Stark contrast between education and family ministries

Stark contrast between education and family ministries

Turkey is a country that you can easily find yourself in an oxymoronic situation, especially when you read newspapers. One page could make you feel optimistic, but turn the page and there will be ample news to make you feel pessimistic.

How can you avoid falling into pessimism when you read the despicable developments that took place in Parliament’s Education Commission on Sunday? How can one have confidence in the future of this country when fists talked rather than common sense on the most crucial issue that will effect the next generation? 

Yet, right next to humiliating headlines about the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) controversial education bill, it was also possible to read articles about two separate brainstorming meetings on the Constitution organized by civil society that gave a fresh breath of optimism. 
 While representatives from different walks of life gathered in Antalya over the weekend as part of an initiative launched by the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodities Exchanges (TOBB) to share their view on the Constitution, a group of intellectuals met for the same purpose at the Abant Forum, a brainstorming platform that carries the trademark of the Gülen movement.

Comments about both meetings come in stark contrast to the fistfights in Parliament.

“Citizens in Antalya are way ahead of the sense of freedom and self-confidence of our political parties,” wrote İsmet Berkan in daily Hürriyet. 

If we look back, let’s say that for the past five decades, it would not be wrong to say that the representation of civil society has never been so diverse and so powerful. 

This is especially true for the female portion of society. Women’s nongovernmental organizations have grown to be an important lobbying group. They played an indisputable role in improving women’s rights and, as such, provided an invaluable contribution to the landmark legislation to prevent violence against women that was endorsed by Parliament last week. But this contribution was effective also due to the openness of Fatma Şahin, the family and social policies minister. While women’s activists are angry at the changes made despite their objections and complain about the male-dominated bureaucracy, as well as the state’s legislative branch, most (and including the fiercest AKP critics) agree that Şahin has done her best to have civil society participate in the making of the law. The women’s NGOs have been working with the ministry on the law for the past six months.

By contrast, the Education Ministry has not bothered to solicit the views of civil society. The public was informed of the bill, which brought radical changes to the education system, only a few days before it came to the agenda of Parliament. The way the bill was rushed in suggests that the government did not wish to have lengthy debates. 

At a time when everybody agrees on the need for educational reform, the way the government handled the issue is unacceptable and proof of the risks of majoritarian democracy. The attitude based on, “I got the majority, I’ll pass any legislation I want,” does not contribute to the social peace and cohesion that this country desperately needs. 

Ironically, too, education is an issue that is at the core of that much sought-after social cohesion.