Women across Turkey demonstrate in annual night march

A screenshot from a news report by HaberTurk

Despite government attempts to prevent demonstrations from marking International Women’s Day, women across Turkey took to the streets demanding equal rights, equal pay, better protection against gender-based violence, and for Turkey’s return to the Istanbul Convention, a legally-binding human rights treaty of the Council of Europe pledging to prevent, prosecute, and eliminate domestic violence and promote gender equality.

This is the 20th consecutive time women in Turkey marched in what they call a “night march” to mark the day since the tradition started in 2003. Thousands joined the night march across cities big and small, despite heavy police presence and demonstration bans in major cities like Istanbul.

At least 38 women were detained in Istanbul alone while in multiple cities, police resorted to violence, with scores of women getting teargassed.

In Ankara, police barricaded the location where women were planning to meet. But the protestors relocated to some side streets and marched anyway.

High volume of participants at Ankara's Feminist Night March. Despite police intervening, the gathered crowd will make a press statement after the march.

Tweeting from their official account, organizers of the March 8 Feminist Night March said no obstacles would stop women from taking part in this year’s march in response to a decision from the Istanbul Governor’s Office to ban the march in order to “protect rights and freedoms and prevent crimes.”

Every year despite the challenges we claim our rights, lives, existence, equality, work on March 8. We marched for 19 years, and we will march on the 20th year too.

Others joined in solidarity, like musicians Melis Karaduman and Canay Dogan, who released a single called “Woman” ahead of International Women’s Day. The song’s lyrics were all about gender inequality and the problems and threats women face in Turkish society.

The mellow music in the video accompanies the two singers who share what many women face on a daily basis through the lyrics:

You go out, eyes are always watching you, from behind
“Does your father know what time it is?”
Everyone else decides your life but you.
Because you are a woman and you've always been suppressed
But not this time, don't hide your light.

Don't walk behind me on a dark night
don't spy on me
After all we are all the same, we are all human
We recognize fear.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) promised to reimplement the Istanbul Convention in Turkey. “We are determined to stop violence against women. When we come to power, we plan to start implementing the Istanbul Convention within the first week. We will effectively implement international conventions and national legislative provisions,” said Aylin Nazlıaka, the Chairman of the Women’s Branch of the Republican People’s Party, at a simultaneous press conference with the heads of women’s branches in 81 provinces and 973 districts on March 8. Turkey withdrew from Istanbul Convention in March 2021 over what the ruling government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) called the treaty’s “normalization of homosexuality.” This was the first women’s march since Turkey withdrew from the convention.

The withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention was not the only setback for women’s rights advocates under the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party. One of the biggest issues women face in Turkey is violence against women. According to a tracker that documents the names of women who died as a result of violence, 418 women were killed in 2021. Although it’s been barely three months, already the tracker registered 74 deaths in 2022. We Will Stop Femicide, another local platform documenting violence against women, reported 280 femicides in 2021, a major increase from the 80 femicides in 2008. The Turkish government does not disclose data on femicides. Despite this, the party claims it has achieved more for women than previous governments.

But the stark data doesn’t seem to be making an impact. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insists the ruling AKP’s “Action Plan for Combating Violence against Women” unveiled in July 2021 is enough to combat violence against women. Women’s rights advocates disagree. In a 2021 interview with AlJazzera, Ayşe Faride Acar, a Turkish academic who oversaw the implementation of the Istanbul Convention between 2015–2019, said, “The current laws are not adequate. We hear about women being killed every day, because the existing structure, both legally and implementation wise, is not adequate.”

President Erdoğan’s position on women’s rights may also explain the deteriorating situation. While he refers to women as the “holiest creatures” in 2014, speaking at a Women and Justice Summit in Istanbul, he notoriously said that gender equality was “against human nature.” Two years later, he said working women were “deficient.”

The global gender gap rankings speak for themselves. The most recent 2021 Global Gender Gap Index report placed Turkey 133rd out of 156 countries. In a recent analysis commissioned by the UNDP, Turkey has the lowest gender development ranking among the OECD countries, primarily due to disparities in income distribution. According to a 2020 report by the Research Center of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey (DİSK-AR), “the annual labor income of men is 31.4 percent higher than that of women.” But here too, Erdoğan disagrees. Speaking at an event organized by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), the President boasted that under the 20-year-rule of AKP, the percentage of women in the workforce increased by a mere 7 percent, from 27 to 34 percent.

Women at the night march in Istanbul have different plans. In a statement read out at the end of the march, the women vowed, “the feminist revolt will not end without establishing an equal and free world where there is no patriarchy, capitalism, racism, wars, invasions, religious oppression, and labor exploitation!’ Long live our feminist struggle!”

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