Women Powerfully Keep on Struggling for Their Rights on the 8th of March


In her guest commentary on the occasion of 8 March International Women's Day, Berfu Şeker from the Association Women for Women's Human Rights analyzes recent political developments in Turkey regarding women's and LGBTIQ+ rights and what awaits women in after the local elections end of the Month.

8 March night feminists

As we approach another 8th of March, it is clear that the constitutional right to peaceful demonstration and protest will once again be attempted to be obstructed, but women in Turkey do not give up on being on the streets, demanding freedom and equality. Despite the increasing police violence, torture in detention, and judicial harassment women have faced on the 25th of November and the 8th of March in the last two years, women do not give up on the desire of to determine their own lives. Thousands of women who have organized with music, dance, sisterhood, enthusiasm, and love against the attacks that have accelerated every year since 2010, continue to fight with all their power not to hand over their rights and their lives to men. This determination is stronger than the authoritarian desires of those who try to confine women within the fairy tale of the "traditional family."

By stating "I do not believe in gender equality, women and men are different, they are complementary to each other" in 2010, Erdoğan and his government gave the first hint about where they are politically heading when it comes to women’s rights. Since then, the attacks on women’s rights have become an identifying element of politics. We experienced this most harshly in the May 2023 general elections. Far-right parties only joined the Republic Alliance on the condition that the closure of LGBTI+ organizations, the restriction of women's alimony rights, and the removal of the protection order based on a woman's statement under Law No. 6284 are put on the negotiation agenda. In the first speech after being re-elected, the government used words targeting LGBTIQ+ individuals with hatred. The strategy of the government build upon designing the election process through a two-article constitutional amendment by positioning LGBTIQ+ individuals against the family issue, as if LGBTIQ+’s have no families...

As we approach the 2024 local elections, there is a similar atmosphere of hatred. The far right's homophobic and transphobic statements on LGBTI+'s freedom of association, the "pink bus" proposals to detach women from social life with the discourse of "protection" are just a few examples. Parties that can be called progressive and democratic, on the other hand, except for a few cliché proposals on gender equality, cannot produce a challenging perspective that will provide institutional transformation for gender equality against the discourses of the government and its alliance partners, who establish all their discourses on oppressing women and LGBTIQ+s. The political opposition acts as if they are not aware of the situation commenting on these attacks targeting women’s rights as "changing the agenda". The truth is they do not want to leave the male domination within politics. Neither right nor left, except for a few exceptions, want to share their power with women and LGBTIQ+s.

After the Election, We Will Face the Civil Code and Constitutional Amendments.

Since 2018, there has been an issue that the government, the extreme right-wing circles, and actors introducing anti-gender tactics have been obsessed with: women's right to alimony. If the women's movement in Turkey would not be so strong and persistent, in an environment where all mainstream media has been seized by the government, this right might have been abolished long ago, with other backlashes to the Civil Code.

To give a brief history of the Civil Code, the Turkish Civil Code, modeled after the Swiss Civil Code, was adopted in 1926 following the declaration of the Republic and remained largely unchanged until the 2000s.

The Civil Code, which contained the patriarchal perspective of the period as it is, was revised with the campaign for the Civil Code[1], of which the Women for Women’s Human Rights Association undertook the secretariat, and the articles that ensured the superiority of men within the family were reformed from a gender equal perspective. Thanks to these amendments, the provision stating that the man is the head of the family was removed, women became involved in family decisions, and equal sharing of property that was acquired during marriage was ensured. The new Civil Code, which came into effect in 2002, made the neglected unpaid care labor of women visible, and legally ensured that women's care work and labor within the family was evaluated on the basis of equality.

Attacks on Alimony Rights and the Civil Code

In the process that started with the targeting of women's right to poverty alimony in 2018, the government tries to normalize a situation where divorce is beneficial for men and detrimental for women by changing many articles related to divorce. Their claim is as such: divorce cases take too long, men are victimized by these long procedures, they cannot remarry. For this reason, they are trying to convince everyone, including multilateral actors to amend the Civil Code so that issues such as alimony, compensation, custody, and sharing of property acquired during marriage can be left until after the divorce.

The message beneath the discourse of 'We are shortening divorce cases, we are eliminating grievances' is to protect the interests of men while victimizing women in divorces. Because when such rights are left to be agreed upon after the divorce, and if mediation practices come into play, there will be no compensation for the years of unpaid care work of women. As suggested by the Feminists for Divorce and Alimony Rights campaign, if the government wants to shorten divorce cases, it is quite possible to do so by tackling the administrative and technical measures such as frequent hearings in divorce cases, hearing witnesses in a single session, or by opening new family courts – to mention just a few options.[2] However, the goal is a different one; to retract the gains of the women's movement that removed "the head of the family is the man" from the law; while shackling women largely to marriages where they are subjected to violence, making it easier for men to divorce when they want.

Proposal for the Constitutional Amendment

As we headed towards the General Elections on May 14, 2023, women’s and LGBTIQ+ movements struggled against the discriminatory and anti-human rights amendment proposals regarding Articles 24, titled "freedom of religion and conscience," and 41, titled "protection of the family and children's rights," of the Constitution, submitted to the Presidency of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey with 336 signatures from the Republican Alliance. With the proposed change to Article 24, the government wanted to use the headscarf and clothing of women as an issue to polarize. The target of the proposed change to Article 41 was also included in the justification for the amendment. The government requested the addition of a clause stating that marriage will be between a woman and a man to Article 41, as if the current legal arrangement did allow otherwise.

feminist gece yürüyüşü için 2

The main purpose was indicated with the key words we can see in the reasoning of the article: “protection of the family from deviant trends”, references to terms such as 'sacredness', 'understanding of culture and civilization', 'strong family', 'union in accordance with human nature', 'decay'. As seen in this reasoning, with this statement in which all social movements that do not conform with the norms of the government can be included, discrimination and hatred towards LGBTIQ+ individuals were attempted to be brought to the constitutional level and being legitimized. Since the proposed constitutional amendment did not find its audience in this form, the government temporarily shelved its amendment and instead, started to propagate the discourse of the 'new civil constitution' – perhaps in order to gain a new political field for itself. The government revealed that it wants to head for the constitutional amendment after the local election, maybe including the entire constitution. The Minister of Justice confirmed that these two amendments would be on the agenda again within the scope of the 'New Constitution'. [3]

However, as I mentioned at the beginning, we cannot exercise our existing constitutional rights, including the right to peaceful demonstration and protest. It is not difficult to predict what kind of civil constitutional amendment the government will propose and how it will target the rights and lives of women and LGBTIQ+ individuals under the pretext of this amendment. The same government unconstitutionally withdrew from the Istanbul Convention overnight upon the request of the fundamentalists, without even listening to the objections of the women's organizations. Women have defended all the hard-won rights that are under attack, and they will continue to do so. The government will continue its politics of polarization and hatred, nevertheless the solidarity of women and queers has already been established in the most unexpected places, in the most unexpected encounters, and our demand for freedom and equality has spread to the masses.

Bad news for those who attack our rights; it is no longer possible to subordinate women, that era has long passed.

Long live March 8th!"