OPINION – From last century to the next: Women’s issues in the Turkish Century

The radical transformation of the young Turkish Republic in favor of women at the beginning of the last century gained momentum with the 1926 civil code. The women's rights brought by the Republic gave a certain group of women the right to vote, be elected, and be educated. The reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic, did not actually exclude villagers and working women.

The post-1980 feminist movement criticizes the women's reforms of the Republic in two ways. The first is that these revolutions were not made with the participation of women but in a top-down manner within a framework called "state feminism." Secondly, they blocked the lively and controversial women's movement that emerged in the last period of the Ottoman Empire.

However, just before the Republic, a women's movement was formed during the Second Constitutional Era, dealing with very serious issues such as the right to divorce, polygamy, exclusion of women from social life, and discussing fundamental rights.

After the 1980 coup, a unique women's movement was born, which is essentialist about women targeting capitalism. After the 80s, the feminist movement was organized on issues such as violence, women's labor, divorce, and alimony, and formations such as Kazete, Yazko, and Ucan Supurge were able to set themselves apart from the leftist ideology with their activism and discourse. They put forward an organic women's struggle.

The ideological discourse is that women got their rights in Türkiye even before the West, thanks to the Republic. This statement is not entirely wrong, but it is incomplete. Headscarved women, who constitute a considerable majority in Türkiye, could only gain the right to be elected with the emancipation package that came into effect in 2013.

While women with headscarves struggled for years to enter the public sphere and did not see themselves as acceptable citizens. Women also struggled with their families and social norms. Because there was no in-depth discussion on the issue of women in Islamist circles. The issue was discussed in terms of the headscarf and the right to receive an education. When it comes to women's rights, Islam gives women the highest rank. Unfortunately, religious people's discussion of the issue of the effects of capitalism and modernity is undermined by some reactionary structures organized in social media.

Women issues today

The request of a woman who filed a lawsuit in Cankiri province in 1985 due to the incompatibility of temperament was rejected by the court. The woman who filed the lawsuit was in a marriage with three children and was pregnant with her fourth child. She had declared that her husband had threatened her with death and beat her. The woman's request for divorce was denied, and the court claimed that using pregnancy as a precedent, the relationship between husband and wife continued. By giving examples from Turkish culture, beating could not be seen as the cause of violent conflict. However, this case led to great indignation among women's groups at that time. Structural and legal arrangements on these issues could only be made after the mid-2000s.

If this case had happened today, women and children would have been taken under state protection, and legal processes would have worked. The laws in force at that time were insufficient in such matters. We were faced with a system that was insensitive to domestic violence at the police station, hospital, and even in the judiciary. In Türkiye, which prides itself on giving women the right to vote and be elected earlier than many countries, women's rights were limited by civil law, which had a patriarchal nature until the 2000s. There was a framework in which the man was considered the head of the household, and the woman asked her husband's permission to work. Also, sexual abuse in the workplace was not recognized, and a distinction was made between married and single in sexual crimes.

Today, while the women's struggle continues on legal and civil grounds, very serious steps have been taken. The mentality also changed in public.

Until recently, the perpetrators of violence continued to benefit from a reduction in good behavior at the discretion of the judge. With the reaction of the public and especially the involvement of the Ministry of Family and Social Services in murder cases, the good behavior discount was prevented. For women who were killed and abused, there was a language that blamed women by asking, "What was she doing there at that hour?" and "Why did she talk to a man she didn't know?" It is a mentality that has been fought for a long time outside of legal processes.

Fortunately, at this point, there has been a rise in consciousness in recent years, and at least the tendency to find a cover for violence has receded. There was significant progress in the fight against violence as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not take a step back in the violence against women. During this time, thousands of public officials were trained. The KADES (the Women's Emergency Support Application), law no 6284, civil awareness, and women's shelters also played important roles in that process.

Still, the equitable evaluation of women's labor and the reduction of the cost of social prejudices against women are among the issues waiting to be resolved in the next century.

Women's topic of next century: Some issues

The state must take the real problems of women seriously rather than considering it "an intellectual conflict issue, a field of challenge." Women, as equal citizens, should lead a dignified life, free from violence and humiliation, without being restricted by social stereotypes. They have to have a strengthened position in family life, be supported legally and socially regarding children and marriage, and not be subject to prejudices and mobbing.

In the next century, there is a need to raise awareness for self-confident womanhood. Women should have cared for only because they are human beings, without harassing them just because they drive or not constantly questioning their capacity or clothing.

The inequality between men and women, injustice in representation, and the numerical difference in management levels show that women's right to work is usurped. In democratic societies, it is not acceptable for women to lag far behind men in some occupations.

In the child/family life balance, capitalism sees the labor of the housewife as worthless. Moreover, in religious/conservative circles that bless the family and the child, the structural steps remain in the background when it comes to the security of women. From both perspectives, housewifery is considered a non-economic issue. However, housewifery adds value to social life and has an important function in terms of the market economy. The value produced by housewives should be included in national production and should be secured. Secondly, there should be social support mechanism that enables them to enter working life.

Of course, keeping family alive cannot be done only by opening up space for women and constantly talking about femininity and motherhood. There is also a need for social awareness at the point of deficient fatherhood and spouses who do not take responsibility. At the intersection of family and state, raising social awareness should be done in a way that includes men. The good mother/good wife is created in the men's world. The great problem with such discourses is that they do not contain any mechanism to protect women in the family structure, which is always said to be sacred, and this is where the state comes into play.

Regarding political representation, women should take part in parliament and some higher positions, but it may not always be sufficient. These representations do not indicate that things will be run in favor of women or those laws will be made in favor of women. Because it is usually men who operate the system and direct the lobby groups. To raise the standard for women in the next century, it is necessary to be aware of systemic masculinity crises. Because the change in the self-state of women goes through political processes, ignorance and neglect during the political processes will also clog other social processes. For this reason, the ongoing struggle for women's rights is meaningful.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

Source: Anadolu Agency