State of Emergency in Turkey: An example of masculine backlash

The following article was published in the March 2020 issue of the International Review of Contemporary Law, the journal of the IADL.

by Serife Ceren Uysal

The coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, has paved the way to institutionalize the authoritarianism in Turkey. Following the attempted coup, a state of emergency (SoE) was declared on July 21, 2017[1], and it was extended incrementally seven times over two years. Today, there is enough evidence to demonstrate that SoE was used as an essential tool by the power structure to transform the state mechanisms, social relationships and relations of production. Even if it is no longer in effect, it is clear that the SoE has been institutionalized and normalized in Turkey and this process has had direct negative effects on the lives of women.

First, the dismissals and their consequences for women must be carefully examined. The women who were dismissed from public offices by governmental decrees comprise 23% (25.523 people) of the general dismissals (110.971). This basically means that 25.523 women have already lost their jobs, and a large number of them do not have the opportunity to find a job due to today`s political circumstances[2]. As a result, many of those women must receive support from their families and even had to return to their parents` homes, which means that they also have to deal with the neighborhood pressure.

The dismissed women were affected at different levels due to their class memberships, ethnicities, family structures, religions, marital status, ages, the number of children they have, etc. For instance, the dismissed academics do not have any other work experiences, which is a disadvantage. The women with children are compelled to deal with care work by themselves and they are regularly reminded of the “duty of motherhood.” Single women are forced to go back to their parents` homes as a result of the family structure in Turkey[3].

In addition to these different types of impacts, however, there is a common outcome of the dismissals: precarization. For instance, academics work mostly in short-term projects or they are working as translators. It means that they are mostly working from home. The ones who were dismissed from public hospitals (nurses or doctors) were allowed to work in private hospitals. However, under current political circumstances, hiring a person who was dismissed is purely a favor. Thus, employers force these people to work longer than regular working hours, with less pay, and in more insecure circumstances. Likewise, teachers try to maintain their lives by giving private courses. These are examples of precarization. In addition, there is another common problem related to the precarization. Besides being paid less, isolated at home, forced to deal with care work alone, many women (especially the ones who are not a part of a collective struggle against dismissals) are made to feel worthless[4].

Multidimensional empowerment of masculine domination

Concurrently, the Turkish government focused on policies that exacerbated a system masculine domination. Public institutions were restructured. Curricula were revised. Regulations on the protection of women were amended to favor men. As a result of these changes, physical and emotional attacks against women in everyday life increased exponentially.

The Commission on Preventing Divorces, which was established during the SoE, is a significant example of these grievous changes. This commission was criticized by many women’s associations and activists as a tool to cut back on women`s rights in Turkey, which have been earned over the years. The commission`s priority was announced as “protecting the family structure.”

The educational system has also been reorganized to the detriment of women’s rights. The number of mixed gender schools is being reduced day-by-day. The schoolbooks` content has been revised. The report which was submitted by People`s Democratic Party (HDP) includes dramatic examples from schoolbooks, such as: “Islam, in response to the responsibilities of man, wants women to obey her husband, and Islam regards this obedience as worship. The upbringing of children in the family is mostly carried out by the mother (…)[5]

In the meantime, various statements made by the authorities  have proved to be an important tool to strengthen the masculine domination within the society. For example, the Directorate of Religious Affair is now accepted as a unique and significant institution in Turkey. In addition to technological developments, this institution has become a tool to interpret Islam and organize social life by answering personal questions online. For instance, on December 6, 2017, this institution published the following answer to an inquiry: „a man can divorce his wife by phone, fax, post, message and through the internet.” In the same statement, it was emphasized that a man can divorce his wife even in the absence of his wife[6].

During this period, President Recep Erdogan also issued various statements that make women’s bodies a political battlefield. For example, Erdogan encouraged increased reproduction as an anti-terror strategy: What do our god and prophet say? The order is pretty clear. Get married and reproduce. It is imperative that Muslims reproduce. I trust Muslim women’s sensitivity to this issue. The terrorist group in Turkey is very sensitive on this. They have at least 10 to 15 children.”7 This paragraph, together with the instrumentalization of the woman’s body, constitutes discrimination against the Kurdish people for their fertility rate, and exclusion of a sect of Muslims.

During the SoE, the feminist movement and the women in leadership positions in opposition political organizations were especially targeted by the ruling party. This targeting was a predictable attempt at the empowerment of masculinity. But it is also the result of the ruling party’s fear  as new alliances form within the feminist movement. The government and its supporters do not only aim to trivialize feminism in general; they also are targeting Muslim feminists in particular. It is clear that in Turkey, feminism is gaining strength among Muslim women and the government wants to divide these new alliances through the religious discourse.

An examination of the SoE makes it apparent that clear signs of a masculinist backlash is occurring. However, an intersectional analysis of oppression mechanisms is a tool not just to understand the oppression itself, but it is also a tool to recognize the possibilities of resistance. Such an approach is not only significant for the women who are fighting against male dominance, but also for all who oppose authoritarianism in Turkey.

It is not necessary to start a competition between different groups of people who are suffering under the neoliberal authoritarianism, but it is necessary to understand them all with their own unique contradictions. We do not need to talk about an abstract „we“. We must be inclusive, but we also need to be exclusivist. An approach which analyzes the intersections of oppression and takes a position against it would be an important tool of resistance against the authoritarianism, but can also be a tool to oppose the masculine backlash.

Turkey is a good example to understand the new consensus of this masculine backlash, but it is also useful for questioning the margins of resistance. In this sense, these intersections underline the need to establish a position that opposes sexual, national and class exploitation, and which is anti-capitalist and antiracist.

Serife Ceren Uysal is a human rights lawyer from Istanbul. In her professional life, she was engaged many cases related to the human rights field. She has been an executive board member of the Progressive Lawyers Association since 2012. At the same time, she is actively working in the international relations committee of the association and represents the association in a number of international organizations, including the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Until now she has organized numerous fact-finding missions and trial observation missions. She lives in Vienna since December 2016. She was a guest researcher at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for a year. She participated in dozens of conferences and seminars in different countries, in order to draw attention to the situation in Turkey and advocated the human rights defenders in Turkey. She was awarded the Dr. Georg Lebiszczak-Prize for Freedom of Speech. She directed her academic interest to gender issues and currently studies for her master’s degree in Gender Studies at the University of Vienna.

[1] The decision of the Council of Ministers, (21 January 2019), published in the Official Gazette, numbered 2016/9064, http://www.resmigazete.gov.tr/eskiler/2016/07/20160721-4.pdf

[2] Funda Şenol Cantek and Ilkay Kara, “İhraçların Toplumsal Cinsiyet Boyutu”, KESK OHAL ve KHK Rejimi İhraç Kurultayı, 1-2 April 2017, Ankara.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid, p.125.

[5] The report can be downloaded via: https://www.hdp.org.tr/en/news/from-hdp/report-on-womens-rights-violations-in- turkey/10887 (accessed: 05.02.2020)

[6] The Directorate of Religious Affairs: The divorce can occur via SMS, fax or a post, 06.12.2017, t24 Newspaper, https://t24.com.tr/haber/diyanet-isleri-baskanligi-sms-faks-ve-mektup-ile-bosanma-gerceklesebilir,506270 (accessed: 06.02.2020)

7 President Erdogan insults Kurds in Turkey over their fertility rate, 12.11.2017, the Stockholm Center for Freedom, https://stockholmcf.org/president-erdogan-insults-kurds-in-turkey-over-their-fertility-rate/, (accessed: 06.02.2020)