Thoughts on Feminist Politics: The Successes and the Problems of Common Agenda Politics
Author: Serpil Sancar; Translation: Yelda Şahin Akıllı; Editing: Kıvanç Tanrıyar
ATTENTION: From now onwards it seems not possible for feminists to cloister themselves in their own world, to do politics, and to remaining at their enclosure at the same time.
Now and then, I have been thinking that it is necessary that an evaluation of successes and failures of different feministic approaches should be made because I hope that, by actualizing this attempt, it would render new foresights and new political maps. For this purpose, I wanted to take the first step, by writing on the common agenda strategy of women’s movement and, by writing on where did this strategy has succeeded, and where it has failed.
It may be suggested that the period between the late 1980s when women’s organizations were inspired by the feminist critique which began to develop in Turkey, and the 1990s, has been more or less a process which defines political goals and make one utter her own word for women’s organizations of Turkey. This was also the period within which the political organizations began to flourish, as the country slowly set free from political oppression and from the prohibitions dictated by the 12 September Regime.
When the acute effects of the prohibitions of September the 12th smoothed, the political community was reshaped by political organizations which have developed in parallel with important ideological divisions that marked the period. Primarily the Islamist political movement, then the political movement which demanded that the Kurdish identity may be recognized, and finally nationalist and laicist movements, which were shaped as a reaction to the former ones, became the head actors. Except the feminist organizations which have the objectives to transform the social life for the benefit of women, by criticizing male domination, and which tried to organize ‘independently’ for the sake of women’s rights movement, organizations have established themselves as akin to, or as advocates of the political organizations formed along the ideological divisions mentioned above. Women, as participants of these organizations, have been called after the ‘identity belongings’ such as Islamists, Kurds, Kemalists or Republicans. While they followed a path that prioritized the politics of those identities, they all gave support to the development of a political sensitivity that is also affected by the politics against male domination carried out by the feminists.
From 2000s on, feminist organizations have begun to collaborate for a common agenda with women from Islamist, Kurdish or Kemalist organizations which are attached to different ideological-political sides. Primarily concerned with the prevention of domestic violence against women, and with the prevention of murders committed for the sake of honor for their agenda, feminist organizations predominantly had women’s rights related issues such as the realization of equal participation in political decisions, and such as equality in political representation, and such as modification of the clauses in laws wherever there is discrimination against women. They also aimed to cooperate with other women’s organizations in relation with their agenda. Besides, there were also issues which women’s organizations expected to deal with, based on their own particular political and ideological agendas and on the common agenda of women’s organizations’ to which they have been invited to develop. Within Kurdish women’s organizations, the claims for making necessary legal and political arrangements for the recognition of Kurdish ethnic identity, rendering the political violence against Kurds visible, criticizing and preventing this violence, and putting an end to the ongoing war were given priority. Islamist women’s organizations expected that the feminist movement would recognize, support and defend the claim for establishing new legal rights against prevention of rights such as ‘entering the university with headscarf’ when present in public institutions and ‘claim for recognition’, the prevention of which should be regarded as a source of social discrimination applied on pious and veiled woman, within their political agenda. In opposition with the aforementioned movements, those women who called themselves as Kemalist, Atatürkist or Republican have positioned themselves at the very negative pole, by rejecting the claims of Kurdish policies in regard with ‘ethnic multiculturalism,’ and by rejecting the claim of Islamists for the recognition of wearing headscarf in public as a ‘women’s right’. On the one hand, being in opposition with the Kurdish movement, they adopted the definition of the ‘Kurdish problem,’ with a complete different meaning, not in relation with a movement of liberty, but rather in regard with a terrorist movement with the objective of ‘ethnic separatism,’ subversive of the state. On the other hand, they did not see Islamist women’s ‘struggle for wearing headscarf in public’ as a women’s rights struggle, thus adopted its definition as a significant indicator of the ‘violation of the principle of laicism.’
The feminist common agenda strategy was prepared to set off for the defense of women’s rights and the realization of gender equality, but it developed in a context which diverged into different directions, and which remained at the center of different political tensions. We may say that the strategy, being implemented by feminist organizations under these circumstances, have been actualized in two ways. The first one has set out a ‘legal reform’ movement and has rendered the movement successful through the method of constituting common action platforms for legal reforms that has included all women’s organizations. These platform organizations primarily aimed at removing the gender-based discriminations from basic laws such as from the Civil Code, Penal Code and the Constitution; making new legal sustenance for women, and introducing new definitions concerning women’s rights that attended to the problems in relation with women experience and support their solution. As a kind of strategy for joint forces, they’ve gathered women’s organizations from different ideological and political belongings in a common platform. Moreover, there were within the framework of this common agenda politics more essential legal arrangements such as Family Protection Law and Family Courts Law to be made. The modifications in the draft of the Criminal Code, which does not adequately punish violence against women, were improved by women’s organizations, and they were introduced to the political parties in TGNA, MPs working in commissions, to bureaucrats at Ministry of Justice and to relevant newspapers. It was an end result of this strategy that women from different women’s organizations worked in a collaborative way to inform and to persuade the eminent actors of the process about these changes. For instance, the attempts of the TCK Platformu (“Turkish Penal Code Platform”), which has organized the modification process of the Penal Code, prove themselves as successful examples. The positive results of the new collaborations established through the communicative background, which has been carried on by the Kadın Sığınakları Kurultayı (“Assembly for Women’s Shelters”) for the purpose of preventing violence against women, should also be evaluated within this context.
The second common agenda strategy of feminist organizations was improved within the organization that was carried out for the purpose of realizing equal participation of women in political decisions as well as their right for equal representation. We may call this strategy as the politics of equal distance towards all ideological and political identities. ‘The politics of equal distance towards identities’ has developed out of a long process of thinking and discussing within KADER. Indeed ‘Equal distance politics’ may be defined as a politics of creating a communication channel between feminists and women who try to make politics within present political parties; a channel that would enable them to develop and discuss with each other suggestions concerning feminist policy for the realization of equal political representation of women and their equal participation in political decisions. It may be said that this political strategy has emerged out of the process through which KADER was founded and grew stronger. And, recently, the political suggestions once grew within this process have been actualized into Kadın Siyaset Programı (“Women’s Program of Politics”).
The politics of equal distance towards different women’s identities does not mean that feminists would welcome those women who defend male domination, who are advocates of Şeriat (Shari’ a) or of the deep state, or who are racists, and are power flattering women.
On the contrary, it aims to actualize a feminist perspective which envisions the interchangeability of women’s relations with ‘ideological identities’ and accepts that when an ‘empathic’ relation is established among women, each and every one of them is able to react against the oppression she faces, and that she is able to possess a political power that has a transformative effect in regard with her political context, and thereby with her life. The politics of equal distance towards different women’s identities may be characterized as developing ‘politics for empathy against women’ for their liberation, and as developing their skills for ‘acting together against male domination’ as women with different political belongings more often begin to listen and understand one another. Therefore, equal distance politics means not tolerating those women’s behavior, who, being embedded within patriarchal power relations, try to secure a place for themselves within these relations, which actually subordinate women in political life, and instead the politics means to help such women to develop a political consciousness which would enable them to criticize and transform their position as such.
This strategy is based on a feminist belief. According to this belief, women who got accustomed to remain silent against the politics of male politicians based on the instrumentalization of women and against their ideological strategies’ based on ideological and political justifications, and against women’s frequent mobilization because of alternative political causes, not aiming to solve their problems, may change this very attitude, and they may become more critical towards and transformative of their own ‘ideological community.’ The strategy has searched for ways to collaborate with women from different political parties, and it developed methods, in relation, such as ‘Education of Women’ and ‘School of Politics’. Out of these endeavors, a ‘program of political goals’ has been developed which involved concrete suggestions such as increasing the number of women political candidates in elections, nominating women for places where it was more probable to be chosen, bringing woman to positions of decision-making through elections and implementing ‘quota politics’ that would bring the number of woman candidates closer to that of man. Within this process, we have seen that most of the goals defined in this program (except the quota politics) have been embraced by women and claimed by them within their own political parties.
It is hard to tell that political parties other than DTP have really been influenced by this program and have worked out to develop a new path for the equal participation of women. In relation to DTP, even though the criticisms of Kurdish women’s organizations seem to have increased rather than decrease, it may be said that in many respects Kurdish political organizations have become more sensitive to women’s problems. But a similar improvement has not been achieved within other parties. Throughout this process, AKP and CHP preferred to expel the women influenced from the feminist political agenda from their parties. But even within AKP, it has been observed that some women from the party have brought the demand for equal political representation to the agenda in some occasions. The success of equal distance politics is that it made women in Islamic and Kurdish political organizations accept that equal political representation of women is a fundamental right. Thus, in this way a women’s rights discussion has started within these parties and, the agenda of feminist organizations penetrated to the agenda including these areas.
Looking from today, how are we to answer the question ‘To what extent it is possible to unify women with different identities and political loyalties around a common women rights agenda up to now?’ We may say that this strategy became successful significantly in transforming some fundamental laws in favor of women, in defending women’s right for equal political representation, and in making all women’s organizations share a common perspective on the prevention of violence against women on a widespread basis. But from the point of view of the moment, it is obvious that central obstacles have also emerged. An important success has been achieved by feminist politics and Kurdish women’s organizations, which have accomplished to develop a common attitude towards domestic violence against women and, especially towards honor and töre murders. But improvement was not achieved in establishing a common political attitude against political violence. The feminists argued that every act of violence contributes to the ‘consolidation of male domination’, therefore to the violence executed by state, PKK or the husband. The aforementioned acts of violence should altogether be criticized, and militarism is not only a politics employed by the state in the name of liberty of armed organizations, it also contributed to the consolidation of the order of male domination. They internalize themselves different forms of militarism. At this point, the feminist agenda fell into the vicious circle of just violence -unjust violence debate, in parallel with the definition of Kurdish question.
If one looks from another side, within the frame of Islamist women’s politics concerning ‘recognition of wearing headscarf in public’, it is obvious that it became possible to develop a perspective beyond the veiled-unveiled women duality. Right at that moment, when the possibilities of a ‘politics of women’ were developing, which started to become active, by centralizing the problematic fact that each body of women, whether veiled or not, has belonged actually to the ‘masculine sphere of domination,’ and this politics tried become active at the center of ‘politics of women,’ it is provided that women politicized themselves within the dichotomy of laicisim-religiosity. Thus, the debate evolved to a sphere where feminist politics no longer might remain active. If women got rid all of these debates, nothing would be left to feminist politics seemingly, but the ‘toleration of religiosity and conservatism’.
The politics of equal distance towards women’s ideological and political identities has not achieved its goal of introducing a change in the political party system yet. Political parties continue successfully to use the issue of women’s right for equal political representation as a rhetorical instrument. Women who pursue a struggle for equal political representation within political parties are continuously expelled from their parties. Indeed, their number has grown to the extent that they can establish even an ‘army of women politicians, who are exiled from political parties to civil society.’ Even though this situation contributes to the revitalization of civil organizations, by rendering an important space for the activities of women there, the structure of the political party system, with its resistance to change, seems to have proved its immunity. If we add to this final picture the fact that some of women, at the extreme point of the scale, have been thrown into the Kemalist, Atatürkist or Republican identities, and have become the defenders of the nation-state and maybe even the supporters of the military coups, one has to accept that the situation is not very promising yet.
The struggle of feminist politics to make its own agenda, the agenda concerning the democratization of society, contradicted with the two founding stones of the state regime, one being the Kurdish war, and the other discussions concerning laicism. And it was brought to a halt and it became impossible to move ahead. From now onwards it seems not possible for feminists to cloister themselves to their own world, to do politics, and to remain at their enclosure at the same time. The paths of the feminist politics and of the politics of the country are intersecting more and more, day by day.
The possibilities for feminists to pave the way for their own politics are each day more and more overlapping with the conditions of opening of the way of democratic politics in the country.