Turkish Women Say No to Masculine Culture And One-Man Rule

Across the world, women on Wednesday marked International Women’s Day in a festive mood to vent their frustration with unchanged status quo regarding gender relations in socio-political landscape in most countries. In Turkey, women’s efforts to give their voice out were brutally interrupted either by a mob or riot police in various cities.

In the United States and elsewhere, feminists groups took the lead to organize a worldwide strike called A Day Without a Woman to further position of woman at workplace, in society and politics.

Calls for a stronger solidarity among women have reached fever pitch after Donald Trump’s ascent to presidency, a development that caused alarm among feminists. His election was met with trepidation for them given Trump’s lewd remarks about women, his predator attitude and disregard for the opposite sex.

For feminists, it has become an imperative for more efficient efforts to fight back against possible rollback of women’s rights not just in the U.S., but also across the world in the face of rise of right-wing populism and growing sexism in politics.

In Turkey, specter of politics and upcoming presidential referendum overshadowed demonstrations and protests led by women across the country. Turkey’s women from all walks of life lent their support to promising No campaign to obstruct formation of a one-man rule, an authoritarian regime.

But their ‘No’ did not contain only a political flavor. In broader context, their stance was framed as rejection of all sort of inequalities ingrained in Turkey’s gender-biased culture, unfair treatment of women at workplace or any societal level, the existence of formidable challenges that only posed for women.

Thousands of women marched in Istanbul’s iconic Istiklal Avenue on Wednesday night as part of feminist-led ‘Purple Resistance’ to push back against ever-strengthening masculine culture that defines Turkey’s political landscape. “There is no way from the Feminist struggle,” one banner read, while the other, “No to One-Man, No to Manhood [Machismo]” in reference to presidential system, which critics believe will spawn a one-man regime.

The event transpired peacefully, provided a ground for women to voice their demand for gender equality, end of sexism in politics, empowerment of women at all societal and political aspects of life and having a greater say over their own fate. But other demonstrations in different cities were broken up by police intervention or an angry mob.

In Istanbul’s Bilgi University, a group of assailants attacked a number of female students observing the International Women’s Day. One student was badly beaten. Police broke up a march in Ankara, while detained dozens in western province of Izmir.

In Diyarbakir, a city buffeted by urban fighting and ravaging destruction, women made victory signs, yearning for peace. The calamitous effects of the war crippled city economy, displaced more than 300,000 people across the region as the fighting between the Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants has recently escalated. For Kurdish women, their hard-won rights in region’s patriarchal social structure suffered dramatic reversals after government-appointed governors rolled back their gains.

Pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (HDP) has the highest political representation of women in the country, well above any other party in Parliament. Its high regard for female politicians has a matter of substance, not a lip service, as municipalities are run by co-mayors, one male and one female, in HDP-led municipalities.

That promising progress has been halted by the Turkish government as co-chairs of HDP, co-mayors of HDP-run Diyarbakir and hundreds of other party officials have been imprisoned over bogus charges of terrorism and alleged links to Kurdish insurgents. 

The women’s rights has taken an air of urgency from another perspective. The government’s unabated clampdown on opponents of different social conviction, and especially sympathizers of Fethullah Gulen Movement knows no bounds as authorities unleashed a full-scale arrest campaign on families and children, with little regard for basic tenets of legal proceedings. Tens of thousands of women, including pregnant ones and mothers with babies, have been placed in jails with little clarity on evidence.

Turkey’s cultural and social landscape is characterized by an unrelenting battle to define the ideal place for women in society. In a country where endemic domestic violence eludes nationwide solution despite efforts by generations of politicians and civil society groups, the prospect for empowerment of women faces myriad of odds and challenges.

But whatever the challenge is, and however strong odds are, Turkey’s women are there to fight to the end to advance their cause as Wednesday’s marches evidently showed.

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