Women’s struggle for equality is history’s oldest and most extensive quest for justice. It is also the most extensive struggle for rights on a local and global scale because women, who constitute half of humanity, have had their natural-born human rights seized in every society known throughout history. The women’s movement has made its mark on the last centuries of the history of humanity. It has come a long way on the road to making the world a more livable place for everyone. In Turkey as well, the women’s movement began in the final period of the Ottoman Empire and continues up until today. Turkey’s women’s movement has gained substantial power by contributing to social transformation in the quest for equality. Those achievements in the field of equality have all been reached because women have communicated with political parties, leaders, bureaucrats and media on both the personal and group level so that the policies of equality they have created can be implemented.
It is just the right time to benefit from the archive of Halime Güner, founder of the Uçan Süpürge Vakfı (Flying Broom Foundation) and someone who is known to hold many of the memories of Turkey’s women movements. Here are some of the stages we may have forgotten:
“When Mehmet Görmez was appointed to the head of the Diyanet, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, in November 2010, we wanted the prudent comments that were made against child marriages during his predecessor Ali Bardakoğlu’s term to continue. To express our expectations, we were at Görmez’s office, upon his invitation, with other representatives of women’s organizations on March 7, 2011. From Başkent Kadın Platformu, Kamu Sen, UNFPA and Turkish Mothers Association to Flying Broom and the EU Commission, women from several institutions and organizations were at the Diyanet to hear about the agenda of the new director regarding women’s rights.”
We heard the following: “The relationship between man and woman in our religion is never a relationship of domination. The women’s issue is at the top of the most neglected issues, and the reason is carelessness and impassivity. In none of the divine texts can you come across an attitude that marginalizes women.”
He also said, “To present women as a possession passed onto the man through marriage is the mentality of the Jahiliyya, the pre-Islamic age of ignorance. Unfortunately, today, women-centered issues are somehow competing with certain traditional attitudes that almost consider women to be an issue. It is our main duty to ensure that women effectively benefit from the right to education, to raise awareness about discrimination, and to be protect and look out for the indispensible victims of honor killings.”
These were views that were shared and voiced by almost all religious officials. We, on the other hand, were presenting the Diyanet as an example for preventing types of gender-based violence such as child marriages. Thus, we wanted this institution to take concrete and determined steps. For instance, during Friday sermons, we expected them to say to the congregation, “Do not marry your children when they are at a young age. This is a crime.”
Halime Güner continues, reminding us: “On Saturday, March 28, 2015, we joined a luncheon with the president. One of the journalists present at the reception, Göksel Göksu, wrote this in her story: ‘President Erdoğan made a short speech at the beginning of the meeting, explaining the goal as follows: ‘Bringing together all the nongovernmental organizations, intellectuals, and from there, building a different position our women with the units we are creating.’”
Other points that drew attention in that speech were:
“A hand lifted against a woman is one that is lifted against all of humanity.”
“There are stances that identify violence with our religion and culture. I don’t agree with them. I find this mentality malevolent. I think it is intentional to base mistakes in practice on culture and religion.”
Five or ten years ago, a determination to stop domestic violence would be expressed and women’s rights would be praised. When the Istanbul Convention was signed, congratulations from abroad were well received. So, what has changed today? It should be asked to the Diyanet, “When the director changes, did we go back to the Jahiliyya period and their morals in religious interpretations?” It should be asked to the President, “Those religious interpretations that you found malevolent five years ago are now praiseworthy. Is that the reason the Istanbul Convention is now being debated? Will human rights be discussed? Will the right to live and women’s rights be submitted for the approval of the enemies of women?”
The women’s equality struggle has seen world wars and several empires, and it kept on without slowing. Now, political tides within the country and within the party will not be enough to stop the progression of the women’s movement and the struggle for equality. We will not pawn away our rights that we took from the patriarchy one by one by force to your political showdowns. Those who think they are buying time with conjunctural rhetoric from the women’s movement are totally wrong.
On the contrary, the fight for women’s equality, no matter what the ideology, politics, religion, culture and geography are, has been successful in overcoming all administrations and will continue with the same speed. All the achievements gained from scratch will not be lost, and we do not intend to lose them to patriarchal religious interpretations or to state policies that turn into human rights violations. We know we do not have the right to keep silent and step back from defending our rights. Everyone should know that we live with the conscience that, in all achievements including the Istanbul Convention, we owe it to our sisters, all of our current and future daughters who have their blood, labor, effort, mental capacity and determination to fight in them.