Just as last year, the women’s march that is held on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, was again dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets by police.
Just a few hours before police teargassed women in the streets of Istanbul, Emine Erdoğan, wife of President Tayyip Erdoğan, was giving a speech that denounced violence against women.
One might ask why the government takes such extreme measures towards a women’s march, while Mrs. Erdoğan, the strongest female figure behind the scenes of the ruling AKP, is seemingly taking a stance for women.
First of all, any street gathering or protest is oppressed in Turkey. The right to protest is a constitutional right, but governmental practices show otherwise: Even after the state of emergency was lifted in July 2018, the AKP government continues to ban street protests and gatherings.
To organize a public meeting or protest, all groups must get permission from the governorship, which is directed by the Interior Ministry and of course, the Presidency.
If people take to the streets despite a ban, thousands of heavily armed riot police will disperse them, usually by detaining people and using teargas and rubber bullets. Some of them might end up in jail, especially if they are Kurds and/or left-leaning.
Not only political protests, but also labor protests, Pride marches, high school students’ marches and women’s marches are almost always banned. The Nov. 25 march in Istanbul was also banned by the Beyoğlu district governorate. Thanks to relentless discussions with the authorities by feminist groups, the ban was lifted.
In Ankara, although the police tried to block the march, again, women succeeded in protesting. Similar organizations in Kurdish towns like Mardin, Şırnak, Van, and Cizre, though, were strictly banned.
In Istanbul, thousands flocked to Istiklal street, chanting and holding banners that read, “We revolt against state-male violence, we want to live!” But when women wanted to march further after the press release, riot police forcibly blocked them. Even in alleyways, any small protest ended with the use of tear gas.
The Nov. 25 march is one of the most organized and highly attended protests in Turkey, since violence against women is a huge problem and the count of murdered women is on the rise. However, Mrs. Erdoğan stated on that very day that the rise in violence against women is just a perception and that today, thanks to the AKP, women can ask for their rights.
Mrs. Erdogan might think the rise in femicide is just a perception, but even the Interior Ministry stated the numbers as follows: 304 in 2016, 353 in 2017, 280 in 2018 and in the first 10 months of 2019, 299 women were killed, mostly by their spouses or family members.
It’s important to note that governmental data is questionable because some killings are not listed as femicide but as suicide or as due to unknown causes or an accident, or not reported at all. According to the We Will Stop The Femicide Platform (KCDP), which collects data from news and police reports, 440 women were killed in 2018, and 383 in the first 10 months of 2019, pointing to a dramatic gap with official data.
The mysterious deaths and horrendous killings of women of all ages are put under the spotlight thanks to women’s rights groups, journalists, lawyers and a few opposition politicians. When femicides become a public debate, the government can not act as if they don’t exist. Opposition parties, feminists, academics, and experts all agree that the government’s discourse, practices, legislative measures and inaction are the cause of such high numbers.
Hence, the second questionable statement by Mrs. Erdoğan is about the practice of women’s rights. Thanks to women's rights groups who pushed for better rights, protection and equality, and thanks to the goal of becoming an EU member, which is a forgotten story now, AKP truly took progressive steps in its first years of governance.
As the name suggests, the Istanbul Convention, the first legally binding instrument to create a comprehensive legal framework to combat violence against women, was signed in 2011 in Istanbul.
In Erdoğan’s view, who has always stated that women and men are not equal, some rights are too progressive and lead to a rise in divorce. That’s why the AKP and later, its ultra nationalist partner, the Nationalist Movement Party, are working on legislative changes that would threaten the rights that women have fought for for so long.
The fight for women’s rights is the fight to stay alive. It’s the fight to have a better, more equal life. This is what scares the Islamist-ultra nationalist alliance the most.