Turkey: Women’s Library Going Digital in Nation Increasingly Hostile to Women

Women's Library, Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey’s Women’s Library and Information Center Foundation plans to celebrate their 25th anniversary by preserving their priceless collection digitally. Organizers say the promotion of women’s arts is pivotal in a country with an alarming, and growing, problem of violence against women.

In 1990, Şirin Tekeli, Aslı Davraz, Füsun Akatlı, Füsun Ertuğ and Jale Baysal established the library at a Byzantine-era building once used as “a female school connected to a nearby monastery on the banks of Istanbul’s Golden Horn.”

Professor Fatmagül Berktay, who teaches political science at Istanbul University and authors many books, chairs the executive board at the library. In 2015, she helped run a campaign that allowed people to donate 25 Turkish Liras ($8.53).

“We remain standing [only] with donations,” she claimed in an area that shows the library uses old computers to keep records.

From Hürriyet Daily News:

The room’s walls are decorated with paintings and sculptures donated by Turkish feminist artists.

Some other objects in the hall are a typewriter that belonged to Kerime Nadir, Turkey’s best-selling female writer, who published more than 40 blockbusting books, plus a painting by Mihri Müşfik Hanım, one of the first and most-renowned Turkish female artists.

The library, which forms an important part of Turkey’s women’s memory with its unique archive, hosts more than 12,000 books, over 400 magazines and 10,000 periodicals, as well as more than 5,000 articles plus 526 post-graduate and doctoral theses.

The oldest piece at the library is a Greek-language women’s magazine called Kypsela that dates back to 1943, Berktay said.

Berktay said the five women thought of establishing the library after women formed a movement in the 1980s, “when a military coup overthrew the elected government.” The movement also brought to light issues “such as violence against women.”

“We were all part of this movement,” she explained, adding:

Through the 1980s the women’s movement, we discovered both our ties with the Ottoman women’s movement and the rising second wave of feminism around the world. All those things [opening of the library and foundation of a women’s ministry in Turkey’s government] were not just coincidences; the women’s movement in the world and in Turkey were behind it.

Human rights groups have said violence against women has risen since Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took office. In May 2015, Hürriyet reported that men, mostly relatives, killed over 100 women in the first months of the year. The Domestic Violence Against Women Report 2014 found the country “made no progress in reducing domestic violence between 2008 and 2014.” The researchers discovered “almost 40% of women in Turkey had been physically abused at least once in their lifetime.” They also said one in ten were sexually abused.

In 2014, Erdoğan stunned the world when he claimed women are not equal to men.

“You cannot make women work in the same jobs as men do, as in communist regime,” he said. “You cannot give them a shovel and tell them to do their work. This is against their delicate nature.”

He also received backlash after he told a newlywed couple that they would be committing treason against Turkey if they use birth control.

“One or two (children) is not enough,” he said, and added:

To make our nation stronger, we need a more dynamic and younger population. We need this to take Turkey above the level of modern civilisations. In this country, they (opponents) have been engaged in the treason of birth control for years and sought to dry up our generation. Lineage is very important both economically and spiritually. I have faith in you.

Turkey’s birth rate began to fall in the 1990s, when women chose to pursue higher education, instead of starting a large family. A growing number of women use birth control and choose to start a family in their early thirties. In 2012, then-Prime Minister Erdoğan pressed Turkey to outlaw abortion, since Turkey’s birth rate had fallen to 0.12 percent, or an average of about two children per woman. In 1978, the average was 4.33 children.

Berktay said women in the Ottoman Empire called themselves feminists. They also demanded the right to vote in 1913.

“They were saying ‘feminism is a highly respected movement and men and women who have reached maturity should become feminist,’” she stated. “They wanted to watch parliamentary meetings and were dreaming about having voting rights one day. They were saying ‘If you do not give us our voting rights, we will chain ourselves like British suffragettes in front of the parliament building.’”

Critics have accused the devout Muslim Erdoğan of wanting to form another Ottoman Empire. He has argued the current parliamentary system inside the country is “a serious hindrance to the government” and wants to change it to a presidential system.

“I believe we need a new constitution and presidential system for the new Turkey,” he declared. “The presidential system is not foreign to our system. The current system does not fit any more.”

When confronted with criticism, he asked if America is a dictatorship, since the states have a president. However, America is a Republic, and the president not allowed to do much without consent from Congress.


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