Friday, June 22, 2012

Women and the "sly plan against the Turkish nation"

18 June 2012. A World to Win News Service. In a recent series of speeches Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked women who want to have an abortion. Speaking at a conference on population and development, he said, "There is no difference between killing a baby in its mother's stomach and killing a baby after birth." He claimed that both abortion and what he called "unnecessary" caesareans were part of "a sly plan to wipe this nation off the global stage." (Hurriyet Daily News, 31 May 2012)
He announced that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) was preparing a draft bill that will largely restrict abortion. The bill has not been published yet, but the series of fiery speeches and comments by the prime minister and other government officials and an overall campaign against women have brought fear and anger to women who understand the consequences of such moves.
In reaction women staged demonstrations and protests in several cities in Turkey, including Ankara and Izmir. At the largest, in Istanbul on 3 June, thousands of women took part in what was reportedly the biggest demonstration by women Turkey has ever seen. Taking part were women of all ages from various sections of society –  activists, students, engineers, teachers, nurses, lawyers and so on.
At many points bystanders applauded the women protesters.
As they marched through the city’s Kadikoy Square district, the women chanted "AKP, keep your hands off my body" and "Tayyip, it's none of your business." They also carried banners reading "We are women, not reproduction machines", "We won't discuss our right to abortion", "We are here to protest against the government's attempts to use women's bodies for their political goals", "My body, my choice", "Don't whitewash rape" and many more.
The demonstrators also chanted "Abortion is a right, Uludere is murder", a reference to Erdogan's outrageous statement that "Every abortion is like an Uludere", equating abortion with a Turkish air force strike that massacred 34 people in Uludere, a village in the Kurdish region of south-west Turkey last December.
This statement reverses right and wrong twice over. First, the equation abortion = Uludere reveals Erdogan's true intentions, not just to limit abortion but to totally criminalize it under any circumstances. Second, Erdogan both downplays the seriousness of the state's crime in Uludere (and attempts to distance the AKP from responsibility), and tries to deflect dissatisfaction and anger away from the state and onto women.
The comparison may seem bizarre in the light of reason but it is a potent symbolic package, implicitly bringing together different reactionary strands in Turkish society – Turkish chauvinism (against the Kurds, Armenians and other minority nationalities painted as if in league with unspecified enemies of "Turkishness"), male supremacy, also seen as under threat by challenges to tradition, and of course the religious values that the AKP represents and seeks to enforce to defend patriarchy and backward traditions. What ties this package together is the claim that women who want to be liberated from enforced motherhood are part of a "sly plan" against the Turkish nation
Abortion has been legal in Turkey until the tenth week of gestation since 1983. According to Health Minister Recep Akdag, the AKP bill to be presented to Parliament by the end of June will curb this right to four weeks. Limiting abortions to the first four weeks would in practice be a ban, since many women do not find out they are pregnant within this short time span, and it is difficult to arrange for an abortion so quickly, the head of the Turkish Medical Association said. He warned that women in Turkey were likely to continue seeking abortions despite this measure, as they did on a large scale in the city and countryside before abortion was legalized, and the likely outcome would be a "dramatic increase" in the number of women dying due to unsafe abortion procedures. (Hurriyet Daily News, 31 May 2012). 
Before abortion was legalized, 90 percent of maternal deaths were due to dangerous and unhygienic abortions. Even now, about a quarter of women who have abortions are forced to resort to primitive methods. Further, women are required to get their husband's signature before they can get an abortion. 
A deliberate provocation
The AKP has gone out of its way to emphasize the connection between this proposed ban and the overall role for women in Turkish society that it has defined and intends to enforce.
Greater Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek proclaimed on TV that women considering abortion should commit suicide instead, because a woman's life is worth less than that of a foetus. Turkey's chief cleric, the imam Mehmet Gormez, backed the government's proposed ban and Erdogan's statements, arguing that women have no right to decide what to do with their bodies because their bodies are simply mere vessels god has "entrusted" them to have babies with. (Hurriyet Daily News, 4 June 2012)
Current law allows abortions up until 20 weeks in cases of rape and incest, and this provision has come under attack. The AKP health minister declared that pregnant rape victims should always have the baby.
Erdogan says he opposes caesarean deliveries because this medical procedure is "unnatural" (bringing to mind the often repeated argument that male domination and rape are "natural"). He contends that women who have this surgery might not have enough subsequent births to meet their baby quota. (He has often called on families to have at least three children, which many families already consider too many.) His approach, however, is not guided by medical science (the link between this operation and future births is apparently unclear, and it is very often necessary for either the life of the mother or potential child or both). Once again his real argument is symbolic, insinuating that women who have such operations are selfish and putting their own interests ahead of their role as baby-makers – and, again, implicitly guilty as conscious plotters or dupes in the "sly plan".
This is a further and very serious step in the adoption of Islamic values as a political programme, and as with Christian and Jewish religious fundamentalism, the oppression of women is at the heart of the kind of society it advocates. As in the so-called advanced (or more accurately put, imperialist) countries, banning abortion is both a huge ideological and practical question in itself and a key element in a more overall package regarding the enslavement of women by restricting their social activities and pushing them back into their traditional role.
Forcing women to have children against their will is nothing but an anti-women atrocity. It is an act of violence against them and is damaging to them and the real progress of the society. This is what Erdogan and his party and his government want to do, and women (and many men) are outraged and have every reason to be outraged and fight back.
Moderate Islam in Turkey and women
In recent years the so-called "Turkish model" has been promoted as an example of a moderate Islamic state to be emulated by other countries with a predominantly Moslem population. It is supposed to be a state that despite its religious character does not force religious values on the population. However Turkey is increasingly sending a different signal. The AKP's Islamic values are being imposed on people by various means, even while the state is not an avowedly religious one. 
For example recently a court in Turkey "charged Fazil Say, a classical and jazz pianist with an international career" – and an avowed atheist – "with insulting Islamic values in Twitter messages in the latest in a series of legal actions against Turkish artists, writers and intellectuals for statements they have made about religion and Turkish national identity." (The New York Times, 1 June) 
According to this same report, Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize winner for literature, was once again recently brought before the courts and this time fined $3,700 for saying, in an interview with a Swiss newspaper, that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians" were killed in Turkey.
This kind of persecution is not new. Turkish chauvinism has been a defining characteristic of the modern Turkish state since its inception under Ataturk in 1923. However Islamisation and Islamic values are particularly closely tied to the question of the status of women, and the proposed ban of abortion is an example of the AKP's efforts to challenge the secularism that the military tried to associate itself with. (Abortion was legalized while Turkey was under military control.) That alleged secularism formed an important component of what the military and traditional ruling classes put forward as the basis of the legitimacy of their rule, although the Turkish state has never dispensed with the support of religion.
A brief glance at the changes in the situation of women over the last decade since the AKP has come to power shows that with more adoption and enforcement of Islamic values, women's rights have been increasingly restricted and violence against women has dramatically increased too.  
"In February 2011, Turkey's justice minister shocked the country when, in response to a parliamentary question, he said that there had been a staggering increase in the murders of women, from 66 in 2002, to 953 in the first seven months of 2009." (NYT, 29 April 2012). This represents a roughly 1,400 percent increase over the decade since the AKP came into office.
The violence against women is not limited to murder (in most cases in the name of "honour"). Harassment, rape and sexual abuse have also been on the rise. The same article continues, "Last year there were 207,253 cases of deliberate injuries to women across the country, compared with 189,377 in 2010."
There are reports that the authorities and the police deliberately ignore women's cry for help and protection against their abusive husbands. On the contrary, it is very common for police to advise them to go back home, or even give the husband advice about how to break his wife's will. For example, Gokce, a 37-year-old mother of two left her abusive husband 15 years ago. Since then her husband "tracked her down, broke down her door and shot her in the leg six times after she refused to return to him... She repeatedly turned to the police. But, she said, they chided her to return to her husband. Once, after her husband came to pick her up at the police station, she said she heard an officer advise him to break her legs so she could not escape." Speaking to a reporter at a women's shelter in Istanbul, she concluded, ''Our state is the No. 1 enemy of women.'' (NYT, 29 April 2012)
This is the moderate Islam for women in a country that is being promoted by the West as a model for Middle Eastern countries. It is called a model because it legitimatises and helps build a social base for a regime that can more smoothly preside over the exploitation and oppression of the people and uses both traditional backward relations and capitalist relations in the service of world imperialism, today's global economic system and political world order. But the pressure on women has already given rise to opposition, and women's protest and struggle is an important part of that.
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