Turks, Kurds, women, and Prime Minister Erdoğan

Turks, Kurds, women, and Prime Minister Erdoğan

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is dedicated to the growth of Turkey. He wants Turkey to be a big power. For him big is about quantity not quality. He therefore wants to take all the shortcuts without thinking much about the social and environmental side effects to pushing Turkey among the first 10 economies in the world by 2023; Turkish centennial.

Although the contribution of women in the labor force is scientifically proven to contribute to the growth of the economy, Prime Minister Erdoğan has never called on women to enter the labor market. Rather he wants women to contribute to the growth of the Turkish population by asking women to have at least three children.

Therefore, it was interesting to hear him calling on women to lend their support to the solution of the Kurdish problem. “If women want the fighting will end,” he said recently, presumably addressing Turkish and Kurdish women alike.

Erdoğan’s call last week, which came a day before International Women’s Day, reminded me of an observation I made last December when I was in Cizre attending the funeral of the prominent Kurdish politician Şerafettin Elçi. I assume every local in Cizre was out on the streets that day and the city looked gender segregated; men on one side of the street, women on the other side. At one stage, before the arrival of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP) delegation, I was the only women in the courtyard of the historic mosque where the religious ceremony was going to be held. While having a conversation with a civil servant who was here to pay his respect to Elçi, whom he knew from his years as a student, he told me that Turks and Kurds were different and as an ethnic Turk, one of the first things he told me to prove the difference was how women had almost no rights in Kurdish culture. I told him it was the same case for Turkish women and that despite tremendous progress it is still the case for some among them. As we heard that the BDP delegation was nearing the mosque, I then went outside to see the cortege approaching and a tremendous contrast stroked me: Men were on the sides of the street while most women were at the doorsteps, roofs and windows of their houses; but the cortege was headed by the prominent male and female figures of the BDP, like Osman Baydemir, Aysel Tuğluk, Sırrı Sakık, who were walking arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder. I am sure the sight of female Kurdish leaders walking side by side with their male colleagues had an impact on the women standing on the roofs.

I can say confess with all honesty that in Turkey’s west I don’t think you would find a lot of men who would not mind their wives walking arm in arm with other men for this or that purpose. Women are at the forefront of the Kurdish political movement. Whenever you look at any BDP activity, you see a lot of women in the picture, which is not the case with other political parties.

It seems to me that women liberalization works from top to bottom in the case of Kurds in the southeast, whereas in contrast to the early days of the Republic; it has become an effort grown from the bottom up in the case of urbanized women in the rest of the country.