Struggle to End Violence Against Women in the Age of New Fascism

By Sumru Atuk
Submitted to Session P4819 (Gender-Based Violence, Solidarity, and Advocacy, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Gender/Women's Studies;
This paper discusses the roles the women’s movement, international organizations and the state have played in the legal improvements and setbacks regarding eliminating violence against women (VAW) in Turkey. More specifically, it inquires how the post-2000 period, which started with significant legal developments that reinforced gender equality (e.g. the new Civil and Penal Codes), has reached to a point where the government attempts to revoke women’s gained rights through laws and policies that openly establish a hierarchical gender regime (e.g. by making divorce and reporting violence more difficult). The aforementioned legal improvements are rightfully explained by the efforts of Turkey’s strong women’s/feminist movements and the pressure from the international community (e.g. the EU-imposed regulations). But how do we account for the current fact that gender violence in Turkey, the proud first signatory of the Istanbul Treaty against VAW, is largely tolerated by the legal system and encouraged by the ruling elite? How has the state come to disregard once influential coalition of international organizations and local women’s/feminist movement?

Based on in-depth interviews with feminist lawyers/activists, critical discourse analysis of politicians’ declarations, and content analysis of parliamentary records concerning VAW, I argue that the answers to these questions lie in the transformations in the state’s identity and ideology, which are key factors in determining the level of impact the local and transnational advocacy can have. In explaining Turkish state’s transition from a pro-democracy position to a violently totalitarian regime, I develop the concept of “new fascism,” referring to the recent global trend sustained by the discourses of racism, nationalism and gender inequality. The ruling elite of new fascism not only openly circulates misogynistic hate speech but also institutionalizes it through laws and policies targeting women’s lives and rights. They also delegitimize justice/equality demands by, for instance, marking advocacy groups and the international community as co-conspirators against Turkey. Thus, this contemporary form of rule needs further explanation to understand this stagnation, if not recession, in women’s rights.

As such, this paper contributes to the women’s movement and solidarity literatures that focus on bargaining with the state (Kandiyoti 1988) and the effectiveness of transnational coalitions in ending VAW (Hasso 2014; Brand 1998; Al-Ali 2000). It also helps developing new mobilization and advocacy methods to overcome the resistance by a paternalistic state that is not responsive to international pressure and local demands.