How women dress on TV.

A spokesman for the AKP, the leading party in Turkey, spoke on TV about the party’s attitude to women’s dress: they don’t wish to regulate how women dress, of course, but there was this presenter on a tv show saturday, and her outfit was ‘unacceptable’. It seems that the woman in question, Gözde Kansu, is no longer presenting that show.

Here is the interview with the spokesman Hüseyin Çelik, together with a clip from Kansu’s show, in Turkish.

The idea seems to be that no matter how tolerant you are, some outfits are simply unacceptable, such as those that show off part of breasts, and legs above the knees. So one might surmise that his (and the party’s?) tolerance stops at allowing modestly dressed women who don’t cover their heads to be out and about or on tv.

I wonder how he feels about Miley Cyrus.


Thanks to Lucas, who posted this on Facebook.


Turkish protests and sexual assaults.

You’ve all heard about the protests that started last June in Istanbul. They received fairly little media attention, because unlike what was going on in Egypt there were relatively few people killed (although every death was both a tragedy and entirely avoidable). But while it did not turn inot a full blown revolution, it did not blow over and indeed there are still protests going on throughout Turkey, and much police violence.

Among the things I hear about on social media – one of the ways the protests have mostly been reported in the absence of press coverage – is that the police are committing sexual assault on women protestors. Until now I’d only come across hearsay. Here is an article on the matter by Pınar Tremblay. Thanks Y. for bringing it to our attention.

Turkish women and Gezi

There’s a great article on women in Turkey in the New York Review of Books’ blog.

Suzy Hansen gives a clear and balanced perspective on what’s been happening from the point of view of Turkish women since the AKP, Erdoan’s party, came into power, and during the protests which started three months ago (and are far from being over).

She emphasizes that at the beginning, the AKP did support some women friendly reforms:

As it happened, the first years of Erdoğan’s administration coincided with some important reforms relating to the status of women in Turkish law. Lobbying efforts by women’s rights advocates in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as a campaign coordinated by over one hundred women’s groups in 2001, led to a reform of the penal code to recognize women as individuals. Until 2005, a sexual crime against a woman was called “a crime against society,” or a “crime against public morality and the family,” rather than a crime against an individual. The new laws also criminalized marital rape and sexual harassment, increased punishment for honor killings, and reversed legal discrimination against unmarried women. Though Erdoğan had little to do with these reforms, it was he and the AKP who took credit for dramatically improving the legal status of women in Turkey.

Hansen contrasts this with the AKP’s invasion of women’s private lives in the last few years, telling women they should have three children, attempting to make all abortions illegal, making wild claims about child birth methods, and publicly denying that men and women are equal.

The Gezi protests, she claims, with its high participation of women, may bring some hope for the future of the status of women in Turkey:

Of course one risk is that, as in earlier decades, the plight of Turkish women will get lost in larger political debates about basic freedoms and rights in general. And yet the growing recognition of women’s rights among the spectrum of grievances many people have against the Turkish state suggests that the old ways may be changing.

Well worth reading. Thanks Radu.

Pregnant protesters in Ankara and Istanbul.

Wednesday night, a lawyer and Sufi intellectual spoke out on Turkish national tv against the presence of seven and eight months’ pregnant women in public places. He found that their ‘flaunting’ of their big bellies was immoral, lacking in respect and aesthetically unpleasant. If pregnant women must go out in their third trimester, let their husbands take them out for evening drives.

Turkish women immediately responded by staging protests in Istanbul and Ankara last night, showing off pregnant bellies, or – if they didn’t have them – bellies strapped with pillows. Their hashtag is #direnhamile (#resistpregnant).

Let’s hope the police doesn’t decide to spray them with tear gas!

Hypnosis, not epidurals, for a generation of brave children.

Turkish politicians keep on coming up with the good stuff. The latest, perhaps in honour of Kate giving birth, is from health minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu, who said today that women should avoid having epidurals if they don’t want to raise cowardly babies. Not sure how the mother’s pain will help the baby be more courageous: perhaps he meant these children would be less afraid of hurting women? Hypnosis is preferable, he says, just about, as it makes for a more ‘natural’ birth. The news item is here, in Turkish. If you click on the little british flag, you’ll get this computer generated translation – terrible, but you’ll get the gist.

Are the Turkish protests alienating the headscarf wearing population ?

One of the Turkish Prime Minister’s tactics for discrediting the protestors in Gezi Park and elsewhere has been to accuse them of rekindling discrimination towards practicing Muslims which he, Erdoğan, has been combatting since he’s been in power. One claim he made was that protestors entered a Mosque with their shoes one and proceeded to drink beer inside. This has been denied very publically by the Imam of that Mosque, who welcomed protestors inside for their safety, while they were being attacked by the police, and to care for the injured. There is supporting filmed evidence of what he says. The imam was questioned by the police for six hours and subsequently suspended.

Another recurrent piece of rhetoric in the same vein is the Prime Minister’s claim the protestors are ‘insulting his covered sisters’. One story being told is of a young woman carrying a child was urinated on and had her headscarf pulled off by protestors in in Dolmabahçe in Istanbul. Whether this really did happen has not been, to the best of my knowledge, established. On the other hand, some of the denials do sound like the sort of denials one might expect whenever a woman testifies to an assault, so one should be very weary of dismissing the story. (There is one article in Turkish refering to the young woman’s testimony). Be that as it may, the incident quickly became part of the anti-protests rhetoric, together with the manifestedly false accusations relating to the Mosque.

But not all headscarf wearing women chose to take this story as evidence that the protests were not for them. One famously replied to the Prime Minister’s tweet that he should not use the ‘headscarf issue’ to win the protests, and that, like many, she’d had enough of his lies.

Are secular women and muslim women divided by what is happening ? Should we worry that practicing muslim women’s voices will not be heard and that they will, as a result, end up being oppressed ? True, one might worry that as was the case before the AKP came to power, their freedom to wear a head scarf in universities and public buildings might be taken away – and this would be a bad thing.

But so far, this has not figured on the list of the protestors demands, or even complaints. One thing to bear in mind is that the protestors are of a later generation than those who were in favour of the headscarf bans ten years ago. Indeed, one of the famous protesters, the iconic standing man, staged a different protest a few years ago, wearing a headscarf to university in support of women who wanted to but could not.

But more significantly, women seem to be standing together:a group of secular women has just launched a campaign for the support of covered women’s rights to participate in politics wearing their headscarves if they so wish. Nicole Pope of Today’s Zaman writes :

A group of 57 female journalists, academics and intellectuals, among them Amberin Zaman, Nilüfer Göle and Balçiçek Ilter, have just launched a new campaign in favor of women wearing the headscarf, urging political parties to “lift all legal and non-legal obstacles” that prevent them from becoming parliamentary deputies, being elected at national and local level and generally participating fully in public life.

The campaign and its implications are described in the article, here

Bio-ethics and the Turkish protests

Although the protestors in Gezi park and throughout Turkey are united by the desire for a more democratic process, as witness the numerous assemblies that have been taking place in parks everywhere in the country, there are a number of distinct issues motivating discontent – that is, there’s plenty of discrimination and infringement of rights going around, whether for the Alevis, the Kurds, the leftists, journalists, the LGBT community, or women.

One (of several) important background story as far as women’s particular motivation for participating in the protests is the ongoing, and recently revived threat on their reproductive rights. One year ago, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan voiced his conviction that abortion was tantamount to murder, (and the result of a foreign plot to prevent the growth of Turkey) and propose that it should be made illegal. C-sections, which he had heard somewhere might prevent women from having more than two children were also targeted. Turkish women, he said, should have three children a-piece. Although the bill was dropped, (as far as abortion is concerned) the government still speaks in favour of early marriage and procreation.

This article by Şerife Tekin gives a very useful outline of the state of bioethics in Turkey, with particular emphasis on the government’s paternalistic attitude towards women’s reproductive rights.

The conclusion she draws is particularly worrying, highlighting the way in which ministers’ proclamation, whether or not they end up as laws, have a huge influence on the national psyche :

Nonetheless, Erdoğan’s stance has influenced popular opinion about abortions in the mainly Muslim nation, increasing the stigma, and having an effect on women’s access to abortion. For instance, in most public health institutions, family doctors who encounter a patient who is pregnant or who is interested in having an abortion notify either her husband or her father. Men in modern Turkey generally have the final say over women’s bodies and reproductive rights . 

Turkey remembers the massacre of Alevi intellectuals in Sivas twenty years ago.

Today Turkey mourns the 20th anniversary of the Sivas Massacre.

On 2 July 1993, poets and other artists, mostly of the Alevi faith, met in the town of Sivas for a festival celebrating the 16th century Alevi poet Pir Sultan Abdal. Aziz Nesin, a writer and humourist had, on the previous day, given a newspaper interview in which he acknowledged that he was an atheist.

Though it is far from true that all Alevis intellectuals are atheists, they are sometimes perceived as unbelievers by Suni Muslims, because they are not required to engage in public displays of their faith – most Alevis do not observe the fast of Ramazan, or prescriptions about drinking alcohol or eating pork – and because they favour secularism – many Alevis are Kemalists. Alevism is also known for promoting a greater gender equality than other Muslim sects: Alevi women do not cover their heads and are not required to dress ‘modestly’, Alevi men and women pray together, at home, (as opposed to women at home and men in the mosque), and are strongly encouraged to go to school and university. Alevi Muslims represent around 30 % of the Turkish population.

At prayer time, on 2 July 1993, the festival goers in Sivas were preparing to watch a play, adapted from a poem by the revolutionary writer Nazim Hikmet. The actors were banging drums, which angered those who were on their way to prayer. The anger spread to a crowd, who demanded that Nesin be expelled from the town, and who pulled up and destroyed a statue of Pir Sultan Abdal from the square in front of hotel where the festival was taking place. The town officials and the police did little to contain the crowd, and according to some reports, even encouraged them. At the end of a long day of terror for the intellectuals trapped in their hotel with their families, the crowds set the hotel on fire. 37 died.

Can Dündar’s excellent documentary retraces every moment of that terrible day, with filmed evidence, interviews from survivors, their relatives, and the then mayor of Sivas.

Films of the moving, shouting crowds form a striking contrast with the peaceful demonstrations Turkey has witnessed in the last four weeks. The desire for blood, the need to destroy all traces of the artists’ presence and of their (lack of) belief, is palpable and frightening. Before the riots started, a journalist interviewed Nesin to verify the newspaper claim that he is indeed an atheist. Upon receiving confirmation the journalist was unable to contain himself and cried out: “Why do you disrespect our beliefs!”

Another contrast is that the crowds in Sivas were mostly male – the men who were coming out of their friday prayer – as were the poets and artists who participated in the festival (at one point one survivor states that their children and ‘women friends’ were in the hotel with them).

The Gezi park protestors have already expressed solidarity with the survivors of the massacre. It is highly likely that tonight, the protestors will find a way to commemorate the victims. 


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.