Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is Gezi Park Turkey's Tahrir Square? Women may be the weather-vane.

In May, Turkish women’s rights activist Efsa Kuraner e-mailed me from Istanbul, “Things are fast going down the plughole, it’s pretty depressing. The Islamic twist is becoming suffocating with how the Prime Minister keeps trying to cajole women to stay home and have 3-5 children. They are offering early retirement to women for having upwards of 3 kids..!! Divorce is frowned upon. Abortion is all but banned. Only there in name. I am afraid darker days are yet to come.” Her predictions were prescient. A peaceful protest by Istanbulites against plans to chop down ancient trees and transform the city's public park, Gezi Park, into a large shopping mall has erupted into a far wider protest. BBC reports say the unrest has spread to 60 cities and towns across Turkey, including the political capital Ankara and popular tourism centers of Bodrum, Konya and Izmir. In my travels around the world I have noted how attitudes towards women are a pretty accurate weather-vane indicating what is happening in the wider politics of a country. In visits to Turkey in the past three years I saw rising anxiety about razor-sharp divisions between the secular and those who want a society where women “breed” for their country and wear the hijab.

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