The Anti-Gendered Face of the Corona Crisis: The Case of Turkey

By Sedagul Yavuz

While the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies, its gendered effects have begun to gain attention and psychological, sexual, and physical violence against women is increasing all over the world. “Staying at home” is presented as a mandatory health measure, but many women are forced to live together with men who are violent to them. So what is the situation in Turkey?

Violence against women (VAW) has been on the rise in Turkey. The “We Will Stop Femicide Platform” announced that at least 29 women had lost their lives as a result of male violence in March, 2020 alone. Independent research conducted in 28 provinces in April to investigate VAW during the lockdown indicated that VAW in Turkey increased by 27.8 percent. In contrast to the increase of VAW, there is a rising debate against the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating VAW and domestic violence). The Convention insists that the state needs to take preventive and protective measures against violence. Although the necessary system has been established through laws and regulations to achieve this, we see a lack of political will in ensuring its implementation.

Rainbow Staircase in Istanbul. Photo: Matthew Levie via publicdomainpictures.net.

The Istanbul Convention

The Istanbul Convention was opened for signature in Istanbul on 11 May, 2011 to combat VAW. Since then, it has been signed by 46 states plus the European Union. Turkey became the first country to ratify it. Law No. 6284 was implemented following the Istanbul Convention and included detailed measures on VAW, which are studied under the section focusing on Turkey. Moreover, the ruling party of the time was the Justice and Development Party (JDP), which today openly produced rhetoric and policies against the Istanbul Convention.

The motivation of the JDP government to sign this convention seems not to be based on the desire to implement gender equality, but on the context of balancing relations with the EU. Indeed, it is difficult to say that the Istanbul Convention has been appropriately implemented since it has entered into force.

At this point today, the JDP government is conducting propaganda against the Istanbul Convention using the rhetoric and tactics of the transnational anti-gender movements riveted by the emerging right-wing populist neoconservative governments around the world. The anti-gender movements organised at the base, taking power from these discourses, are getting stronger every day. While the individual movements may have nuanced differences among them, it is necessary to consider them as part of a transnational conjuncture that has grown stronger in recent years.

Anti-Gender Movements

The anti-gender movements, organised against the so-called ‘gender ideology’ as an enemy, began to emerge and proliferate in different parts of the European continent after 2010. However, the foundations of this movement were laid by the Vatican in 1994. The UN held two conferences in 1994 and 1995, respectively. As a result of these two conferences, the introduction of the concept of gender into UN documents and the acceptance of sexual and bodily rights as human rights, especially abortion, made the anti-rights and equality masses uneasy (Corredor 2019). The illiberal countries and the Vatican have begun to work for the formation of anti-gender movement organisations. These movements have been debated for some time in Europe, with traces of them appearing mainly in Italy and followed by France, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Germany and Sweden. The movements have spread globally since then.

Gender as a “Symbolic Glue”

Although each of these organisations describes itself as local and national, they are transnational in that they have common goals, actors, discourses, and forms of action. Rooted in familialism, their opposition to the right to abortion, women’s reproduction rights, marriage equality, and LGBTI+ rights have led to racism and xenophobic actions. These movements target the Istanbul Convention, gender studies in academia, the EU and the UN because it is believed that they distort the traditional family structure (Pető/Simon 2017). With this characteristic, anti-gender movements can bring together different kinds of reactions rising from the right against neoliberal globalisation and liberal democratic values. In other words, “gender” functions as a symbolic glue (Kováts/Maari Põim 2015). It is argued that gender is an ideological concept, stressing that it is not “scientific” and imposes “unnatural” sexual identities.

The Polypore State

Pető and Grzebalska proposed a concept of “polypore state” to understand the relationship between illiberal democracies and these movements. Polypore is a parasitic fungus that feeds on decaying trees and contributes to their decay. In this context, a polypore state points to the new illiberal regime that emerged above the liberal democratic institutional structure that developed after 1989 in Eastern and Central Europe. Based on a popular reaction to neoliberal globalisation, these regimes levy war not only on gender equality, but also the fundamental values of European liberal democracy within three essential tenets of illiberal polypore states: parallel civil society, security narratives, and the family. First, illiberal democracies create a parallel civil society through government-organised non-governmental organisations (GONGOs) which work to foster the state’s views and ideology. Second, to legitimise their disregard for a plural civil society, illiberal governments use the security narratives. Human rights defenders are labelled as foreign-steered and potential enemies for national sovereignty. Third, they emphasise nationalist ideas about the family to attack human rights, emphasising the interests of traditional families over those of individuals and minorities (Pető/Grzebalska 2016). These features are prevalent in the case of Turkey.

The Reflection of Anti-Gender Movements in Turkey

In recent years, we are witnessing attacks on the gains of feminism in Turkey. Although the emerging anti-gender movements in Turkey have unique characteristics, their general discourse is moving in line with the global trend. Turkey’s most significant uniqueness is that this movement is promoted from the top rather than the grassroots, although there was always a mass waiting to lurk against the feminist movement.

Today, there are various journalists, academics and politicians in Turkey who are attacking the concept of “gender” itself with the influence of the transnational anti-gender movements. Gender equality, which was previously denied regarding Islam, is now criticised in an ideological framework through familialism and security narratives. The narrative of male victimisation organised over the Istanbul Convention and Law No. 6284 has started to grow, with many female anti-gender advocates claiming that many innocent men have been jailed for slander due to the Istanbul Convention.

These threats have been increasing day by day, and we need to take them seriously. In the Corona crisis, as women and LGBTI+ community members are more vulnerable due to unlawful practices and pressures, we need solidarity and more strict adherence to the Istanbul Convention and Law No. 6284.

This article was first published on the blog interdisziplinäre geschlechterforschung and prepared in cooperation with the ‘Politics and Gender’ Section at the Deutsche Vereinigung für Politikwissenschaft (DVPW). Many thanks to Dorothee Beck and Miao-ling Hasenkamp for supervising and Brian Beadle for the language editing.
On this blog, the article is part of the #DossierCorona thread #TransnationalFeminisms, which emerges from the online series “Transnational Feminist Dialogues in Times of Corona Crisis” organized by the Margherita von Brentano Center for Gender Studies at Freie Universität Berlin in cooperation with the MA Program Gender, Intersectionality and Politics at FU Berlin, Academy in Exile and Academics for Peace Germany.


References

Corredor, Elizabeth S. (2019). Unpacking ‘Gender Ideology’ and the Global Right’s Antigender Countermovement. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 44(3), 613–638. https://doi.org/10.1086/701171

Kováts, Eszter & Põim, Maari (Eds.) (2015). Gender as symbolic glue. The position and role of conservative and far right parties in the anti-gender mobilizations in Europe. Budapest. http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/budapest/11382.pdf [last access 05/10/2020]

Pető, Andrea & Simon, Krisztian (2017). “Resistance Alone Is Not Enough” – Women’s Rights and Illiberal Democracies. Green European Journal. https://www.greeneuropeanjournal.eu/resistance-alone-is-not-enough-womens-rights-and-illiberal-democracies/ [last access 05/10/2020]

Pető, Andrea & Grzebalska, Weronika (2016). How Hungary and Poland Have Silenced Women and Stifled Human Rights. The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/how-hungary-and-poland-have-silenced-women-and-stifled-human-rights-66743 [last access 05/10/2020]


Sedagul Yavuz is an MA candidate at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. She is also working in the NGO “Flying Broom Women’s Communication and Research Association” as a project coordinator. She is mainly interested in anti-gender movements in Turkey and Europe, civil society, migration and women’s employment.


Further articles in the thread #transnationalfeminisms of the series #DossierCorona on TRAFO:

Sabina García Peter, Nina Lawrenz and Tanja Wälty, Introducing #DossierCorona #TransnationalFeminisms, 1 July 2020.

Eliska Bujokova, Rewriting Histories of Care in the Times of Corona, 9 July 2020.

Vidisha Mishra, COVID-19, Technology, and the Future of Care Work, 15 July 2020.

Éva Fodor, Anikó Gregor, Júlia Koltai and Eszter Kováts, Household Divisions of Labor and Care Work in Times of COVID-19: Empirical Lessons from Hungary, 29 July 2020.

Ailynn Torres Santana, COVID-19 and Security Risks for Women: Indoors and Outdoors, 6 August 2020.

Andrea Dip, Brazil and Coronavirus: How Denialism, Religious Fundamentalism and Necropolitics has Disproportionately Affected Women, 13 August 2020.

Chia Longman, Covid-19 and Radical Self-Care, 20 August 2020.

Margreth Lünenborg, Wolfgang Reißmann, Miriam Siemon and Moe Kinoshita, “#systemrelevance in one word? women” – The Need for Analyzing Gender(ed) Media Discourse, 26 August 2020.

Patricia Ruiz Bravo and Aranxa Pizarro, Sexualized Violence in Peru amid Covid-19, 2 September 2020. 

Joshua Muyiwa, Hello? How Can I Help You Today? : Mental Health concerns for LGBTQIA+ people during Covid-19, 9 September 2020.

Felicia Riethmüller and Hanna-Maria Paul, Gender in the EU’s Corona Response – Transformation Beyond Clapping?, 17 September 2020.

Julia Roth, The Pandemic as a Prism: Patterns of En-Gendering and Contestations to Women’s and Gender Rights in Times of Corona, 1 October 2020.


Citation: Sedagul Yavuz, The Anti-Gendered Face of the Corona Crisis: The Case of Turkey, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 16.10.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/25152.


Forum Transregionale Studien

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. The Forum provides scope for collaboration among researchers with different regional and disciplinary perspectives and appoints researchers from all over the world as Fellows. In cooperation with universities and research institutions in Berlin and the rest of Germany, it carries out research projects that examine other regions of the world and their relationship to Germany and Europe systematically and with new questions.

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