even without her outburst, there was no mistaking the AKP's stance. In a
cabinet shake-up the week before the elections, Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan announced the dissolution of the Ministry of Women and
Family Affairs and its replacement by a Ministry of Family and Social
Policies. "We are a conservative democratic party," he said. "The family
is important to us."
That message resonated with voters, who
handed the AKP 325 seats in the 550-seat parliament with nearly 50
percent of the popular vote. Millions of women voters -- 55 percent of
them, according to newspaper reports -- voted for the AKP. Less
tradition-minded candidate did not fare as well. Benal Yazgan, an
independent candidate whose campaign platform focused on women's
issues, received a mere 700 votes in her district. But Fusun Yurtman, a
retired engineer and board member of the newly formed Women's Party
Initiative, which supported Yazgan's run, was hardly swayed.
Prime Minister Erdogan in front of an Istanbul mosque. AP
just erased women," she said of the AKP. "They are saying that it's the
family that's important and the woman is just a part of it."
move worries Emma Sinclair-Webb, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in
Turkey who helped prepare a recent report on violence in the family, "He Loves You, He Beats You."
the word 'women' in the title subjugates their issues to just one among
many," she said. "It's putting women in a category with other groups
who supposedly need protection: children, the families of those killed
in action, the elderly, the disabled. It's a very backwards step."
the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, "the woman question,"
as it was then known, has been a tricky one. Early reforms modeled on
Western ideals empowered women in the public sphere -- especially in
such areas as education, political enfranchisement, and dress -- but
left the private sphere (and most of Turkey's rural population)
untouched. According to Boston University social anthropology professor
Jenny B. White, what she describes as top-down "state feminism" never
empowered women as individuals.
Even though Turkey's new penal code, adopted in 2005, does enshrine individual rights, a more traditional concept of rights still holds sway, she told me.
implementation on the ground is still based on women as members of the
community," White said. "You have rights because you're a bona fide
member of the community. But if you break the code in any way, you may
lose your rights, and people may sanction you with impunity, because you
did something wrong. It's your fault."
On election night at the
AKP headquarters, 20-year-old party activist and English literature
student Hülya Içöz did not seem concerned with signs that women's rights
in Turkey could be under attack. The AKP had just opened a new women's
branch, she said, and women were extremely active. That few women were
in decision-making positions did not seem to bother her.