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Why do you think it’s important to address women and sexuality in Muslim societies? What are the most important issues to you within these discussions right now?
In many Muslim societies, religion is manipulated politically in the absence of a regular political system. For this reason, it comes important to make distinctions between that religion actually suggests, versus, how it is manipulated to oppress women and women’s sexuality.
In Turkey, the justification made by anti-LGBTIs and anti-abortions are nearly always rooted in religious ideology. Take for example the evolution of the abortion debate. In 1983, the Turkish government consulted the Religious Affairs Directorate for a religious opinion on the legalization of abortion. The public body made no objections at the time, and abortion subsequently became legal until ten weeks into a pregnancy. In 2012, Prim Minister Erdogan change course, proclaiming abortion is murder. Following his announcement, the Directorate General for Religious Affairs announced that abortion is indeed murder according to Islam. This is just one of many examples of how government policies are being legitimized by religion.
Can the law alone change the reality of women’s roles in society, or do social norms and customs need to be shifted through other means as well?
What we have experienced in Turkey in the past decade proves that changing the law is an important step towards ending different forms of discrimination and violence against women, but it is not enough. The law should be supported with policies and implementation.
Is it possible to promote the family without returning to an outdated definition of women’s roles?
The current legislation and policies aim to empower the family rather than women specifically. The full name of the law on violence against women is Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence against Women. So what happens when there is a conflict between protecting family and preventing violence against women? The choice is made by the government, and these days it is more likely to prioritize protecting family. On the other hand, it is a fact that family is only empowered when women are empowered. Right now, the choice is ideological rather than rational.
What is equality to you? Are some people more equal than others?
I think equality is a multi-dimensional concept. We cannot talk about equality of opportunity, especially in countries where the income gap is so huge. Turkey is such a diverse country, and there is not just a huge gap between genders, there are also incredible gaps between upper and lower classes, educated and uneducated, disabled and non-disabled, young and old, urban and rural, and now citizens and refugees. How can be equal under these conditions? How can they even come close to being equal?
Equality, in general, is a concept that is being attacked. The anti-equality rhetoric is ridiculous – women and men are different, therefore they can’t be equal – but somehow this argument sells really well to the conservative crowds in Turkey. We need to promote gender equality, not only as a core element of a democratic society and a developed country but also as an essential component of a healthy society.
Is it possible to work toward gender equality without including men in the broader discussion?
Rather than saying, men should be included in the discussion, I would say men should join the discussion on gender equality. I think men should be proactive here and speak up for gender equality. There are definitely certain things women can do to encourage men, but we can’t hold women responsible for including or educating men.
Is being conservative appealing because it’s aligned with tradition?
Being conservative might be seen as not being supportive of the replica, democracy or rule of law. In Turkey, there is a group of people who came to prominence in the 1990s who wanted to turn Turkey into an Islam republic. They were on the streets protesting, promoting the headscarf as one of their causes. They argued that women should be able to wear headscarves wherever they want. The secular state responded that this was impossible, the while a person is free to do whatever they want in their private sphere, they have to dress in a certain way in a public organization, in a university, and in the parliament.
This struck to the heart of a huge question. Can you be both Muslim and democratic, or Muslim and secular? Some people felt that this was not possible, that if you want to be secular, you should dress like a western woman. Things quickly got complicated. You can be a woman that wears a headscarf and be a feminist, and you can be a woman who wears a headscarf and define yourself within universal democratic values. These things are not necessarily worked in Turkey – and because of Turkey’s political history – we lost those gray areas. We only wear black and white.
It was not legal to wear a headscarf in parliament in 1930, but it is today. Do you see this as a sign of stepping backward? Or a sign of a more nuanced and modern way of approaching personal decisions?
I definitely don’t see it as a step back. Freedom of religion is a basic human right, and it should be granted to everyone. I think it is a shame that women wearing headscarves were discriminated against so much in Turkey. I think our problem in Turkey is that everybody wants and defends freedom for themselves, but not for people who subscribe to other religions, political views, etc. WE should be clear that , if we believe in the right to religious freedom, then religious freedom includes the right to wear a headscarf or observe whichever religious rights a person chooses.
Derya Kaya is a human rights worker based in Istanbul, Turkey.Still looking for the perfect underwear? Maybe Fortnight is a better fit.
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