Women in Turkey march to mark International Women's Day, despite state pressure

Istanbul march. Photo by Arzu Geybullayeva

Solidarity between women across Turkey was on full display in the annual night march held on March 8, to mark International Women's Day, despite heavy police presence in some cities and bans from local governors. In order to prevent women from participating in the protest in Istanbul, entry and exits to main transportation lines leading to Taksim Square and Şişhane were closed hours before the anticipated night march. Police barricaded many of the side streets leading to meeting points the organizers had announced.

Meanwhile, opposition parties promised this was the last women's march under heavy police presence and bans. In a tweet main opposition Republic People Party, Istanbul Provincial Chair Canan Kaftancıoğlu said, “See you in Taksim square next year on March 8,” in reference to the local govenors office routinely closing the square to large protests. Last year, ahead of the annual march, the opposition party vowed to reimplement the Istanbul Convention, one of the world's top interational documents condemning domestic violence. 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.”

“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, 2022.

One woman who attended the rally in Istanbul told BBC Turkish, she attended the rally because “We are young, but our hearts are broken, I am not sure how hopeful we are about life. This is why we are here.”

“I am here for the human rights; so that I am not murdered easily; for the rights of all LGBT, women, and children. We want to keep living, we want to be fere, we want to live like humans and we want to be equal,” said Florence Konstantina Delight, a prominent drag performance artist, in an interview with BBC Turkish.

According to We Will Stop Femicides, a local platform documenting violence against women, in 2022, 334 women were killed by men while 245 women were found dead in suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, the Parliamentary commission group on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men said, since Turkey withdrew from Istanbul Convention,  at least 603 women were killed and 464 women died in a suspicious way.

In addition to calls for gender equality and return to the Istanbul Convention, women chanted “government resign.” The calls occur among ongoing criticism of the state for its delayed emergency and aid response in more than ten provinces hit with a devastating earthquake.

“The state that left those waiting for the rescue to die, under the rubble for days, was much faster rescuing bank's volts and using pressure and force to silence rebelling people,” read the statement issued by the women who gathered in Istanbul. The women also accused the state of protecting perpetrators of violence against women. And vowed to hold those who “made poor people and women pay for the economic crisis, who turned the earthquake into profit, and who called the people it failed to kill in the earthquake, struggling with hunger ‘looters'” to account.

A large banner held by the women read, “We are angry, we are mourning, we are in a feminist revolt.”

Istanbul march. Photo by Arzu Geybullayeva

After they read the statement, a group of women stayed behind as the large crowd began to disperse. They confronted the police demanding that they open the side streets and allow them to keep marching onto Taksim Square. Police resorted to physical force and tear gas. Detentions followed suit.

Istanbul march. A woman being helped after exposure to tear gas. Photo by Arzu Geybullayeva

At least 30 people were detained as a result.

Despite the bans and police violence, the spirit of solidarity was felt everywhere, even on the ferry connecting the Karakoy-Kadikoy piers. Packed to the brim with women, men and LGBTQ+ people who were chanting, singing and dancing only briefly interrupted by the captain congratulating all the women aboard for International Women's Day. The crowd cheered and clapped in response.

In Kadikoy, outside the pier, police stood in rows, but did not intervene, as women kept chanting “We won't keep silent, we are not afraid, we won't obey.”

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