Muslim feminism’s simultaneous struggle

It is no secret that the Turkey’s government and society do very little to ensure the safety and equality of women. This is exemplified in those Muslim women who were targeted for their participation in the Boğaziçi University resistance movement. It is Muslim feminism’s unending ordeal that they must struggle simultaneously against both the conservatism in which they live and the opposition mentality that assumes they are anomalies and advocates of traditionalism.

Will the government’s new action plan, which will be published as you read this article, include a regulation that will prevent TV programmer Müge Anlı from saying things such as, “The tears of a sex worker when she has been raped have no meaning,” as this statement is slanderous and discriminatory?

We will see whether this new plan will restrict and punish words that enable male violence and sexual assault. Any plan that addresses criminal act according to the victim’s identity and does not address such incriminating words will be woefully inadequate.

In reality, preventing the discrimination against women, who some regarded as deserving to be raped, should not require a new action plan. Turkey is already a signatory of CEDAW, which dictates the means of preventing such crimes. The Istanbul Convention was also signed to prevent such enabling of male violence.

It is highly unlikely that the upcoming action plan will include sex workers within its human rights framework. The Turkish government has already signed onto conventions addressing these issues, and already does not fulfill the obligations therein.

Will the action plan guarantee the rights of religious women to criticize traditional interpretations of religion that permit hostility towards women? Women who wear headscarves are some of the most vulnerable members of society and are subjected to all kinds of assault. People who think religious women are privileged under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) regime should be informed about the problems such women face when they oppose the regime.

I want to remind you of Zeynep Algı, Zeynep Duygu, Şeyma Altundal, and all those who were attacked and were shown on the March 8 International Women’s Day posters for their ‘controversial’ opinions.

Perhaps you remember the tweets from August 2020, reacting to the sexism and reversing the words and actions used to insult women. This trend allowed us to reflect on the social prejudices that women face. Posts such as, “He’s my husband; he can both love me and beat me” and “I allow my husband to work if he wants to do so” didn’t foment much outrage and even the staunchest believers were amused by them.

However, all hell broke loose when the posts began to reverse religious interpretations. For example, Zeynep Algı reversed a fabricated narrative that is attributed to the prophet saying, “Those societies which leave everything to men, will never find salvation.” After this, she was publicly criticized and police were called to pursue a case against her. The office of the prosecutor took the seriously and called Zeynep Algı to testify in court.

A couple of months later, Zeynep Duygu was also called to testify because she had tweeted, “Every woman has a right to wed four men.” Her words were considered an insult to men. A complaint was made against her saying, “We won’t let you insult our values for which we’re ready to die.”

Reversing those fabricated narratives used to repress women for over a thousand years without question, suddenly led to legal complaints being filed for “inciting hatred and hostility.”

There are two main takeaways from this occurrence: First, conservative women were targeted for supporting the messages, despite there also being conservative male supporters; Second, this act shows that Muslim feminists are not tolerated in Turkish society.

Society only supports and uplifts Muslim women who fall into predetermined categories, as mothers, sisters, daughters, etc. As soon as those same women are defiant, they seek to silence them. They retaliate against these women when choose to question the foundation behind justifying the societal subordination of the female gender; These women are dangerous because they are undermining the religious grounds for treating women as second class citizens. The response to these attacks prove the power behind the women’s objections.

The attackers have somehow assumed that because a woman elects to wear a headscarf that she will elect to be subservient to men. They believe they can silence women by getting police and prosecutor involved. So, they are quick to report on them.

When Muslim women criticize traditional religious interpretations and underline their patriarchal dimensions, they challenge the religious establishment. If they also challenge the political establishment, the reaction doubles.

A secondary reason why Zeynep Duygu was called to testify months after her tweet, was because of her participation in the Boğaziçi University resistance movement. Only last week, when she carried an LGBTQİ+ banner did the prosecutor call her to testify.

It takes courage for a woman wearing a headscarf to carry a pride flag even though she already is an established activist and human rights defender. Courage is contagious. Thus, Zeynep Duygu was targeted because of her courage.

Another example is Şeyma Altundal, a young woman who also participated in the Boğaziçi resistance movement, and whose headscarf was removed during her arrest. The police attack on her headscarf and their manipulation of the CCTV recordings is another example of the greater push to put Muslim feminists and women with headscarves in their place.

The interior minister’s call to the women’s families and social media attacks saying, “Don’t you have a brother who can shut you up?” are indicators of this mentality which considers women to be controlled by their fathers, husbands, brothers, and families. Conservatives have yet to understand that they cannot easily silence this new generation of Muslim feminists who loudly declare, “We are not the family’s subjects; we are God’s subjects.”

Muslim feminists defending not only their own rights, but everyone else’s, are uncomfortable when the secular opposition labels them as “a supporter wearing a headscarf.” These young women have said that they are participating in the Boğaziçi University movement because they are students there. They refuse to be seen simply as supporters, on the contrary, they are human rights activists resisting all kinds of discrimination. They are fighting this mentality that refers to them as an anomaly.

The struggle of Muslim feminists has improved as they are now more accepted by secular feminists compared to the 1990s, but there is still a long way to go before they are readily accepted in resistance movements. They rise against patriarchal interpretations of religion and, at times political authority. It is Muslim feminism’s unending ordeal that they must struggle simultaneously against both the conservatism in which they live and the mentality that assumes they are advocates of traditionalism.