“She believed in herself as a woman, that’s why I became a feminist”
My name is Gurbet. I am 27 years old and I am a teacher at a private university. I come from a very small town in central Turkey, near Ankara. I came to Antalya for my studies, and that’s when I joined this organization, Antalya Kadin Danisma Dernegi, almost 8 years ago.
My parents are still living in my hometown. They are divorced. I have a sister. When I was a child, my mom experienced a lot of domestic violence because of my father, because she openly disagreed with him. She was a very powerful woman. She knows what she wants, which is why she was fighting with my father, but she was not working, so economically she couldn’t go anywhere, and she had to take care of us. But she believed in herself as a woman, that’s why I became a feminist.
My mom has six sisters and one brother, and my grandparents, they were treating them differently: the boy was the only important child. Even if my mother was older than him, she was supposed to serve him. And then when she raised us, she did the opposite! She’s inspired me a lot. I’ve learned very early what discrimination and sexism were. Of course, she didn’t know the terminology, but she knew it was wrong.
“Their work is invisible, even for them”
There is a big difference between the countryside and the city in Turkey. For example, in my hometown most women are housewives, and they don’t see it as work. They say, “We are not doing anything”. Their work is invisible, even for them. They also reproduce sexist roles, again and again, they do it unconsciously. Sometimes, they are the ones oppressing other women.
For example, having a hobby is a luxury in my hometown. My mom is divorced, I told her she should have a hobby, she replied “no, my hobby is you!” She doesn’t think about love either because it’s something you’re not supposed to think about.
But here, in the city, things are different, you get more opportunity. Over there, women don’t think about working, they think it’s a man’s responsibility to bring money home. When I go back home they think I’m a marginal, but I’m not!
“I am being discriminated as a woman, and as an Alevi. Plus, I’m Kurdish!”
I am Alevi, it’s a part of Islam, but we practice the religion in a different way. In Turkey, there are Alevi and Sunni. So, I am being discriminated as a woman, and as an Alevi. Plus, originally i’m Kurdish! But I don’t really see myself belonging to that nation because of assimilation.
When I was in primary school I refused to learn Kurdish because in school they were saying that we should speak a perfect Turkish. My parents are bilingual and so was I at first, but then I forgot Kurdish because I started to reject this identity to fit in. I wanted my Turkish to be perfect! I was just a kid, I didn’t want to be discriminated like the other Kurds. That’s what the government wants, they say being Turkish is an honor and that we should be proud of it, as if being Kurdish or any other nationality in the world wasn’t good enough.
The situation for Turkish and Kurdish women is really different. I didn’t experience that discrimination as much as the other Kurdish women who live in eastern Turkey or who describe themselves as openly Kurdish – which I don’t generally. I am not hiding it of course, but I don’t feel like I belong to any nation anymore, because of the conflicts I have experienced during my childhood. I just describe myself as a human being. With the state of emergency, things are very different in the East of Turkey. They closed several organizations there, they put activists in jail, and most of them were Kurd. There were elections 2 or 3 years ago and the people elected the representatives they wanted. But this did not please the government, so in the Kurdish areas, they replaced them illegally and they imprisoned the ones who had been elected by the people.
For Kurdish women, things are even harder because they have to fight for their rights as Kurds, but also as women. It’s not like that in my family but Kurdish society is a much more feudal society, men have more power over women compared to the situation in western Turkey.
“I don’t believe that there is any woman in the world who can say that she has never experienced discrimination”
Of course, I have already been discriminated against as a woman in Turkey. I don’t believe that there is any woman in the world who can say that she has never experienced discrimination. Even when you are just walking in the street you face discrimination! Even when you are just sitting on the bus and men take the whole space spreading their legs as if they can’t sit otherwise. That too is discrimination! And it’s happening so much! When you go out at night you can also get harassed, and it’s really scary. It’s so difficult to protect yourself sometimes. I feel like I can’t breathe sometimes when I hear women’s stories.
There is something in Turkey that really bothers me, it’s this misconception that being a teacher, it’s a good job but only if you are a woman, because you can take care of your family. I really like my job, I really wanted to be a teacher, but I hate it when people tell me it’s a good job for a woman, because you get time to take care of your family and for the chores! I still fight this idea, I am a teacher because I wanted to be a teacher, not just because it leaves time to clean the house!
“They made me feel so strong”
In the organization I work with, we are working on gender-based violence. We have lawyers and psychologists volunteering, and we have a whole network. Women can come here, with or without children. They can go to the shelter, or meet with a lawyer, get advice etc.
We also organize protests and actions. Thus, we have to be very careful with our choice of words. It’s the political side of it. This is our identity, I am a feminist, this is a feminist organization. When we do protests in the streets, there are men also, but the police treat us differently. They consider that only men can be activist, but I’m a woman, and I’m an activist.
I’ve changed a lot since I started to work here. All the women I’ve met in this organization, they’ve inspired me a lot. They’re really powerful and I’ve learned a lot from them. They always share their experience and I never feel alone here. They always supported me and made me feel so strong. We learn together.
There is kind of a generation gap with my colleagues though. For example, I’ve taught them about social media protests! My experience completes theirs. But the most important is that they have amazing energy, seriously, it never ends!
But these days they are arresting people. My mom is very worried for me, because it is becoming dangerous, she is looking for me in the protests! I could lose my job, I could be arrested, I am taking a lot of risks, and she doesn’t want this for me.
“They don’t always get how important language is. But language reflects society”
Men also participate in changing things for women. Slowly and not enough, but they participate! For example, I always fight with my friends and my boyfriend because when they clean the house, they say they “help at home”. It’s not helping! They say they are different from previous generations because they help their partner. They do not help because it‘s not just women’s responsibility. I’m not going to be grateful to you just because you’re doing what you are supposed to do, it’s not a favor you’re doing me! Don’t expect me to thank you! Men always almost expect firework in their honor for cleaning! They are so surprised when women don’t congratulate them! You wash your clothes, it’s not for my job! Why should I thank you?
When I teach English, I teach grammar, it’s “He/She/It”, so sometimes I write on the board “She/He/It”, and my students always ask me “why did you change the order?” As if this is a big deal to them! Or sometimes I ask them to give examples, so if they say things like “businessmen”, then I always add “businesswoman as well”. They think that I do too much but, it’s really important. They say things like “we’re not saying man as a gender but in the sense of human being”. So why not just say “human” then? It takes 10 minutes off the lesson, but these are things that need to be addressed. They don’t always get how important language is. But language reflects society.
What’s funny is that Turkish is gender neutral. But when you translate it, even with google translate, some professions are always masculine, for example a doctor will always be “he”, and a nurse will always be “she”. I couldn’t believe it, even you google? I always fight with people now I have to fight with robots?! So it’s really weird that even if Turkish is gender neutral, when people translate it, they hardly ever use the neutral form.
But I have to be careful in class, last year I had problems because my students had recorded me. So, I have to pay attention to the types of examples I choose, the names I use, and so on. But I do my best.
“So I was the feminist but he was the one getting the praise”
When I was in the university I had a boyfriend and he was a socialist. However, people were asking him about feminism even if I was there. People knew me at university because I was already an activist, but they preferred to ask him the questions about feminism! It’s not because he was a socialist that he was automatically a feminist, but people would ask him instead of me. They were asking him, “how do you feel about having a feminist girlfriend?” They were literally saying, “You are such a good person, you are so patient, it must be so difficult for you”! So I was the feminist but he was the one getting the praise. They were saying that I was lucky to have him because he was putting up with the fact that I was a feminist!
“We will be free all together”
What people need to know about Turkish women is that we never give up. I see many comments on social media, saying that Turkish women suffer. Yes, we suffer a lot, because of Erdogan’s androcentric and patriarchal government, and because of men in general in Turkey, but we’re not giving up. Sometimes we change the way we do things, sometimes we are silent, but we’re still here, we haven’t given up. We are in schools, in offices, in homes, so you may not always see us, but we’re here. And we will come back again, we still have not abandoned the streets, we will take back the public space, we will bring back our activity in the eyes of the public, we will be free, we will never give up because we deserve better. We will be free all together. We are here. Whenever you need a sister, we are here.