Turkish Protests Rattle Erdogan’s Female Loyalists


By Sisi Tang

WeNews correspondent

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Turkey‘s anti-government protests are troubling for some of Erdogan’s female supporters, who dominate his voting base. For other women, the protests are an outlet for anger at current policies and a break from the political repression that followed the 1970s mass unrest.

Hundreds of women marched toward Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 8, 2013.
Hundreds of women marched toward Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 8, 2013.

Credit: Sisi Tang

ISTANBUL, Turkey (WOMENSENEWS)– A Reuters photo of a police officer spraying tear gas into the face of a woman in a red dress in Gezi Park in Taksim Square here has forged the impression of a strong-armed reaction by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan toward protests around the country that are stretching into their second week.

While Erdogan has agreed to meet today with three protest leaders, many expect the demonstrations to escalate after police entered Gezi Park Tuesday, flinging gas canisters and shooting rubber bullets at demonstrators, despite the Istanbul governor’s promise earlier that the park will not be touched. People continued filing into Taksim Square, which was bellowing with tear gas smoke and reeling from sound bombs as of Tuesday night.

Last weekend, Kalbiye Uzuner, a middle-aged housewife, was among those walking toward Taksim, joining the crowd’s chants calling for the government to resign.

“This is the first time I’ve participated in something this big,” she told Women’s eNews. “Even if the P.M. [prime minister] doesn’t give into our demands, I think we have still won because we have gathered here such a variety of people.”

In the backstreets, older women jutted their arms out of their windows, banging pots and pans and offering the young protesters passing by lemon and vinegar, which they hoped would soothe the bite of tear gas.

These indications of waning support among women concern Erdogan’s loyal female followers.

Eda Yilmaz, a young supporter of Erdogan’s ruling AKP party, has not yet joined the demonstrations. But she said she was incensed by the Reuters image and felt an instant desire to join those in Taksim Square.

“The police violence needs to be investigated,” said Yilmaz, an entrepreneur and industrial engineer, in an interview over the weekend. “It shouldn’t necessarily be about the government stepping down, but about it correcting and checking its mistakes.”

According to a student protestor’s personal account that has been circulated online by his professor, a police officer repeatedly beat a woman inside a police detention vehicle while threatening to rape her and forcing her to shout praises to the police.

Though both men and women have been subject to police violence, videos and interviews showing female protestors in the Aegean metropolis of Izmir being beaten by a dozen or more police have spread like wildfire on the Web and inflamed the public.

A Hovering Question

Will it end with long-lasting political change of any sort?

That’s the question hovering over layers of barbecue smoke, smoldering tear gas, spewing water cannons and the red flags of the Republic and its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The answer depends, in part, on Turkish female voters such as Yilmaz. Women were 54 percent of those who voted for the AKP during the 2011 general elections, according to an AKP-led survey.

The AKP, a party with Islamic roots, has presided over a phase of economic growth but faces challenges sustaining gains on the heels of the global economic slowdown.

There is no sign yet that the prime minister’s response to the Gezi Park protests is costing him female voters. But while his administration can count on female supporters who see his hard-edged ways as a strong, avuncular backing of their religious sentiments, some of those are now seeing his style as edging on authoritarian.

“I’ve always thought his talking style was very problematic,” said Yilmaz. “You can’t just order people that you can’t do this, you can’t do that. You should have referendums, communicate with the people.”

Erdogan’s female supporters include young, middle-class, well-educated, cosmopolitan and observant women who share the liberal values being voiced by the demonstrations.

At the same time, they are loyal to the AKP for assisting their religious freedoms, with a prime example being the lifting of the ban on headscarves in universities.

“Compared to older times, I think there have been many improvements in the last decade, especially in economic development and with resolving the headscarf issue,” said Neslihan Ozdemir, 31, an AKP supporter and housewife who said she did not attend what she saw as an overly politicized conflict that has spiraled into deliberate provocation. “This issue is very important for me: freedom to wear what you want.”

Lingering Fears

In the broader population of women, beyond Erdogan’s supporters, some older women have avoided street protests–and made their concerns known to their children–out of health concerns about tear gas and fears left from the bloody, political clashes of the 1970s, which killed many civilians and culminated in the 1980 military coup that installed military rule for the next few years.

“My family for instance would not allow me to even attend the smallest demonstrations. Everyone is extremely afraid. People have seen torture,” said a 21-year-old law student at Marmara University who asked that her name not be published for fear of backlash. Yet, she has participated in the demonstrations since day one.

Turkey is often analyzed through the polarizing lens of political and religious differences. But these demonstrations, which have swelled up from a small environmentalist protest of plans to raze the leafy Gezi Park in Taksim Square, have become a chance for citizens to share an array of grievances.

For many Turkish women, Erdogan’s public condemnation last year of elective Cesarean births and abortion struck a nerve. So did a draft policy to ban abortion from which he later backed away.

In a recent public speech, he also drew ire for reprimanding a couple for kissing on a public metro.

“In the very beginning I took to the streets because of the abortion issue,” said the university student who requested anonymity. “It was about women’s demands and ownership of their own bodies. We felt that we have been excluded, so in order to be included within, we came to express ourselves.”

Hundreds of elderly and young women marched through Taksim this weekend, uniformly chanting, “Tayyip, flee, flee, the women are coming,” bearing signs that read “We are on the streets for a life without Tayyip, without harassment,” and “Tayyip, keep your hands away from my body.”

‘Much More Oppression’

“Especially during the period when AKP has been in power, there has been much more oppression and violence against women,” said Gunay Demirbas Nas, a coordinator at Imece Kadin Sendikasi, a women’s collective based in Istanbul. “Murder of women has been on the rise.”

She added that she was also angered by the recent merging of the Ministry for Women and Family with theMinistry of Family and Social Policies.

Protestors have called on Erdogan to “stop acting as if he is everyone’s father.” Many perceive him to be an obstinate, authoritarian patriarch prone to meddling in female citizens’ personal affairs.

He has repeatedly advised families to have at least three children, a gesture which his conservative-leaning supporters see as a reasonable economic measure that would also reinforce family values. Opponents, however, suspect an agenda to reinstate religious law, hamper women’s freedom and threaten the nation’s secularist foundations.

“This state does what it wants to do, even with issues related to women’s bodies,” said Rojda Tekin, aspokesperson for the Anti-Capitalist Muslims youth group, based in Istanbul with liaisons all over Turkey.

The Anti-Capitalist Muslims are a group of pious, anti-AKP youths who decry the ruling government for what they see as capitalist policies serving mainly the rich, preferring what they say is a middle way between Islam and socialism.

Headscarved, Tekin huddled with members of her group among the sea of tents and banners displayed at Gezi Park to protest its demolition.

“With women’s rights there are some serious issues. But at least Turkey isn’t a state that directly oppresses women. We can go out and do as we please. Everything that belongs to God also belongs to the civilians, whether it’s women’s rights or other issues,” she said.

Sisi Tang is a writer and traveler based in Istanbul, Turkey.

 

Maternity Leave Boost May Backfire in Turkey #Vaw #womenrights


By Jennifer Hattam

WeNews correspondent

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Amid calls for Turkish women to have more children, a proposal to lengthen the paid maternity leave allowance raises fears that it may actually hinder women’s work force participation.

 

 

A Turkish woman stands inside a mosque in Istanbul.
A Turkish woman stands inside a mosque in Istanbul.

 ISTANBUL, Turkey (WOMENSENEWS)–A government proposal to lengthen the duration of paid maternity leave from four months to six months is generating apprehension rather than applause from women in Turkey.

“It is a positive development in principle, but may become an obstacle for women to return to work,” Gulden Turktan, the Istanbul-based president of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIDER), toldWomen’s eNews.

Women already start facing barriers in working life once they get pregnant, added Nur Ger, the founder and CEO of the Istanbul-based SUTEKS Textiles and the chair of the Turkish Industry and Business Association’s gender equality working group.

“There is a tendency among employers to avoid hiring pregnant women since they will need to take their [maternity] leave soon,” she said.

The maternity leave discussion currently underway in the Turkish cabinet comes amid increasing pressure on Turkish women to have more children. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been calling since 2008 for women to have “at least three” children to revitalize the country’s slowing population growth.

Turkey’s fertility rate dropped to 2.02 in 2011, just below the replacement level of 2.1. Meanwhile, the median age of the country’s population inched above 30 last year for the first time.

This year, Erdogan has upped the ante, saying in January that “we need four to five [children per family] to carry the country forward,” assigning four government ministers to work on population policy and floating proposals for family-expanding incentives, such as free fertility treatments for low-income couples.

A Larger Goal

As with his outrage last year about abortions and Caesarean sections, which he characterized as “secret plots” to hinder the country’s growth, Erdogan has framed his push for a bigger, younger population as part of a larger goal: To make Turkey one of the world’s top 10 economies by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. (It currently ranks 17th.)

That goal, though, would be better served by increasing women’s participation in the paid work force,KAGIDER’s Turktan told Women’s eNews.

“It is very basic arithmetic: If you leave half of the resources untapped, your growth potential remains limited,” she said. “Currently, the female employment rate is 26 percent, [meaning that] of around 26 million women of working age, only 6.9 million are employed. This is a huge wasted potential.”

Though the number of working women is slowly growing, Ger noted that the government’s aim for 2023 is only to have 35 percent female participation in the work force. “When compared to the current status, this does not seem like a very challenging target,” she said.

The quality of the country’s labor force is as important as its quantity, added economist Gokce Uysal, thevice director of the Bahcesehir University Center for Economic and Social Research.

“Monetary incentives to increase fertility rates work predominantly on the poorer segments of the population, who may not have the means to invest properly in the ‘human capital’ of their children,” Uysal told Women’s eNews.

She is calling for comprehensive education reform. The average person in Turkey gets just 6.5 years of schooling, and only half as many women as men attain a secondary or higher level of education, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

Child Care Subsidy Push

The lack of subsidized child care is another major barrier to Turkish women’s full participation in the work force.

“If the prime minister wants each Turkish family to have at least three children, then the government must create a sustainable, state-funded child care system. Otherwise this will not work,” Turktan said. “A working mother with three children can only be a reality with child-care help.”

A monthly child-care subsidy to working women would “pay back twice as much,” according to research conducted by KAGIDER and PricewaterhouseCoopers, in increased employment and the expansion and formalization of Turkey’s child-care sector, she said.

Under a current law that is also up for amendment, companies are responsible for providing child care if they employ more than 150 women.

“This acts as a disincentive for firms as it increases the relative cost of female workers,” Uysal said. “Maternity leave has a similar effect. We should have paternity leave for fathers as well, which should not be transferable.”

Shared parental leave is becoming increasingly common in Europe, where Sweden and Germany both mandate that at least two months of their generous paid leave be taken by fathers. Workers’ unions and women’s organizations in Turkey – including the women’s branch of Erdogan’s own ruling political party – have lobbied for similar measures since at least 2009, but without success.

Adopting a system of parental leave rather than maternity leave would “work toward equalizing the costs of female and male workers. Moreover, it would help tilt the household division of labor away from a traditional gender-based one,” Uysal told Women’s eNews.

Women in Turkey spend four more hours per day than men engaged in household and caregiving activities, compared to a difference of just over an hour in the Nordic countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index.

“A traditional gender-based division of labor at home is one of the strongest barriers against female labor force participation,” Uysal said. “We need to acknowledge this and start fighting it.”

Jennifer Hattam is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul, where she writes about environmental, social and urban issues, as well as the arts, culture, and travel.

Say ” No” TO ABORTION BAN in Turkey #VAW # Reproductive rights


TO THE POLICIES OF THE PRIME MINISTER AND THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKEY THAT TARGET GENDER EQUALITY, WOMEN’S BODIES, REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS, AND SEXUALITY, OUR RESPONSE IS A RESOUNDING “NO!”

We demand that the process to ban abortion be ceased IMMEDIATELY!

Banning abortion or further limiting the duration and conditions under which it can be performed;

  • Violates women’s human right to health and life!
  • Violates women’s human right to make decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health and rights!
  • Constitutes yet another manifestation of the conservative politics that does not view women as equal individuals!

Prime Minister Erdogan’s statements in the last week of May 2012 have revealed that plans to ban abortion have been underway for some time now. Experience from the global arena illustrates that this lethal attempt, which has no scientific backing, will not reduce abortion rates; instead it will only lead to unsafe abortions and increase maternal mortality.

ABORTION IS NOT MURDER, BUT BANNING ABORTION IS!

FREELY CHOSEN SAFE ABORTION IS A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO LIFE; IT CANNOT BE RESTRICTED, IT CANNOT BE BANNED!

According to data from the World Health Organization, tens of thousands of women across the world die every year as a result of unsafe abortions. In Turkey, establishing the legal grounds for women to end unwanted pregnancies on demand has contributed to the decrease in maternal mortality, which dropped from 250 to 28 in every 100,000 live births from the 1970s to the mid-2000s. There is no data indicating that abortion is on the rise in Turkey; on the contrary, while 18 pregnancies out of 100 ended in abortion in 1993, this ratio was down to 10 percent in 2008. In an era where 26 countries have taken steps to remove obstacles that hinder access to abortion between 1994 and 2011, efforts to ban or restrict it in Turkey are unacceptable. Restricting the right to access safe abortion services and making them available only when required by medical conditions or instances of rape works to marginalize women’s fundamental bodily and sexual rights, and reduces the enjoyment of this right to circumstances of necessity.

We object to risking women’s rights to health and life by restricting or banning abortion instead of encouraging free, easily accessible, high quality birth control methods. Abortion is not only a freedom of choice, but a vital social right. The right to abortion that is on demand, free-of-charge, accessible, safe, and legal, is also a right to life. Forcing women to take life-threatening risks is nothing short of murder.

THE RIGHT TO SAFE ABORTION IS AN INDIVISIBLE PART OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT THEIR BODILY AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS!

Women’s right to sexual and reproductive health includes having control over their own bodies and access to safe abortion; limiting these rights is an open violation of fundamental human rights and women’s human rights. In accordance with its domestic legislation and the international conventions it is party to, Turkey is under obligation to provide adequate, comprehensive, and accessible sexual and reproductive health services. In Turkey, child marriages, forced marriages, women’s murders, rapes, and morality-based repression mechanisms have all become normalized. The responsibility for birth control has been left primarily to women. However, in a country where contraceptives are not easily accessible, withdrawal is the most prevalent form of birth control, female employment rates continue to drop and female poverty is rapidly increasing, restricting or banning women’s right to on demand pregnancy termination is an act of blatant discrimination that will push women to seek unsafe abortions.

WE REJECT THE ATTACKS ON HUMAN RIGHTS THROUGH MILITARIST AND DISCRIMINATORY DISCOURSES AND PRACTICES!

By saying “Every abortion is an Uludere,” PM Erdogan equated women’s enjoyment of their bodily rights with killing people in a bombardment attack. This is a discriminatory and militarist statement that calls to question the human rights of both Kurds and women, whereas the primary responsibility of any state should be to ensure its citizens lead a decent life, and to guarantee equal rights and freedoms to all.

According to Article 16.1.e of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women-to which Turkey is a proud signatory-women have the right to “decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children.” The current governmental initiative to ban abortion is simply another manifestation of the ongoing misogynist mentality that ignores women’s right to make decisions on matters that concern their bodies, sees women’s primary reason for existence as the continuation of the species, and constructs neoliberal population policies based on women’s bodies.

A decision to ban abortion will constitute an open violation of the right to life for millions of women, and the right to live with dignity for men, women, and children alike.

We, the undersigned organizations, demand that the process initiated to ban abortion and the politics of the Prime Minister and the Government of Turkey that target women’s bodies be ceased IMMEDIATELY!!

Sign the PETITION HERE

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