The reasons behind pro-gov't NGO rejecting a feminist campaign

Conservative circles, including KADEM, regard the concept of equality as narrow and inadequate. According to them, the history of the world’s women’s rights movement has been rotating around a narrow and inadequate concept. Furthermore, they argue that women cannot exist without the family.

While a recent campaign to swap patriarchal idioms, sayings and discourses with matriarchal ones in the Turkish language was largely welcomed, a conservative group of women reacted to it negatively. On their Twitter account, KADEM, the Women and Democracy Association, whose vice-chair is none other than President Erdoğan’s daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar, posted the following statement: “The existence of women and men in society within justice and equitable standards is based on mutual respect and understanding. The campaign that started as an emphasis on empathy #menshouldknowtheirplace (#erkekleryerinibilsin) has reached a stage where the values we believe in are harmed. We condemn and reject this situation.”

Reacting to KADEM’s position, some said: “If KADEM is bothered by this situation, we are probably doing the right thing. Let’s continue.”

Aside from KADEM, no other women’s organizations reacted negatively to the women’s rights campaign, and rightly so. I regard KADEM largely as a component of the political establishment and believe their deployment in the feminist movement has been harmful to the struggle. 

KADEM is a foundation that was established in 2013 and whose official aim is to “raise awareness amongst women with regards to democratic rights and the protection of their core values.” Yet what are those “core values”? In an interview with the daily newspaper Sabah, the head of the foundation, Dr. Saliha Okur Gümrükçüoğlu, said KADEM believed “healthy generations and strong societies are constituted of families made up of women and men, as appropriate to the nature of our creation.” Gümrükçüoğlu added that “alternative strains would spoil the generation and wreak havoc in the future.” 

Unsurprisingly, the foundation does not abide by the “gender approach” of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women. “Gender is male and female. There are no forced orientations. Thus, the Convention must not contain a meaning or article directed to forming a third gender or legalization of homosexuality” Gümrükçüoğlu said. “[The Convention] contains provisions that go against our religion and customs,” she added. 

In other words, KADEM castigates the Istanbul Convention for its context of universal gender equality. The Istanbul Convention clearly lists, states and organizes a series of measures to be taken to prevent “gender-based violence against women.” 

By stating that they are “against violence based on women’s biological sex,” KADEM are somehow declaring that they are uninterested in gender. For a foundation that defines itself as an NGO combating violence against women, it is sad that its main concern is that if another gender were to be accepted – other than male and female that is – the overall population would age.  

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan frequently delivers speeches at KADEM. At every opportunity, he calls on couples to have three children (in recent times it has been five). For instance, in a speech he gave on March 8, he said: “From time to time, I say at least three children and some people are annoyed with this. These annoyed ones are annoyed because they are enemies of the people. What makes this nation a nation is the family. If we make this nation strong, if we make our population dynamic, if we increase our young population, believe me, the West will look for places to hide in the face of our ascent.”

It is not only for economic growth that the president wants children and a younger population. It is also for electoral reasons, as to ensure the continuity of his rule. That in itself should not be problematic. Yet it directly undermines women’s rights and their longing for equality. Besides, without quality, quantity does not suffice to spur economic growth. 

In a speech she delivered at a KADEM meeting, the Minister for the Family and Social Policies Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya said that the government aimed to not get trapped into the “narrow and inadequate” meaning of “equality”.  The Minister added that the government wanted women to gain the respect that was appropriate to their reality. “The approach that treats women as independent of knowledge, production, family and children paves the way for societal collapse. We cannot disregard the role of the woman in the family whilst seeking to carry her to the place she deserves in every field. This is one of the primary mistakes of the modern world.”

Conservative circles, including KADEM, regard the concept of equality as narrow and inadequate. In other words, according to them, the history of the world’s women’s rights movement has been rotating around a narrow and inadequate concept. Other statements from KADEM state that women cannot exist without the family. Ultimately, they emphasize that women cannot be equal to men.

In a speech he gave at KADEM, President Erdoğan made that very clear: “As you can see, granting rights to everyone does not mean distributing a thing equally to everybody or treating everybody the same. Let’s not make a mistake here. You cannot weigh the big and the tiny on the same scale. You cannot place the weak and the strong in the same league. Some people say ‘equal and equal’ all the time. Now, are we going to make women and men run the 100 meters under the same conditions? How can that be? Well, if they are equal, then let men and women run the 100 meters. Is this just? No, it is not. What needs to be done? Women run with women; men run with men. This is how it should be done. Because that’s what’s suitable for procreation or nature. For that reason, there is no such practice anywhere in the world. You cannot hold the cruel and the oppressed in the same place.” In short, what Erdoğan says is that women should know their place. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the #menshouldknowtheirplace campaign bothers conservative circles so much. 

Justice does not mean much without equality and freedom. That’s why the conservatives demonize feminism, as it advocates equality. The government consistently demonizes any voice that does not agree with it. 

In a Tweet in the #menshouldknowtheirplace (#erkekyerinibilsin) campaign, I wrote: “A man who is not a father is only half.” Some people who weren’t aware of the campaign understood the Tweet literally and reacted: “How could you write this? You’re hurting those who are not or cannot be fathers.” They are right. 

In fact, the Tweet referred to President Erdoğan’s speech at one of KADEM’s opening ceremonies. “When a woman abstains from motherhood because she’s working, she’s effectively denying her womanhood. A woman who refuses motherhood, gives up on managing the house is, no matter how successful she is in the business world, is deficient; she’s only half. Women are half of the population. If that half lacks, there is no humanity. Rejecting motherhood is giving up on half of humanity,” Erdoğan had said. 

When I wrote my Tweet, it was those words I had in mind. Still, I deleted the Tweet later on, as some people who do not get the reference might be hurt. I wish President Erdoğan had apologized to those women he declared as “half” because they do not become mothers.   

KADEM says it is against violence, but it does not focus on the main reasons of violence. They say they’re not a government or state institution but only an NGO. Unfortunately, what we derive from their activities and statements is that they are working on transforming women in line with the government’s political aims. 

Thus, one can say that they do not act like a civil society organization that advocates human rights, but rather as the political establishment. If they seek to prevent violence against women, they should not only focus on physical violence. I have not come across any statement of theirs regarding sexual violence against both women and children. KADEM states that the reason women should not be subject to violence is that “they too are human.”

KADEM are so family-oriented that they go as far as saying: “We talked about the family and how it was a must that women’s rights should be established so that the family reaches the place it deserves.” The defense of “women are also human” is a way of begging for mercy. In fact, we all know that women are not kittens; they are as human as men. They have the same rights as men and laws should be applied equally to all, to women, men and what the individuals want to call themselves. Laws should not only be applied to them, but people should also embrace this mentality of equality. The Istanbul Convention’s “principle to act with integrated policies” should be followed. Accordingly, comprehensive work should be carried out to remove any rhetoric that legitimizes violence and spreads this perception of impunity.

Consequently, it is quite obvious why the trend of changing patriarchal idioms into matriarchal ones flusters KADEM. They seem to regard the concept of equality of women’s human rights struggle differently. This campaign shows how women are treated as the “second sex” in society. It is spurring much awareness. Instead of praising this campaign, KADEM adopts a negative stance. This effectively undermines the progress women have won throughout history. They may be leading their own separate efforts, but they should not harm this country’s women’s movement – perhaps the only successful one so far. For it serves the interest of all women, conservative included.