In the days since a failed military coup stunned Turkey’s citizens, photos of crowded and often violent male-dominated protests erupted across social media channels. In the midst of so much chaos, the apparent lack of women has raised some important questions: Where were the women? And how has the coup affected them?
— CNN (@CNN) July 16, 2016
Since the coup was put down last weekend, there are already rising reports of sexual harassment and violence against women in Turkey. Public Radio International (PRI) reports that several women’s groups say they are being specifically targeted.
“The coup, the war, AKP’s backwardness or jihadist mobs … they all target women,” said University Women’s Collective, a popular feminist group, in a recent statement. “They use sexual harassment against women’s [quest to]exist freely. They are enforcing their manhood by threatening to rape the wives or daughters of the declared enemy. Women must defend themselves.”
Burcu Karakas, a feminist journalist, said the acts of gender-based violence in Turkey is an extension of what the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been doing for years.
“AKP’s misogyny is nothing new,” she said. “Hard days are ahead of us. Everything will get harder as conservatism thickens.”
At least one religious group, namely the Ismailaga movement, issued a decree stating that women will stay at home and pray while the men take to the streets to support the government. Adding to the motivation for women to stay at home, PRI reports that those protesting at the squares in major Turkish cities were mostly conservatives affiliated with AKP.
Although it seems they were in the minority, some women have engaged in protests in the days since the coup. Among the 265 dead and 1,440 wounded, there were several women, including six female police officers, according to leading Turkish news source, Hürriyet Daily.
— Women in the World (@WomenintheWorld) July 20, 2016
— The Independent (@Independent) July 18, 2016
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said one of the most touching photos he had seen was that of a headscarved woman alongside a woman without a scarf, driving a truck to protest.
“This is a photo of solidarity to protect democracy,” he said.
Regardless of how many women actively joined the fight for democracy, Turkey is still in some ways, as one Turkish film director recently put it, “like the middle ages.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself has repeatedly said that women and men cannot be equal. His administration has instructed women on how many children to bear, to not laugh out loud in public and to focus on motherhood as their primary goal. The government is also 85 percent men, with only one female minister, and the military’s leadership is entirely male.
Turkish women enjoy more legal protection than other countries of the region, but under the current government, many of these laws have become open to interpretation. And after the failed coup and the government’s expected suppression of civil liberty groups, many fear that Turkey will see a regression in women’s rights.
“I think it’s become much harder for modern women to live here after Friday night, because we have seen the might of the bearded middle-age Islamic tribe,” said one woman, Aysegul, in Istanbul, in an interview with BBC News. “I placed a headscarf and a long shirt in the glove department of my car in case I’m surrounded by them.”
Another Istanbulite woman, Joy, told the BBC, “It is even now hard to live your way of life as a secular woman sometimes. …This country is sinking.”