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Women also victims of crisis in Turkish democracy

Monday 9 June 2008, by Turkish Daily News

Turkey’s democratic process is under constant internal pressure, creating a backlash that has primarily affected women, according to statements made by experts at Bilgi University yesterday.

While Turkey has seen what Turkish academics call an “e-coup,” through the blocking of specific Internet sites, and a “judicial coup” with the closure case against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), feminist scholar Yeşim Arat said there has been more antipathy directed toward women in the past month.

She cited the actions of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which posted a list of values by which Turkish women and men must live by on its Web site, saying, “The Directorate of Religious Affairs had a coup telling women to dress modestly, not wear perfume and instructed people not to flirt as it could lead to adultery.

Arat said that, though she is against the ban on the headscarf, she believes that endorsing the subordination of women through government bodies such as the Directorate of Religious Affairs is also wrong. Arat pointed to education material in religious schools which she called “religious socialization,” which also hindered the democratization of women and their access to opportunities with messages that women should stay at home, and not work “because that could lead to adultery,” among others. She said that as a result at the bureaucratic and public discourse levels as well as in the education system there was a promotion of subservient roles for women.

At the same time she pointed to the fact that thanks to legal and societal reforms backed by the European Union, and Turkey’s hopes to join the EU, women in Turkey have come a long way to expanding women’s opportunities and civil society. However, she said that in a country where 70 percent of women wear headscarves, be it in the traditional or religious manner, of which 73 percent say it is for religious beliefs, much needs to be done toward giving women a voice in Turkey. She encouraged a continuation of the democratic reforms in Turkey.

Arat’s comments came in the context of a five-day conference titled Istanbul Seminars 2008 hosted by Istanbul Bilgi University and Rome-based Reset Dialogues on Civilizations. Academics from around the world and Turkey gathered yesterday to discuss in a series of panels the state of democracy in Turkey. They all conceded that indeed there is a “crisis” in Turkey’s democracy.

Fuat Keyman, professor of international relations at Koç University, said there is a crisis in Turkey’s democracy. “I see this as a crisis of democracy,” he said. “Parties are reducing the issue to the value of the popular vote, or the ‘protection of the State.’ Yet there is a society-based demand for rmaking Turkey a stable democracy.” Keyman said that at the end of the day it is not clear if Turkey “will go for it,” meaning democracy, as the AKP didn’t seem to have a vision to transform Turkey into a more democratic nation. “In the long term I see a stable Turkey through globalization, the EU process and modernization, but right now there is a fight between those who are resisting change and those who are bringing it about,” he said. “The women’s issue will be one of the most important references of how Turkey is going to go.”

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Source : Thursday, June 5, 2008 TDN

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