International Women’s Day

Today is Mardi Gras, and while revelers in New Orleans shake their boobies for crowds, let’s pause for a moment to remember that it is also International Women’s Day.

On the bus from Ankara about two weeks ago, there were three of us, leading to an unfortunate seating arrangement that put my colleague in the seat behind myself and our mutual friend. Luckily, she’s a chatty Kathy and she quickly made friends with the woman seated next to her. The woman was very conservatively dressed, and was accompanying two foreign women who were also quite conservatively dressed.

There are different levels of covering that go on here. Some women are as comfortable bearing their skin as your average American teenager. Others opt for high collared shirts and nothing shorter than knee length. For the more religiously observant, there are varying levels of covering. One woman I met vacillates between covering her hair and having it done at the coiffeur’s, while others donne floor-length trench coats over long skirts, and top it off with a brightly colored silk scarf that is neatly wrapped around their hair and neck. There are also those who have chosen the “Saudi” look, for even here, they’re referred to as Saudis: its the all black, head-to-toe look required in some of the world’s more autocratic nations.

The women on the bus were nursing students at a university in Ankara, something that only recently would have forced them to choose between their headscarves and their education. The two asian women were from Indonesia, they spoke lovely Turkish and were also nursing students. The jury is still out on how and why women from Indonesia would speak Turkish, but the internationality of it all struck me.

Turkey is an interesting place that people try to characterize as wedged between east and west. I think this designation misses the mark spectacularly for the simple reason that Turks are Turks. Turkey is a muslim country to be sure, but they are about as similar to the Arab nations as Greece is to Norway: yes, they’re historically of the same religion, though the brand they practice is different, but ultimately the similarities stop there. That said, Turkey has some major issues it needs to work out, and this being International Women’s Day, I’ll focus first on women’s rights.

A report was recently released that shows how under-educated, under-utilized women in Turkey remain, even today. Violence against women has increase a frightening amount in the past few years, and there seems to be little the government is doing to protect women from their partners. The media glorifies the rage and passion of the male assaulter/murderer, and plays up the moral shortcomings of the women in question. The photos depict only the woman, often the perpetrator’s name is withheld from the press, while the woman’s is published for all to see, and judge. There are currently 5 women murdered each day in Turkey. And while this is not all caused by domestic violence, the numbers aren’t looking good: violence against women has increased 1,400% in the last seven years.

“One in every three women in Turkey is exposed to domestic violence and 40 percent of them accept this situation as normal,” said Aydeniz Alisbah Tuskan, the head of the Istanbul Bar Association’s Women’s Rights Center. “The problem lies in the fact that abused women are afraid their financial support would be cut if their husbands go to jail.”–Ipek Ekmeksiz

This is an issue in every country of the world. It’s something that crosses borders and transcends race and religion. I was surprised earlier today when I laid eyes on a student of mine who had what looked to be a nasty black eye. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that she was wearing makeup. She and two friends had put on fake bruises and cuts and were handing out pamphlets around school about International Women’s Day. In a country where I have seen tough social issues buried time and time again, I was thrilled to see these female students tackling something head on.

There needs to be a paradigm shift, and women are essential, but the macho ethos of the men here needs to change. And quick,

Traditional perceptions of women as long-suffering wives and self-sacrificing mothers need to be challenged, but so does a construction of masculinity based on violence and tough talk. What makes a man choose to kill his wife rather than grant her a divorce? His act will destroy the entire family unit, cause lasting trauma to his children and land him in jail. And why do so many men resort to physical abuse to resolve minor domestic dispute?– Nicole Pope

Women in Turkey are the matriarchs, they care for their families the way a lioness does for her own. They’re a powerful, opinionated bunch. They’ll tell you what’s what, and they’ll not hold back. This is what Turkey needs, a powerful, articulate group of individuals to grab violence by the balls, to demand the respect of their peers and to instill that respect in their children. But, a lot still needs to change. I am optimistic that things in Turkey are on the up and up. The question is will the women demand what is rightfully theirs? Will the men realize what useless children they would become without the women in their lives? Will an open dialogue begin?

Today is International Women’s Day, and I am a woman. Today, my lovely cousin personified the glory of the female condition and gave birth to her first son.Today is a good day, but let’s make tomorrow better.

For more:

Turkish women blames police after beating from husband

Equal opportunity top issue on Int’l Women’s Day

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