Between Revolt and Repression: Women’s Movements in Turkey
On the eighth of March, International Women’s Day, women are taking to the streets for their rights. In Turkey, the women’s movements are a major force for social change. A study by researchers at the University of Bremen now gives an insight.
In Turkey, the actions on March 8 are of particular importance. For years, the repression against anti-government activists has been increasing. Demonstrations and protests are forcibly terminated or prohibited from the outset. But the women did not let that stop them. Despite the ban on the event, around 40,000 people took part in the feminist demonstration in March 2017.
Focus on the diversity and strength of women’s movements
Since 2014, women researchers in the Faculty of Pedagogy and Educational Sciences of the University of Bremen have been carrying out intensive field studies to investigate how the various women’s movements in Turkey, despite their differences, work together and find out what common goals they pursue. Charlotte Binder and Aslı Polatdemir participated in World Women’s Day events and interviewed numerous activists. “The German media tend to focus on a victimization discourse surrounding migrant Muslim women from Turkey. Likewise, research on feminist debates and movements in Turkey often focuses on the deficits. It was therefore important for us to shed light on the activities and debates of women’s movements that develop and shape societal alternatives,” says project leader Yasemin Karakaşoğlu, explaining her research.
What separates and what unites?
The team around Professor Karakaşoğlu was able to show one thing above all: Despite the differences between different groups across many ideological borders, the women’s movements in Turkey function as a strong alliance when it comes to combating violence against women and accessing rights to work and education. They are thus important players in the struggle for social change. Nevertheless, the limits of a common position often come to the fore: Parts of the religious-conservative women’s movement, for example, are now so closely linked to the ruling AKP party that many feminist activists no longer consider them to be suitable alliance partners. Different ideas of a gender-equitable society separate the activists of the left-feminist groups and the religious-conservative women’s movements.
Solidarity with endangered cooperation partners in Turkey
It is important for Karakaşoğlu that her research draws attention to a bitter fact: Some of her cooperation partners at the universities of Ankara and Istanbul have in the meantime been massively hindered in their activities or even imprisoned, and many of the institutions and associations investigated have been disbanded and their members criminalized. “March 8 is also an occasion for us to point out this injustice. People who campaign for women’s rights in Turkey currently face repression or arrest. It is therefore particularly important to publicize the work of women’s groups and gender activists and to maintain an exchange with them even in difficult circumstances.”
The project “Women’s Movements in Inner-Turkish Comparison” was one of five projects funded by Stiftung Mercator in the program “Change of Perspective: Studies on Contemporary Turkey”. The project findings have now been published online in the four languages German, English, Turkish, and Kurdish. “We chose to publish online because we believe that this is the most transnationally accessible form of publication. Through multilingualism, we want to make our results known beyond the academic context and to continue the exchange with the activists who cooperated with us on the study,” explains Karakaşoğlu.
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If you would like to have more information on this topic, feel free to contact:
Prof. Dr. Yasemin Karakaşoğlu
University of Bremen
Faculty of Pedagogy and Educational Science
Research project “Women’s Movements in Inner-Turkish Comparison”
Phone: +49 421 218 60040