Women in Turkey – Solidarity in Times of Crises
20th Anniversary of the Feminist Night March
Almost a year ago, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention following a decree by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The article is a follow-up to a previous post. It focuses on feminist struggles in Turkey.
Population: approx. 83,15 million
Languages: about 26 national languages, including the most commonly spoken second language Kumanji, one of the three Kurdish languages; the official language is Turkish
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Almost a year ago, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan withdrew from the Istanbul Convention overnight. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is the first legally binding standard on combatting gender-based violence (GBV).1 Claiming that the convention threatens the traditional values of Turkish society has been widely circulated as the reason to withdraw from the treaty. The reality looks different – without the Istanbul Convention, there are no effective legal frameworks to protect women from gender-based violence (GBV). Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in domestic violence. In 2021, the violence resulted in the killing of 417 women.2
While reports about GBV come in daily, Turkey’s economic situation continues making headlines. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Turkish economy was facing challenges, all thanks to false economic policies and measures. The problem has worsened dramatically since last year; the country is facing sky-high inflation rates, and the Turkish Lira continues losing value. Prices for products are rising daily, leading to growing poverty in the population. The price increase has hit sanitary products, leading to period poverty.3 The pictures of people waiting in long breadlines have become part of Turkey’s new reality. The worsening economy has divided the country even more – with one side tightly holding on to the current president and blaming foreign forces for the economy, while the other side holds one person accountable – the president. Once again, the statements and actions that are taken by the government make one ask where Turkey is heading.
The well-known phrase “the personal is political” by Carol Hanish4 fits well into the context of recent developments in Turkey. Violence against women has remained all-time high but has been manifested more and more in the shape of verbal violence in Turkish politics. From the outfits to the lyrics they write, women singers are being targeted publicly. Women’s bodies are openly debated in public, mostly by men. Women are condemned for their choice of clothes, and their morale is questioned. One of the targets of such statements is the Turkish pop artist Gülşen. The singer broke her silence after commentators in the media had called on Gülşen’s partner to ‘control his wife’. Gülşen replied by stating that she is a human being with the freedom of self-determination.5 Sezen Aksu, one of Turkey’s most prominent singer-songwriters, was targeted directly by the president during a speech at a Friday prayer due to a song written in 2017. The singer was accused of blasphemy and openly threatened by the president.6
In a country with growing desperation, poverty, and political polarization threats from the president can result in actual security issues especially for women. The politicization of women’s bodies is not a new strategy of the government but it once more shows how embedded gender-based violence in the politics of Turkey is.
The actions and statements by the president reflect the desperate will to hold on to power as recent crises continue to divide the country. Any topic that diverts the attention of the public from current economic developments is used by the president and his allies. The fear of losing power has made the president more and more dangerous. Reports of violations against the freedom of expression and speech come in daily. Journalists are arrested when voicing a slight critique of the regime. One tweet on social media in the direction of the palace is enough. Just like in the case of Sedef Kabaş who was recently arrested in the middle of the night.7
Despite the challenges women face, there is still hope. Women continue reuniting, they continue raising their voices. In the face of the increased murders of women and LGBTQIA+ individuals, it is women who make sure that the names of those killed are not forgotten. They demand justice and a transparent prosecution. The Istanbul Convention is not forgotten and women continue their struggle to re-ratify the convention in Turkey.
The Feminist Night March in Turkish Feminist Gece Yürüyüşü first took place in 1992 to demonstrate against the war in Iraq. This year women and LGBTQIA+ folks unite to demonstrate against the increasing male violence and the killings of women and trans individuals.
Every year women in all their diversity and people from the LGBTQIA+ community come together during the Feminist Night March. 2022 marks the 20th anniversary of the march. This year, women are marching against the increasing poverty and violence. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the impact of those issues and has led to the continuation of the cycle. Just in time for the annual march, the trials of women who were arrested last year during the Feminist Night March began. 17 women were arrested during the march last year under the pretext of insults against the President. The demand of the term of imprisonment is absurd, up to 7 years and 8 months.8
Women and LGBTQIA+ movements have been strong despite heavy repercussions and reprisals by the government. The 8th of March more than any other day is the day of solidarity. The day offers the opportunity to come together and unite in the struggle to end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and oppression. It is an opportunity to call out leaders of countries like Germany who want to take a feminist approach to foreign policy. The recent meeting between the ministers of foreign affairs of Germany and Turkey in which talks of partnerships emerged, would have been a good occasion to pressure the Turkish government on the situation of women. The Turkish government is continuously bombing civilian targets in Rojava and Northern Iraq under the pretense of fighting terrorism.9
Kurdish women are being targeted by Turkish officials every day. As the Feminist Night March celebrates its 20th anniversary, women who have been imprisoned for realizing their rights to demonstrate and speak up, are remembered. It is the collective responsibility of the global community not to forget women who face oppression and people from the LGBTQIA+ community and to stand up in solidarity.
European Parliament (2021). The Istanbul Convention: A tool for combating violence against women and girls. Under: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document/EPRS_ATA(2021)698801
Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracagiz (2022). Report 2021. Under: http://anitsayac.com/?year=2021.
Elmas Topcu (2022). Turkish women protest: ‚Sanitary products are not a luxury‘. Deutsche Welle, 23.01.2022. Under: https://www.dw.com/en/turkish-women-protest-sanitary-products-are-not-a-luxury/a-6050088
Britannica: The Personal is Political. Under: https://www.britannica.com/topic/the-personal-is-political
Cumhuriyet Gazetesi. Kıyafeti üzerinden hedef alınan Gülşen’den ilk açıklama, 20.01.2022. Under: https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/yasam/unlu-sarkici-gulsen-kiyafet-tartismalarina-yanit-verdi-hicbir-sifatin-kolesi-degilim-1901643
Deutsche Welle. Erdoğan’dan Sezen Aksu’ya yönelik sert ifadeler, 21.02.2022. Under: https://www.dw.com/tr/erdoğandan-sezen-aksuya-yönelik-sert-ifadeler/a-60519023
BBC. Sedef Kabas: Turkish journalist jailed for reciting proverb. 23.01.2022. Under: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60099931
Sözcü Gazetesi. 8 Mart Feminist Gece Yürüyüşü davası başladı, 01.03.2022. Under: https://www.sozcu.com.tr/2022/gunun-icinden/8-mart-feminist-gece-yuruyusu-davasi-basladi-6982711/
Tagesschau. Türkei fliegt Luftangriffe auf Kurdenmilizen, 22.02.2022. Under: https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/asien/tuerkei-luftangriffe-kurden-101.html
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