Turkey’s women’s festival may be a drop in the ocean of the poisoned patriarchy that pollutes the world, but its part of a current that is growing in power, pace and spread.
It is a chilly, rain-spattered early evening in Istanbul and the most famous shopping street of the Turkish megalopolis – Istiklal Caddesi – is heaving with humanity.
For a street that never sleeps and is always awash with people, it is busier than usual. The narrow thoroughfare is jam-packed with a massive crowd of women, noisy and exuberant, blowing whistles and beating drums, as they celebrate March 8: International Women’s Day.
Violence against Turkish women
In a country where religious fundamentalism and authoritarianism is on the rise – the rule of right-wing populist President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan entrenched following a failed military coup in 2016 and a subsequent crackdown on liberals in the media, academia and judiciary. The annual display of feminist solidarity that gathers near Taksim Square before it flows down to the 15th century Genoese Galata Tower, is a potent symbol for those that understand the country is at a critical juncture.
According to Bianet – a Turkish website that monitors media reports of male violence –men killed at least 290 women in the country in 2017, with 22 girls and 34 men who were nearby at the time of the incident also left dead. A total of 101 women were raped and 376 girls were sexually abused. At least 417 women were left injured by male violence in 2017.
«Women teeming on Istiklal Caddesi carry placards that include a depiction of an erect penis alongside a statement in English: “Does this give you great rights?”»
“Strong and Beautiful”
The women’s march is one of the few public outlets women with modern, liberal and liberated attitudes today in Turkey. Men are largely not welcome at the annual fixture, though the tens of thousands that gathered this year included scores of men to support their female friends, partners and relatives. Although outright gay or LGBT manifestations in public would likely draw a swift crackdown from the republic’s militarised police – a ubiquitous heavily armed presence on Istanbul’s streets, with armoured cars parked at strategic junctions – the March 8 crowd includes plenty of rainbow-toned placards, signs and slogans.
Safety in numbers, noisy but well-mannered, the women teeming on Istiklal Caddesi carry placards that include a depiction of an erect penis alongside a statement in English: “Does this give you great rights?” Another, also in English, shows a happy half naked young woman, her breasts bare and long dark hair flowing down her back as she holds a flower aloft beneath the words “Strong and Beautiful”.
«The women tell their stories with economy and force, each shocking and heart rendering in their own unique way.»
Others carry images of some of the women who have lost their lives in recent years to male violence as male street vendors – never slow to miss a trick in Istanbul –weave their way through the dense crowds selling whistles, rattles and head bands with feminist slogans.