Turkish women’s group targeted amid Erdoğan’s ‘culture war’

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Feminists in Turkey are outraged by the public prosecutors’ demand for closure of the country’s largest women’s rights group accused of being “against morality”.

We Will Stop Femicide (WWSF) has been issued a demand letter for the group to be dissolved on grounds of public security and organisers now face a lengthy court battle to stay open.

The prosecutors claim the group broke the law and acted with immorality by “disintegrating the family structure by ignoring the concept of the family under the guise of defending women’s rights”.

“We don’t see this as just an attack on us. For us, this is an attack on all women in Turkey, on all social movements, on the entire democratic public opinion,” said Fidan Ataselim, general secretary of WWSF.

It was a grotesque action, said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s very provocative,” she said. “The authorities know perfectly well that this is a highly successful and very visible campaign.”

“It’s grotesque to go after this group, it’s completely disproportionate – and what are you going after? Everyone knows it’s ridiculous.”

It is the latest salvo against civil society, already riled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to withdraw Turkey from the Istanbul convention on violence against women last year. The move sparked large protests, many organised by WWSF, which brought a harsh police response.

Erdoğan and his Justice and Development party (AKP) have defended the decision, saying existing laws are enough to protect women. The move to shutter WWSF is regarded as an effort to marginalise feminist campaigners and divide them from more conservative women seen as more sympathetic to the government. A general election is expected this year, and Erdoğan faces growing opposition at the polls.

“They withdrew from the Istanbul convention, and society reacted very strongly. Now they are trying to polarise society. They are trying to marginalise our movement but they won’t be able to do it, because we are an organisation that draws its power from society,” said Ataselim.

“Ultimately, this is a divisive act intended to pit women against each other,” said Webb. “It’s sowing further social division going forth as a way to go into an election cycle as well – Erdoğan is pitting women against women in an attempt to shore up support of religious, pious, conservative women against these women who they can say are immoral,” she said. “They’re trying to make a culture war out of this.”

WWSF, with 750 active members, was founded in 2010 in response to the murder of a 17-year-old student by her partner. It has a nationwide network providing legal support to survivors of domestic violence, as well as collecting data on femicide, monitoring trials and organising rallies.

It comes amid a rise in femicides in Turkey. WWSF estimates that 416 women were killed because of their gender last year, and a further 72 murdered from January to March 2022.

Şükran Eroğlu, from the Istanbul Bar Association’s women’s rights centre, said she had anticipated the authorities’ attack on WWSF after changes to the law earlier this year limiting freedom of association. “We knew that this would have consequences,” she said. “So this would definitely start with women’s associations, because the women’s movement is on the rise in Turkey.”

Gülsüm Kav, who founded WWSF, vowed to fight the closure.

“This is an attack on women’s right to life. So we will never give up our rights, our struggle. We will fight together with the public so that this unlawful step can be reversed,” she said. (Source: The Guardian)

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