Women and Vulnerability in Turkey

As part of the Columbia center for the study of social difference project : Women Creating Change, Judith Butler and Zeynep Gambetti are hosting a workshop in Istanbul 16-19 September. Although there’s no reference in the blurb to current events, this is clearly very topical.

There is always something both risky and true in claiming that women are especially vulnerable.  The claim can be taken to mean that women have an unchanging and defining vulnerability, and that kind of argument makes the case for paternalistic protection.


And yet, there are good reasons to argue for the differential vulnerability of women; they suffer disproportionately from poverty and literacy, two very important dimensions of any global analysis of women’s condition.

Women have been extremely active in the protests of the last month, as a look at any picture taken in Gezi park, Taksim square in Istanbul, Kizilay or Kuglu park in Ankara, Eskisehir, Antalya, to name but a few of the places where the police has been attacking demonstrators.

Several women have become iconic, in particular, the woman in red, one of the first victims of ‘pepper spray’ and the woman in black, caught in the TOMA’s water canon, or the old woman with an Anonymous mask.

Vulnerability in the two senses identified above has also been very present. The worsening of women’s situation in Turkey since the AKP came into power has been one of the main themes in the background of the protests : increase in domestic violence, moves to make abortion (and cesarians !) illegal, relaxation of the efforts to send all girls to school. And of course, this did put the goverment in a position to issue paternilistic edicts « Mothers, call your children home ! » to which the women in Gezi park who happened to be mothers responded by forming a human chain, to protect the youth inside.

Of course, even from the perspective of the protestors, it is hard to avoid all gender bias, and women are still too often referred to as ‘mothers’, ‘aunts’, ‘sisters’ rather than just ‘protestors’. But mostly, there are no questions asked : the people out there are people who want a bit more say in how they’re governed, and who want to protect their green spaces, and the barricades looked a lot more gender balanced than they did in Delacroix’ picture of nineteenth century France.