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A positive change is possible
‘Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains that the other half can soar into skies?’
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
After WW1 Imperialist Powers tried to invade the Ottoman Empire, but the people fought under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and gained independence. In 1923, the current, secular, Turkish Republic was founded. Since then, people are living their lives upon a secular basis – until 15 years ago. Turkey granted women’s suffrage in the 1930s, before France and many other countries. Women and men won the war of independence fighting together, side by side. Whereas Turkish youth after 3 Kasım 2002 (i.e. the date of the current AKP government was elected) have grown up hearing the following statements:
‘I cannot accept that working life has become an alternative to motherhood… A woman who denies their maternity, indeed a woman who denies their duty of taking care of the household, even if they become a very successful business women, they are…deficient and unfinished. If you refuse your maternity, you give up half of your humanity. No, I will enlarge that: it means actually losing the whole of your humanity. That is why I suggest women should have three kids.’
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey, at the Women and Democracy Association opening speech on 5th of June, 2016.
‘I am not sure if she is a girl or a woman.’
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking about Dilşat Aktaş – a woman whose hip was broken by the police when she was protesting against government, implying premarital ‘immorality’ on her part.
‘Violence against women is exaggerated.’
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, talking about the 1400% raise in violence against women over seven years.
‘I do not believe in the equality of men and women.’
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a meeting with the Women’s’ Associations
‘I see abortion as murder.’
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on abortion
‘If someone gets raped, they should give birth. If it’s necessary, the government will look after them.’
Recep Akdağ, the then/former Health Minister on abortion
‘The rapist is more innocent then their victim.’
‘Women who are raped should not get abortion, they should give birth. Women in Bosnia were raped and did not get an abortion.’
Ayhan Sefer Üstün, AKP Parliament Member, President of the Human Rights Commission
‘If a woman behaves properly, then she would not need to get an abortion.’
‘If a woman is raped, then why would the child die? The mother should die.’
Melih Gökçek, Mayor of Ankara, Capital of Turkey
“Unemployment is high because women are looking for work.’
Mehmet Şimşek, then Minister for the Economy, currently Deputy Prime Minister
‘Turkish Women are the ornament of the house.’
Vecdi Gönül / Minister of Defence
‘Women should be modest and know the difference between private and public spaces. They shouldn’t laugh in public or act appealing.’
Bülent Arınç, then Deputy Prime Minister
I am sure you felt irritated reading the above. Over the last 15 years, violence against women has increased immensely due to these kinds of sentences that we hear almost every day all over the media. Imagine how girls growing up in Turkey feel, hearing these words daily. One of the reasons why the current government was elected back was through the use of Islam as election propaganda, while representative politics should not be partisan. Since they have assumed power, they have suppressed Turkish citizens, imprisoning writers, journalists and businessmen who oppose them. They religionise politics, and politicize religion. Public figures (and their wives) have started to wear hijab to express support of the government. According to some reports, women even indicate their sects through the style of tying their hijab. Although I have all the respect in the world for ‘covered’ women, it saddens me that there are those who wear it for political reasons, against their own volition.
I have personally started to feel this religious pressure, along with many other young Turkish citizens. I have started to feel uncomfortable with the silent disapproving looks for the way I look, what I wear and even the way I talk and move. I am one of the few lucky women in Turkey who grew up within a secular family, in a secular environment. I learned Islam in school, not within the family. They never put pressure on me to choose a religion. They only guided me to research them, so that in the future I could make up my own mind. Maybe this is why I can see how my country is changing, day-by-day. The government not only closes their eyes to these attitudes towards women, they also tried to legalise it just a few months ago. They actually tried to pass a law a few months ago where rapists would be free if they married their victim. Thanks to women in the Parliament, they failed to pass the law.
After I lived in China for two years, where I witnessed no noticeable religious pressure, I could see all the more clearly how people were affected by rising religiosity in Turkey. Men were emboldened; women were timid. Two years ago, if I was sitting on a bench with a man next to me, I would feel normal, but now I am concerned that he might do something to me. Last summer, a man in the bus kicked a woman just because she was wearing shorts. The scary part is that people have started to find these kinds of attacks normal as a result of the rise in religious fundamentalism.
Women can be the biggest enemy of this mentality. They know as women, we have the power to change the world. More educated and outspoken women are the key to overcome this retrograde movement within Turkish society. The government is currently preparing for a referendum, which would cement Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s power. If they achieve a ‘yes’ vote, then Turkish Republic will become a Presidential Regime, where the president can do whatever he pleases and no one will have any power to resist him. Furthermore, he will be able to assign his successor and hand the power to whomever he pleases.
For the last 15 years, day-by-day, they changed this country through their laws, statements, looks, education system etc. It is like the example of the frog: if you put a frog into boiling water, then the frog will jump out. But if you put the frog into cold water and slowly heat it, then it won’t feel that it is slowly dying. Although this sounds like a desperate example, it is exactly the opposite. It means we can do the same: day-by-day, we can slowly change it back, through the voices and actions of women, and of men who were raised by women. I believe that salvation is in women’s hands: so speak out loud, read widely, write your feelings and be fierce. Let people know your opinion, even it seems small or insignificant to you. Do not think that your voice will not matter; a woman’s voice can make all the difference in the world.
Burcu is a Political Science and IR graduate and now works as a Marketing and Communication Specialist in İstanbul, Turkey. She refer herself as an unstoppable optimist, a global travel-holic and a yoga lover. Taking amateur travelling pictures is her greatest passion.