one year ago, one year ago, we were protesting for the exact same thing, and we are not seeing any result. We will continue to be here until that happens. But it is not just that. Today we are talking about domestic violence. Did you know that if you are a woman in a same-sex couple and your partner is abusing you, there is no one to protect you? Because under Bulgarian law, you are not a family. Yes, that’s right. And from here on we can also talk about what is, what homophobia leads to in our society. About the thousands of young people who face violence in their families because they are queer, because their families, because our society cannot provide them with the support that they need. They also need protection. They could also benefit from crisis centres, which we continue to lack in every single regional city.

So please, nineteen years later, do something. Do it now. Here. Not one more. Fascism kills, power covers up.

Hi, my name is Manuela and I work at the Bilitis Foundation. Today I’m going to talk to you about violence, which is not often talked about. Violence that remains misunderstood, silenced, normalized and covered in medical terms that are incomprehensible to most people. Violence that you would be surprised to know happens much more often than you think. Intersex people who endure this violence carry the trauma for life.

For those of you who don’t know what intersex is, it’s people. who are born with biological characteristics that don’t conform to expectations of female or male biological sex. Variations of intersex can become apparent before, during a child’s birth in early childhood, during adolescence, into adulthood and sometimes never become apparent. Being intersex is not a disease. However, society and health care workers often treat intersex people as if they have a defect that needs to be corrected using so-called normalizing surgeries. All over the world, intersex people, including infants and children, are subjected to voluntary and unnecessary medical treatment in quotes to bring their external and internal sex characteristics into line with society’s normative definition of what is male and what is female. Such surgeries were performed on me as well. I was 16 years old when the doctors found out I was born without a uterus. My vagina was three centimetres long. The attending doctor then looked me in the eye and told me that if they didn’t operate on me, no man would want to marry me. The operation is called neovagina. It basically consisted of lengthening my vagina, that is, carving a hole in me. A hole that will never serve for my personal pleasure, but will serve to prove that I deserve the love of any man who will ever want to marry me eventually. In my fear that I didn’t deserve love because my body was different, I agreed to have the procedure done. I was subjected to dozens of invasive painful examinations, I was introduced to students, I was on shift and shown as a strange creature in the circus. Three normalizing and life-threatening surgeries made my body conform to the standard of a heterosexual woman for the sake of my future love, because apparently love is measured in how deep your vagina is.

Would it scandalize you if I repeated that these even much more horrible procedures are performed on children before their first birthday? These children are being lied to by doctors and parents in the name of societal norms. A lot of interesting people don’t know that some of the procedures they have experienced constitute rape. Medicalization prevents recognition of these crimes. It is time to treat rape and sexual violence against intersex people as human rights violations. It is time to collectively demand a ban on the absolutely unnecessary, traumatic and involuntary normalizing surgeries. Because if my experiences have taught me one thing, it’s that being a woman doesn’t equal a uterus, doesn’t equal a 10 cm vagina, doesn’t equal being someone else’s pleasure wife or mother. Being a woman is life, freedom. Not one more.

Hello from me. I won’t speak for me. I’m going to read a few sentences from a very brave woman who couldn’t make it here today. She is a midwife.

“In my work I very often hear from women in labour stories that make me tear up and angry. But I must apologise to the girls for what they have been through. Thousands of girls and women are subjected to abuse and terrible relationships at a time when they are very vulnerable. Their child’s birthday becomes a nightmare. There is no one to take them to the end of labour with a smile, with a caress, with a kind gesture and with kind encouraging words. As a midwife, a mother and a woman, I want to say that every woman has the right to quality and affordable care, regardless of her health and financial status, she has the right to be informed, cared for and treated well. Let the maternity hospital and hospitals not become a place where women have unpleasant and conflicting incidents. Let their personal and intimate space be respected. Let every woman have the right to choose where and with whom she gives birth. And let it not cost them a bag of money. Not one more.

Hello! We’re from the feminist collective Levfem. We fight against violence in all its forms. Women, life, freedom. There is hardly a better slogan to protest violence against women in the current context of wars, militarization and rampant oppressive regimes. For it is women’s lives and freedom that are more threatened today than at any time in the last few years. It is because women in Ukraine are fighting for their lives and freedom every day under the barrage of Putin’s shells, missiles and bombs. Because women in Iran are risking their lives to resist a patriarchal theocracy that is brutally trampling on their freedoms and their rights. Because women in Kurdistan, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar and many others have been paying for decades with their lives because of military conflicts fought in their countries. But let us also hear about women in Bulgaria.

No bombs are falling on our heads. But alongside the patriarchal war on our lives, a different and no less cruel war is being waged, that of economic coercion and poverty. What life and what freedom? When the victim of domestic violence is often unable to leave the abuser because she depends on him financially. What kind of life and what kind of freedom when women in Bulgaria are the poorest in the European Union, and one in three women cannot adequately heat the home in which they live? What life and what freedom? When elderly and sick women cannot afford life-saving medicines and healthcare has become a trade? What life and what freedom when unemployment forces millions to leave our country and care for children and the elderly for a pittance abroad and their loved ones are left to crumbling and privatized institutions.

We say Freedom. Are women in Bulgaria free to fight for better working conditions? To demand a better wage. We saw what happened when some brave women and 136 Bulgarian nurses in Dobrich went on strike for better working conditions. They were instantly sent to court by their employer to crush their resistance. These are women who literally care about our animals and their survival. Their freedom of association and protest will not be tarnished. To have anyone at all to care for health. We need to say clearly – equal pay for nurses, MPs.

Equal wages for nurses and MPs.

And how many other women are free to refuse overtime, go to work, or are free to look after their sick children because the boss has a bad eye on their absence. Or are they not free to refuse sexual abuse at work because they might be fired if they don’t speak up. That is why today we say clearly poverty and exploitation threaten women’s freedom and lives. We want women’s work to be valued and well paid. We want adequate and financially secure protection for victims of domestic violence and we want the minimum wage to be raised. We want adequate benefits for the energy poor. We want the right to work, unionize and strike. We want these rights respected, because there is no life and no liberty if there is economic coercion.

Sexism kills, power covers up. Sexism kills, power covers up.

Folks, thank you so much to all of you who have come here tonight. Thank you to everyone who shared their stories. I want to tell you that you are very brave for what you did tonight. I hope that all the politicians who were here and heard what they need will go to their jobs tomorrow and do what they need to do. Before we close, we would like to read out the names of all the women we know have lost their lives by loved ones and partners in 2022. Nefise, Eranukhi Pehlivanyan, Victoria Christie, Alena Sherk, Vanya and Ekaterina, Maria, Sonia, Christina, Eugenia, Maria, Elena, Silvia and many, many more whose names we do not know.

We want to call on you, if you know a woman who has experienced violence in one form or another, we will pass out chalk and you can write her name down here tonight so we can see how many people that is and honor their experience and what happened to them. We will not be patient, we will not be silent. We will not stand, we will not be silent. Women, life, freedom! 

Not one more. I hope by this time next year we can celebrate at least some of our victories, which I hope will have happened by then. Thank you folks!

As a symbol of all the women who have been victims of violence or who are currently still litigating for their lives or for their children, for the rights to have children and to raise them, we have been asked in their honor to leave these women’s shoes here on the steps as a symbolic gift to the magistrates. So we leave them here. May they remind us and all who pass by in the days to come. That this is something that happens all the time, that hundreds of women live in fear, and that it has to stop.

Photo: Feminist protest in Sofia, 25.11.2022 (source: Vladimir Mitev)

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