It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.
Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.
So, without further ado…
Here’s Pinar Ilkkaracan of Women for Women’s Human Rights, doing amazing international work in Istanbul, Turkey!
Pinar Ilkkaracan is trained both as a psychotherapist and political scientist and continues to do wonderful work across cultures by posing sexuality, and the safe exploration of sexuality as a basic human right.
She is the co-founder of various NGOs and networks, including the International Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR) and Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways in Turkey. She has worked as a feminist activist, advocate and researcher on various issues, including law reform in Turkey and Germany, sexual and reproductive rights, sexuality in Muslim societies, human rights education, violence against women, sexual abuse in the family, migration and racism. She has participated in several UN conferences both as NGO representative and as a member of Turkey’s official delegation.
She is the editor of Deconstructing Sexuality in the Middle East and Women and Sexuality in Muslim Societies (translated into Arabic and Turkish), as well as the author of numerous articles on women’s human rights, law reform, violence against women, sexual violence, sex workers, sexuality and sexual rights. In 2007, she received the prestigious International Gruber Award for Women’s Rights.
Sexual and bodily rights continue to be an issue of contestation in the Middle East – something that people often reductively relate to Islam. But of course, there are many discourses and challenges from different, and overlapping societal attitudes. Would you tell us a little more about the situation as you see it? Are there significant class differences in beliefs (i.e. village vs. city?)
In contradiction to the wide-spread myth in the West that there is no activism on sexual and bodily rights in Muslim societies, these rights are very important to many human rights, women’s rights and health activists in the Middle East and other Muslim societies. In the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), we have members who are significant opinion leaders as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in their countries, including from Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt or Turkey. Based on national experience, we share the common view that Islam – religion – is often misused as a powerful tool for political power when it comes to gender equality or sexuality.
For instance, although the majority of the dictatorial governments in the Middle East based their raison d’être for limitations of personal freedoms on restriction of religious extremism in their countries, on the protection of secularity, they did not hesitate at all to make political compromises when it came to women’s human rights, especially on issues of women’s sexual and bodily autonomy and the rights of LGBTQ people. Thus, women’s human rights and LGBTQ rights became increasingly an arena of a contested politics in the Middle East area of politics. It seems that with the on-going revolutions in the Middle East, it will become even more contested. The new opening spaces for politics will pave the way for religious conservative politics and groups – which is unavoidable for democratic regimes. Thus, I think women’s rights, in particular sexual and bodily rights will become targets of national politics more in the future.
Turkey is in fact, incredibly progressive in terms of legislation regarding violence against women and sexual equality – it was among one of the first countries in the world to pass a protection order law against violence. Do you think this legislation has been effective? How does it intersect with cultural attitudes towards women and sexuality?
Indeed, Turkey experienced a gender equality revolution in the 2000’s. We, as the women’s movement, made an incredible effort to join our forces across all divides to form huge national platforms to defend our rights – Turkish and Kurdish women, rural and urban women – to realize the reform of full gender equality in the Turkish civil code in 2001 and the right to women’s bodily and sexual autonomy in Turkish penal code in 2004. It was a revolution in terms of gender equality in the legal sphere. Yet, as WWHR, including me, expresses in many platforms, the implementation of the reforms is very poor, mainly due to the conservative politics and policies of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) government in Turkey. I think the present government is way beyond the Turkish and Kurdish Public on these issues, as our campaigns – on the reform of Turkish Civil and Public Codes – in fact were successful due to the support of the public and the media, despite the resistance of the governments.
Women for Women’s Human Rights runs a human rights education program for women – knowing your rights is so important in order to claim them! Can you speak a little more about the significance of this program and what it does?
The Human Rights Education program of WWHR has proved to be incredibly significant for the women’s movement in Turkey. Our ultimate aim from the beginning on was to stimulate and assist grass-roots organizing throughout Turkey. I’m very happy that sixteen non-governmental organization – our sister organizations – by women who participated in the Human Rights Education program of WWHR. That is, in addition to 8,000 women who participate in the program annually to be empowered, women’s organizations that were established as a result of WWHR’s Human Rights Education program advocate in their local context for gender equality – for example, setting gender quotas for work at municipalities, establishing women’s spaces at local markets, or setting quotas for women’s participation in politics.
Do you separate out reproductive rights, or family planning from sexual pleasure – and why?
As we started the Human Rights Education for Women in 1995, from the beginning on we separated and sexual rights (two sessions) from reproductive rights (one session). Because based on our experience with women, they can have no reproductive choices and rights without sexual and bodily autonomy anchored in legal, social or economic rights. Sexual pleasure was a very significant part of the program based our knowledge that “sexual pleasure” signifies women’s empowerment through autonomy over their bodies and sexuality.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for Turkish feminists in the coming years? How is the landscape shifting? Did recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt affect Turkey?
At the moment, the most significant challenge for the women’s movement in Turkey is the conservative policies of the JDP government in power since 2002 and the increasing conservatism as a result of the government’s politics and policies since 2002.
We’ve recently, in the US, faced many challenges to our right to reproductive justice – but this is a fight that’s remained largely US centric – how do you feel about the dominant perspectives of US feminist activists nowadays? Do you feel they are limited, or blind to our international compatriots?
Given the fact that the US remains to be the most powerful country of the world – in terms of political, economic and cultural power, the strategies of feminist NGOs in the US are very important for women’s movements in the South. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) in New York, for example, has played an exemplary role in assisting Southern women’s NGOs to have a voice in international politics, via facilitating their participation at the United Nations. Center for Reproductive Rights and MADRE have also played a great role in bringing the political demands of women in the south into US politics. I’m sure there were many other local organizations who’ve played a very significant role at the local level to make the voice of Southern women heard in the US politics, especially during the Bush era. I, personally, feel empowered by each of them.
However, the US led politics of global neoliberalism and the impact of the Bush neo-conservatism meant dramatic setbacks for all women in the world. For me, the responsibility to reverse it lies with the new US government – the Obama government – not with the US based women’s NGOs.