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Many of them are queens
1 Aug 2010
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“Some of our friends choose to wear the headscarf. We have some friends who choose to wear it for two years then take it off. For us, the point is the opportunity to choose.”  

Capital City Women’s Platform. An NGO based in Ankara, Turkey that strives to empower women in political, social, and economic life. They unite members to discuss gender equality. They promote activities and projects for women in the community as well as offer computer and language courses for women. August 2010.

Many of them are queens

In Turkey, women are trapped in their own circles, conservative circles, and in the public places. Many of us were born in the conservative circles, and there are many obstacles in these circles. The ideal woman is at home and looking after the kids and husbands.

We are dealing with these people. We are trying to get new interpretations of the Quran and tradition. We are against all kinds of discrimination against women. For us, the headscarf issue is the most important one but there are other discriminations against women.

We are raising the issues first at the capital, here. We do panels and sometimes we are invited as the guests of TV programs. Through different mechanisms, we try to reach people. We have protests, demonstrations, and international mechanisms. We try to reach the government to influence them.

We have some projects and seminars to change the minds of people, you know, gender mainstreaming. In every neighborhood of Ankara, we do a presentation about legal rights and political rights. On health, we organize meetings all over Turkey. We have held ten meetings to discuss the European Union. We have discussed CEDAW, women, family values.

We have criticized the position of women in the diyanet,the religious institution. There is a position in Islam like a judge, a mufti.[1] In every city, there is a mufti. After our criticism, they appointed the first women deputy mufti.

Also with the diyanet officials, we are trying to eliminate domestic violence against women. We have presented our project on domestic violence to the American embassy. 

Now, there is also a human rights institution in Turkey being constructed. According to European Union standards, you need to found that institution. This institution will be created through non-governmental institution contributions, and we are part of that process.

We also have some courses here, English and Arabic courses. We are studying history and the women’s movement. We study feminism. We offer workshops. 

We are really interested in human rights issues all over the world. For example, we are against the situation in Iran where a woman was about to be stoned because of rape. Now, she was not stoned, but she is still in the danger of being hanged. I wrote a petition not to hang her in Iran. We are interested in human rights generally.

The most difficult challenge is the state of mind, the prohibiting state of mind. You can find this mind in every field. People’s perspective on women is problematic. Although there is decency toward women in Turkey, there is also harassment. There are bad things. In some remote areas, there are really tragic events.

We are struggling with the mindsets not coming from religion but from traditions. Even nowadays, some writers talk about women and say their primary role is home. Two weeks ago, I read an article by a very famous author, and he’s against positive discrimination. He says it’s against religion, even though the Turkish constitution is secular. On that issue, he’s very close-minded. He says it’s against religion, but he shouldn’t discuss the issue in regard to religion because Turkey is not a religious state.

We are struggling with two different circles where they do not think that women are equal, are human. Some of them are religious, some of them are secular.

Actually the pressures on women have no legal basis. On legal issues, we have equality. There’s no problem with the law. 

Now, we come to the headscarf prohibition. Actually, there is no law against headscarves. This is a de facto[2] impasse. It doesn't exist in the law. 

The elites they don’t want to allow the women wearing headscarves to go to university. They are trying to create obstacles for the common people. However, ninety percent of the people believe that a women wearing the headscarf should be able to go to university. Ninety percent believe that a woman wearing a headscarf can work as a public servant.

Generally, women wearing headscarves are coming from the common people. I think it’s a struggle of power and a class struggle. There is an aspect of class struggle. Even though the percentage is so low, the elites have the power.

I do not differentiate between common and religious, generally. Maybe not in every country, but often the common people are religious. 

After 1930, secularism was understood to be free from religion. Even the Qurans were collected and demolished. Islamic women are visible because of headscarf. There is no such kind of thing for men so there is a problem for women. Women’s outfit is seen easily, so the woman is targeted. Their understanding of secularism meant to get rid of every visibility of Islam. Women’s headscarf reminds the Islamic principles, so they are against headscarves.

It’s the wrong interpretation of secularism. There was a fear against religious people generally. For example, ten years ago, especially in the army, men whose wives wore the headscarf were dismissed because women were visible. You can see women’s outfit is the most important thing for the Islamaphobia. The headscarf became a symbol.

Elites also think that Islam is against modernization. That’s their mindset. That’s why they are against the headscarf. Actually, if women wearing the headscarf are free to work and study, they will see that Islam is not against modernization.

Generally, in Turkey, mainstream feminist groups also think that the headscarf means backwards. Mainstream feminist circles do not support the right of choice. There are also feminist movements that think like us. Unfortunately, the mainstream is not like this. If mainstream women’s circles were like us, maybe we could change the whole atmosphere.

Then, women’s groups are complaining about the weakness of women’s groups. But if women are not a unit, for general issues, how can they think they will be powerful? If they are looking down on the common people, how do they think they will be powerful? Actually, the root of the weakness of women’s groups, feminist groups in Turkey, is because of this.

They have good reason to be against the choice because they see the headscarf as a result of patriarchal pressures. They think women wearing headscarves are wearing them because they are oppressed by the patriarchal view. If there’s a headscarf prohibition, women are not wearing headscarves, then they will be free from these patriarchal restrictions and views, according to them. This is a good point. I think they are ideological; they are elite. Maybe they are afraid they will be oppressed by the religious people, so prohibition is a preemptive strike.

For us, it’s very important that there is an opportunity for women to choose. Here, we have some friends who do not wear the headscarf while they are working. Some of our friends choose to wear the headscarf. We have some friends who choose to wear it for two years then take it off. For us, the point is the opportunity to choose.

Actually, there are many legal cases. If the judges were fair, there would be no headscarf prohibition nowadays. The judges are stuck with the old laws of traditions, so violence is also going on because of the judges. They tolerate the violence against women.

It’s tiring. Although everything is changing rapidly, we say the same things for ten or fifteen years. It’s very tiring. A hundred years the same questions. The same problems have been discussed for almost a hundred years.

What keeps us going is the optimism actually and according to our religion, we are responsible only for doing something. We are not responsible for the result. We just are responsible for doing something. There’s no other explanation for doing this work, otherwise it’s not sensible.

Everyone says, “Ok, women are secondary in Islam.” We are against all this. Men and women are the same, and we have the same responsibilities on the earth so there’s no difference between men and women. We raise this phenomenon. Men and women are messengers of Allah here, the same. They have the same responsibilities. They have the same rights. We are supporting this idea.

Others say that Islam is against women. Even Benazir Bhutto,[3] the Pakistani leader, when she was elected, the people said, “How can a woman be a leader? It’s against religion.”

Others say, in history, you cannot find a Muslim queen, a real queen. Really, there are many Muslim queens. There are real queens, not just wives of kings. We don’t know their names because of patriarchy in religious circles has hidden them from the texts. People hide them, but we are also criticizing that history.

Yes, many women made contributions to Islamic society. It’s unbelievable. Many of them are queens. When we talk about women, we talk about powerful women. Really, in Fatima Manistee’s Forgotten queens of the Islamic world, there are very good examples. Even though they are queens, they struggled. Even though a woman is the best, she has to struggle with her brothers or her father to be recognized.

Then, the Quran usually says bad things against the powerful ones, but there was a queen, Saba Malikat,[4]she was very clever and the Quran appreciates her cleverness. The Quran appreciates her position. She is the only good, powerful person in the whole Quran. You cannot find any good things said towards a powerful man. There are no good, powerful men in the Quran, only good women.  This must say something to the women and to the people.

[1]Mufti: An Islamic scholar who is an interpreter or expounder of Islamic law. A diyanet is a council of muftis.

[2] De facto: In practice but not necessarily ordained by law.

[3]Benazir Bhutto: A Pakistani democratic socialist who served as thePrime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 until 1990 and 1993 until 1996. She led the Pakistan People's Party.

[4] Saba Malikat: Queen of Sheba, this queen has been called a variety of names by different peoples. To King Solomon of Israel she was the Queen of Sheba. In Islamic tradition, the Arabs say she came from the city of Sheba. She is thought to have been born in the 10th century BC.

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