Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

I was given the opportunity to speak at a symposium organized by the International Relations Department Student Organization at my host university two weeks ago. Though very excited for the chance to talk about women’s status, I was more than a little intimidated at the prospect of doing so in Turkish. I wrote an original draft in English, then translated it into the best Turkish I could muster. Later, I sat for hours with a dedicated and diligent group of friends who helped me work the draft into a more professional and academic register, which was the resulting speech below. Clearly, I was struggling a little bit with the pronunciation in that more academic register (so many suffixes!) but I hope my audience was able to take something away from the talk. Because of the time restraints and the language barrier, my ideas are of course less fully formed and explicated in this presentation than in real life, but “what can I do sometimes?,” as my students would say. In an event, a transcript in Turkish and my intended messaging in English is below.

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Ortadoğu Kadınlardaki Statüsü: Gözlemler ve Engeller

Saygıdeğer öğretim üyesi arkadaşlarım değerli Kirikkale Üniversitei öğrencileri ve değeri misafir öğrencilerimiz- Yapacağım konuşma dünya üzerindeki kadınların statüsüne değinmek olacak,ve bu konulara değinirken istatistiksel verilerden ve hikayelerden çok gerçeklerden yola çıkacağım. Fakat, Ortadoğu’da yaşayan kadınlardan bahsedilmek istendiğinde nasil bahsedilebilir? Bu önemli bir sorudur. Ben Amerikan vatandaşıyım ve yaşadığım ülkedeki akademisyen arkadaşlarımla büyük bir mücadele içindeyiz. Politikacılar ve güçlü medya firmaları Amerikalılar’ın ortadoğu bölgesi ve İslam dünyası hakkinda çok az bilgiye sahip olduklarının farkındalar. Ayrıca onlar da bu konu hakkinda çok eksik bilgiye sahipler. Politikacılar ve medya birlikte çalişiyorlar. “Ortadoğudaki kadınlar mazlum, bağımlı” diye anlatıyorlar. “Zavallı kadınlar için uğraşacağız” diyorlar. Fakat sonra ne yapiyorlar? Savaşıyorlar, aynı zamanda diğer ülkere yaptırım gücü uygulatıyorlar. Bütün bunları yaptıktan sonra kadınların artik daha güvende olacaklarını, daha özgür olacaklarını, daha eğitimli olacaklarını ve daha rahat yaşayacaklarını idda ediyorlar. Amerikan halkı da aynı şeye inaniyor; fakat ben onlar gibi düşünmüyorum ve böyle bir vaatte bulunmayacağım. Çünkü; Hiçbirşey o kadar da basit değildir.

Dünyanın hiç bir yerindeki kadınlar ayrı koşullarda yaşamiyor. Sadece bir mahallede bile bu durum çeşitlilik gösterebilir. Yaşamları, maaşları, okuryazarlık durumları ve eğitim düzeyleri, medeni durumları, dinleri…. Aynı zamanda çevre faktörleri var. Köyde mi yoksa şehirde mi yaşıyor bu kadınlar? Isınma imkanlari, içme suları var mı? Bunlar çok önemli sorunlardır. Bu konu milletlerden ve mezheplerden daha önemli olabilir. Amerika’da yaşayan köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadın,Türkiye’deki köylü bir kadınla kentli bir kadının ortak noktaları olabilir.

Zamanım kısıtlı olduğu için genel bir konuşma yapacağım. Şu konular üzerinde duracağım: şiddet ve savaş, eğitim, ve kadınların siyasi faaliyetleri.

Üzerinde konuşmak istediğim ilk konu şiddet. Şiddet birçok farklı türde olabilir; yapısal şiddet, ekonomik şiddet, duygusal şiddet… Bu şiddet türleri üzerinde tartışıp değerlendirme yapmamız çok önemli ama bugün ne yazıkki konumuzun odağı, bölgede kadınlara uygulanan, fiziksel şiddet. Suriye Irak ve Filistin şu anki açık örnekler. Suriye’de yedi binden fazla kadın şu anki savaş yüzünden öldü. Filistin’deki kadınlar çok kötü durumda yaşıyorlar. Bir askeri işgal altında yaşıyorlar,Gazze’de kuşatma altındalar ve sık sık şiddet görüyorlar. İnsanlar Gazze’nin açık hava hapishanesi gibi olduğunu söylüyorlar. Irak’taki kadınların durumu muhtemelen üçünün arasında en kötü olanı.  30 yıldır sürekli savaş ve işgal yaşadılar. Evrensel insan hakları bildirgesi şunu söyler: En önemli hakkımız yaşama hakkıdır. Eğer bu hak saygı görmüyorsa(bu hak tehdit ediliyorsa, eğer güvende değilseniz) diğer insan hakları korunamaz.

İkinci bir konumuz da eğitimdir. Eğitim için açılan sınıfların, kadınlarımızın mücadelesi açısından çok önemli bir yere sahip olacağına inaniyorum. Buna bir örnek olarak; Türkiye’deki kadınlarımızın bir çoğunun, eğitim seviyelerinin çok kısıtlı olması gösterilebilir. Bir çoğumuzun çevresinde bu tür kadınlarımız var öyle değil mi? Eğitimin eksik olduğu bir ortamda kadınsal değerlerin de arka plana atıldığını birliriz.Buna Türkiye bir örnekti sadece, fakat bunun yanısıra Irak, Süriye, ve Filistindeki okulların saldırıya uğraması, Ürdün ve Lübnan’da da eğitimin popüler olduğu halde pahalı  olması, çoğu yerde de ataerkil yapının hakim olması, gibi konular da  kadınlarımızın ikinci plana atılmasına sebep olarak gösterilebilir.demem o ki kadınlarımızın toplumda yer edenebilmesi, eğitimlerinin önünün açilması ve onların da söz sahibi olabilmesi için onlara her türlü firsatın verilmesi lazimdir.

Bugün Üçüncü ve son konum kadınların siyaset ve sivil toplum katılımcılığı . Geçen hafta birleşmiş Milletler’de uluslararası kadınler konferansı yüzüncü yildönümü  kutlandı ve bu yüzden bu konu Değılmek istedim. Kadın politikacilarimizdan çok örneğimiz var.mesela, Türkiyede bir dönem başbakan olarak Tansu Çiler vardı, fakat ABD’de, kadın olarak başkanı çıkmadı. ABD’de kongre üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüz’de ondokuzdur. Türkiye’de meclis üyesi olarak kadın oranı yüzde ondörtdür. Bana göre, kadınların siyasi ortamdaki yuzdelik oranının dahada artması, kadınların statülerini yukselticektir. Biz kadınlar için Filistinli kadınlar örnek olmalı çünkü orada devlet sistemi olmadığı halde kadınların siyaste atılım oranları çok yuksektir, bunlara örnek olarak Hanan Ashrawi, Leila Khaled, ve Haneen Zoabi verilebilir. Bunun yanısıra ortadoğu bölgesinde çok aktif politikacı kadınlar da var; sivil toplum kurumlarında çalişip ve yeni kurumların açilmasında öncülük ediyorlar.

Netice olarak kadınlarımızın statüsünün yukselmesi için başta şiddetsiz bir ortamın sağlanması ve eğitim düzeyinin yükseltilmesi gerekir. Bana yardimcı olan arkadaşlarım Sena, Kaan, ve Gülçin’a ve siz dinleyenlere teşekkür ederim.

Women’s Status in the Middle East: Observations and Obstacles  One of the most important things I have to say to you today is not a statistic or a story, but concerns the way we go about talking about the role of women in Middle Eastern societies in general. Where I come from in the United States academics are fighting a difficult battle to allow rays of insight to shoot through a bleak media and political landscape, one that capitalizes on the ignorance of policy makers and the public alike; one that allegedly seeks to empathize with and then liberate via occupation Muslim and middle eastern women who, we are led to believe, are oppressed, without agency, and without a voice. I do not intend to fall into that narrative today.

But no picture is ever as straightforward as either media nor politicians would have us believe. In every place, in every nation, the lives of women cannot be discussed as a monolith. Even within a single neighborhood, there may be numerous fractures in lived experience, such as age, education level, marital status, income or family earnings, literacy, health, religion, as well as numerous environmental factors. Is the space urban or rural? Is there access to clean water and other crucial utilities? These are important questions, the answers to which often shape the lives of women far more significantly than nationality or country of residence. Indeed, the values and lived experiences of relatively uneducated women in the rural United States and Turkey may be far more similar than either would expect. For women in opposite circumstances, the same may be true as well.

So rather than itemize the detailed statistics of women in each of the countries I’ll be touching on today I am instead going to draw out a couple themes and provide examples within those themes. Because time is short, I apologize, I will be speaking quite generally.

The first theme I want to speak on is that of violence. Violence can take many forms; there is structural violence, economic violence, emotional violence… These forms of violence are very important for us to discuss and critique but today, unfortunately, my focus is on physical violence, which is inflicted on women around the region. Unfortunately, Syria Iraq and Palestine are the current obvious examples. In Syria more than seven thousand women  have died due to the current war. Women in Palestine live in a very bad situation. They live under a military occupation and in Gaza they are under siege and experience frequent violence. People say Gaza is like an open air prison. The situation for women in Iraq is possibly the worst of the three. They have had 30 years of continuous war and occupation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that the most important of our rights is the right to live. If this isn’t honored ( if that right is threatened, if you are not safe) the other human rights can’t be protected.

The second theme I want to discuss is education. The classroom is a very important place for the fight for women to unfold. Without education women are without the tools they need to improve their lives and their status. As an example, we can look to the situation of the women in our lives here in Turkey where, too often, especially in the past, their educations have been cut short. There are some obstacles to education. One of the biggest in the region is violence, as we discussed before. While literacy rates across the region are generally higher than they’ve been in the past, the education of millions of women has been disrupted in places like Iraq and Syria. Schools in Gaza and Syria have been under attack, making getting an education very difficult. In other places like Lebanon or Jordan, private education is both highly valued and prohibitively expensive. Patriarchy remains one of the biggest obstacles to education access. With access to safe, affordable, equitable education, women are better able to take their destinies into their own hands. Education for all is not a privilege, but a right.

This brings us to my third and final topic, which is women’s participation in politics and civil society. It is fitting that last week was the 100th anniversary celebration of the international women’s conference at the UN. There are many important examples of women serving in political offices across the Middle East. A point of important comparison/contrast between Turkey and the United States is political participation and empowerment. For example, Turkey has had a female prime minister (Tansu Ciler), but the US hasn’t had a female president yet. In Turkey, 14% of members of parliament are female, in the United States that rate is 19%. My view is that by actively participating in the socio-political process, women are able to make the changes our societies so badly need.We can look to the women of Palestine as an example, where, though stateless, they play important roles in  aspect of Palestinian civil society and political life, for example Hanan Ashrawi, Leila AbuKhaled, and Haneen Zoabi. This is also the case in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon where I have personally met women fighting for rights, representation, and a decent life.

We can conclude by saying that while the situation for some women in the Middle East is very positive, too many still live under threat of violence and without access to safe education. Despite obstacles, women across the region work in powerful positions and in grassroots movements to affect change in their communities. If we know one thing, it is that as long as violence persists, the status of women, and indeed of all people, cannot improve. The cessation of violence is the first and most crucial step on the road to the betterment of women’s status in the Middle East, and indeed, across the whole world.

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29 Ekim: Cumhuriyet Bayramı

Cumhurriet Bayramı, celebrated on 29 October, is the date celebrating the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the day the state was declared by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is a national holiday, the equivalent of the 4th of July, Independence Day in America. As such, we had a half day of work the Monday prior, and classes were cancelled and the university closed in observance of the holiday on Tuesday. In my classes the week before I discussed the similarities in the commemoration of the two days between America and Turkey, including the presence of parades, fireworks, the hanging of flags, and speeches by politicians. Some may argue that both celebrations, aside from their obvious nationalism, can perhaps be seen by their celebrants as inherently anti-colonial as well.

A display in Eskisehir

A display in Eskisehir

In the morning I went with my roommate to purchase a flag for us to display from our balcony- it was important for her to express her pride in the Republic through this gesture. Though flags and Ataturk’s image are displayed throughout the year in some/many places (particularly at government establishments, like my public university, where Ataturk’s image is displayed in each classroom, my office, at the entrance to the building, in a statue outside the building, at the university gates, etc.) on Republic Day a Turkish flag was hung at the entrance of nearly every shop in the city center, from windows and apartment balconies as well.

flags on display in K Town

flags on display in K Town

For many complicated political and social reasons, celebrations in Kırıkkale, to my knowledge, were primarily limited to these displays, though there was a small gathering in the city square in the evening. However, my roommate and I followed observances of the holiday across the country via news on TV. In the morning, we watched commemorative celebrations in the capital city of Ankara, where the Prime Minister and President were present. An elaborate parade was held that included Ankara sword dancers in traditional costumes, a symphonic marching band, and flanks of costumed marchers imitating Ottoman battle marches, in full regalia. The colors and types of their costumes including symbolic representations of Islam, the former provinces of the Ottoman empire (intended to symbolize the unity of the Turkish nation) and more. IMG_1171

My roommate and I took advantage of the day off by hosting my fellow K-Town Fulbrighters and their Turkish roommates for a veritable Turkish smorgasbord. The meal included my first attempts (in Turkey at least) of two classic traditional foods: milföy and sarma dolma, with the necessary accompanying cecik (pronounced jeh-jik). Incidentally, those familiar with the food of the region in general, and/or my cooking may be aware that these foods have cousins if not twins in Arab cuisine: Milfoy is like börek (another Turkish food), which is similar to fatayer (stuffed, flaky, savory pastries, i.e. the popular spinach pie often known in the States by its Greek name, spanakopita); mine were stuffed with a mixture of beyaz peynir, a soft, sour white cheese, paprika, and finely chopped parsley.

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Sarma dolma and cecik are simply the Turkish names for my favorite food combo: warak ‘einab wa laban wa kheir, stuffed grape leaves and a yogurt sauce (which includes cucumber, garlic, salt, and when I make it, more akin to the Turkish variety, lemon juice, dill, mint and sumac).

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Later in the day we watched new coverage of the grand opening of the Marmaray in Istanbul, which runs underneath the Bosphorus, connecting the European and Asian continents via standard gauge rail for the first time. It is also the world’s deepest immersed tube tunnel. The political and symbolic significance of the choice to debut this incredible technological achievement on the date of the 90th anniversary of the Republic couldn’t be missed—in a speech President R.T. Erdogan said, in effect, even if you don’t like me, please be proud of this achievement. The vision of progress with which the Republic and its founder began, the message is sent, continues today.

a flier announcing the opening of the Marmaray at the train station in Ankara

a flier announcing the opening of the Marmaray at the train station in Ankara

Later, we watched gatherings in Izmir, where massive throngs of people stood chanting the equivalent of the Turkish pledge of allegiance, which was recently made non-mandatory in a package of ‘democratization’ reforms Back in Ankara, many marched with candles, symbolizing their individual roles in Turkish democracy. As is tradition, thousands visited Anitkabir, the final resting place of M.K. Ataturk as a commemorative act as well. In the evening, Istanbul had a fantastic fireworks display along the Bosphorus river, which was shown live on national news networks. A friend with whom I watched the display very genuinely remarked: “I hope Ataturk can see us now. I wonder what he would think.”

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Şükran Gününüz Kutlu Olsun! (Happy Thanksgiving!)

This post sends my sincerest Thanksgiving greetings to my friends and family, wherever they may be.
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This year marks my first ever Thanksgiving away from my traditional Waggoner family Thanksgiving/ reunion in Wood County, OH. İ took the opportunity this week to teach my classes about the history and traditions of the holiday, which was illuminating for me as well. Did you know, for example, that the name for turkey (the bird) actually comes from the country in which İ currently reside?
Below are a list of amusing and touching moments that have made this Thanksgiving unique:
    • In all of my classes I had my students share things for which they are thankful. Two responses stand out. From a student with whom I have an ongoıng joke about the rapper Eminem: “Teacher, I am thankful for Atatürk, God, and Marshall.” The other, which was expressed by a number of students: “Her şey, Teacher, I am thankful for everything in my life.” Amen to that!20131129-174839.jpg
  • My fellow K-towners and I hosted the best approximation of a traditional Thanksgiving meal as we could manage (perhaps ironically, sans turkey) for our university colleagues on Wednesday. Most amusing of our necessary substitutions was a bowl of shelled pomegranate in lieu of cranberry sauce. A great night of bonding and cultural exchange, and not a bad meal to boot! (P.S. Green bean casserole from scratch is more work than it seems!)20131129-175418.jpg
  • Some students were especially aware that being away from my family this week was difficult, and their thoughtfulness (gifts of candy bars and even a dinner invitation) made me feel as though İ really do have a home away from home here in K-Town. A group of 6 incredibly sweet ladies in one of my beginner level classes brought me a remarkable gift that almost brought me to tears: 7 glass elephant figurines with the Turkish “evil eye” attached (symbols of luck and protection in Turkish culture) as an expression of their gratitude. Each of the elephants represented one of them, and the smallest of them, they explained, was me!20131129-175811.jpg
  • “Thanksgivukah” was paid special tribute on Thursday when I followed my dad’s tradition of frying leftover mashed potatoes into pancakes 🙂
  • Thanksgiving day I had what was most probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. A relative of my roommate recently returned from hajj (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina) and she shared with me a date from Mecca, and (miraculous) water from the ZamZam well!!20131129-175924.jpg

This list is just a small sampling of the many ways I’m blessed here in Turkey. I don’t think I’m taking much for granted here; I think know how lucky I am to have my health, a job, an affordable apartment (complete with an amazing and thoughtful roommate), a world-class education, plenty of food, and the most loving and supportive friends and family a girl could ask for. As some may say here in Turkey, “Hamdullilah!”

Sending all of my love along with cries of “Affiyet Olsun” (literally, may there be appetite) to those celebrating.

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