“Our life, our rebellion, our struggle: feminism”—that was the slogan under which the 16th Feminist Night March took place Thursday night in Istanbul.
It is a march that is meant exclusively for women, and the participants explain why: “We live in a country where patriarchal culture dictates that women must always be accompanied by a man. Marching alone is the necessary sign of a profound break.” The organizers issued the following accusatory statement: “We live under a state of emergency, managed according to the logic of war, we are subject to attacks that are increasing every day and are increasingly being tolerated. They want to take away our peace of mind. We will meet for the march, and from it we will come back stronger together.”
We conducted an interview with an activist for Kadav, a feminist and LGBTI+ association conducting projects for fighting gender violence, promoting job placement, and offering support for prison inmates, and which, in addition to providing legal and psychological support, has set up a free telephone line dedicated to combating gender violence.
She explains this initiative: “We work on cases dealing with rape and domestic violence. Building enough trust to get someone to open up and reveal their experiences, their fears and highly sensitive information takes a long time. Nowadays, a man can walk through that door at any time and demand full access to all of our files, which would become publicly owned, property of the government.”
The legal institutions, pushed past the breaking point by the thousands of cases related to the 2016 attempted coup, and pulled along by the heavy hand of politics, are devoting “all their resources to the prosecution of those allegedly involved in the coup. Today, it is difficult to find a court willing to devote time to hearing our cases. Most often they are rejected or postponed.”
It is increasingly difficult to mobilize, because the NGOs are working “under extreme pressure: every time we plan an activity, publish something or meet with other associations, the instinct to censor ourselves takes hold: we live in the fear of crossing some invisible, unknowable line, which would have terrible consequences.”
Crossing that invisible line has led to the closure of 11 NGOs in the past 18 months, and the forced reorganization of many others: “In the past, we have signed a statement denouncing the forced reorganization of women’s NGOs, which often ended up under the control of a man imposed from above. Today, because of that signature, they could come in here and destroy everything that we have built over the years.”
The situation of women in the country is not encouraging, as the Turkish Institute of Statistics (TUIK) showed in its 2017 report, which revealed how powerful a force gender inequality in the workplace continues to be. Only 28 percent of women are employed, compared with 65 percent of men. Only 16 percent of women hold managerial positions. And work can itself be deadly, as the Association for Occupational Safety (ISIG) has shown: in the past five years, 580 female workers lost their lives. Ninety percent of them had no union protection, and 75 percent didn’t even have a work contract.
After March 4, when the Ankara police intervened violently against a women’s march, Turkish women have taken to the streets again, with renewed courage, because this is, after all, “our life, our rebellion, our struggle: feminism.”