To be or not to be free: What is at stake for Turkish women with the presidential elections looming?
Author: Idil Igdir
Women’s Rights Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defence
While the world is grappling with wars, uprisings, conflicts, economic, energy and climate crises, all eyes are nevertheless fixed on Türkiye with the approach of the momentous presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14, 2023. So let’s take this occasion to ask the only question that matters: What will be at stake for democracy, human rights and, therefore, women's rights if the current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains in power for who knows how long?
To give an insight into the country's current political context, the Table of Six (a coalition of opposition parties) has chosen Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as its presidential candidate, who has been the leader of the main centre-left opposition party, the Republican People's Party (also known as CHP), since 2010 (Camut, 2023). Although his candidacy has been the subject of some controversy and criticism, it was Kılıçdaroğlu who united six different political parties for one last battle for Türkiye, or in this case against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who became Prime Minister in 2003 and has been President of the country since 2014.
While it is beyond doubt that Türkiye's democracy, justice, human rights, women's rights, education and economy have been hollowed out, bent and drastically curtailed over the past 20 years under President Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (also known as AKP), the current threat to women's rights has reached an alarming level with the announcement of HÜDA-PAR running in the parliamentary elections within the AKP list (Euroenews, 2023).
HÜDA-PAR (Free Cause Party) is a political party founded in 2012 known for its close affiliation with the Kurdish Hezbollah, an Islamist militant organisation designated as a terrorist by the Turkish government (Euronews, 2023). Their reappearance on the stage for the upcoming elections with their oppressive, threatening and alarming policies, especially towards women, has once again brought up one of the darkest and most horrifying pages of the past, the death of Konca Kiriş.
In the late 1980s, Konca Kiriş was a feminist writer who believed in the necessity of reinterpreting Islam with the wisdom of the times. Kiris criticised several things, among which she argued that the Qur'an does not mandate wearing headscarves and further criticised polygamous marriages. With her rhetoric, she began to receive threats. On July 16, 1998, she was abducted by members of Hezbollah and tortured for 38 days (Cumhuriyet, 2023). Her body was later found on January 23, 2000, in Konya, 555 days after her disappearance, during operations against Hezbollah houses (Cumhuriyet, 2023). Hezbollah explicitly claimed responsibility for the abduction, torture and murder of Konca Kuriş.
It is also worth recalling that Türkiye shamefully withdrew from the Istanbul Convention in 2021, thus exposing women and girls to greater vulnerability and danger than ever before. Accordingly, statistics show that in 2022 alone, 344 femicides and 245 suspicious deaths of women were recorded in the country (Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu, 2023). To put it mildly, Türkiye is turning into a massive femicide graveyard day by day. Yet, despite everything, AKP and HÜDA-PAR seem to be allied against their common enemy: the Istanbul Convention.
Here are the promises made by HÜDA-PAR as it prepares to enter the elections (Cumhuriyet, 2023):
- "Constitutional guarantee of the headscarf and hijab"
- "Protection of the family against perverted understandings"
- "Amendment of Law No. 6284"
- "Ending the practice of indefinite alimony"
- "Pension for women who have completed 25 years of marriage"
- "Non-compulsory co-education"
Thus, while the "Woman. Life. Freedom" movement is echoing in Iran and around the world, the point of depriving women in Türkiye of their rights does not seem to be far away.
Moreover, the transformation of the approach to women's rights, from revolution to regression, can be better analysed through the history of the country itself. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first President of the Republic of Türkiye, always paved the way for and supported a number of advances in women's rights, such as the right to vote and be elected in 1934, before many other countries in the world. The foundations of his commitment to equality and justice are to be found in the second article of the current Constitution: "The Republic of Türkiye is a democratic, secular and social state governed by rule of law, within the notions of public peace, national solidarity and justice, respecting human rights, loyal to the nationalism of Atatürk, and based on the fundamental tenets set forth in the preamble" (Constitute, 2022). The importance of this article also stems from the fact that the first three articles of the Turkish Constitution have been unchangeable since April 20, 1924 (Milliyet 2022).
Therefore, the upcoming elections represent more for the Turkish people than meets the eye, as the stakes for the country are higher than ever.
Sources and Further reading :
Camut, N. (2023, March 6). Turkish opposition unites behind Kılıçdaroğlu as anti-Erdoğan candidate. Politico. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.politico.eu/article/turkish-opposition-kilicdaroglu-erdogan-ankara-election/
Cumhuriyet. (2023, April 13). HÜDA PAR seçim beyannamesini açıkladı: Hedefleri Cumhuriyet. Cumhuriyet. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/siyaset/huda-par-secim-beyannamesini-acikladi-hedefleri-cumhuriyet-2070923
Cumhuriyet. (2023, March 28). Konca Kuriş kimdir? Konca Kuriş nasıl öldürüldü?. Cumhuriyet. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/turkiye/konca-kuris-kimdir-konca-kuris-nasil-olduruldu-2065787
Constitute. (2022, April 27). Turkey's Constitution of 1982 with Amendments through 2017. Constituteproject. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Turkey_2017.pdf?lang=en
Euronews. (2023, March 24). HÜDA PAR milletvekili seçimlerine AK Parti listesinden girecek. Euronews. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://tr.euronews.com/2023/03/24/huda-par-milletvekili-secimlerine-ak-parti-listesinden-girecek
Gul, D. (2023, April 17). HÜDA-PAR nasıl kuruldu, siyasi çizgisi ve Hizbullah ile bağlantısı ne?. Euronews. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://tr.euronews.com/2023/03/13/huda-par-nasil-kuruldu-siyasi-cizgisi-ve-hizbullah-ile-baglantisi-ne
Milliyet. (2022, March 27). Anayasanın İlk 3 Maddesi Nedir? Ne Zaman Belirlenmiştir?. Milliyet. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://www.milliyet.com.tr/egitim/anayasanin-ilk-3-maddesi-nedir-ne-zaman-belirlenmistir-6726087
Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracağız platformu. (2023, January 6). We Will Stop Femicides Platform 2022 Annual Report. Kadin Cinayetlerini Durduracağız platformu. Retrieved April 27, 2023, from https://kadincinayetlerinidurduracagiz.net/veriler/3041/we-will-stop-femicides-platform-2022-annual-report