Villagers, women, religion and politics

By law, Turkish women have the same rights enjoyed by women in the US or the EU. You will sometimes see in the cities, the symbols of the conservative Islamic communities, the black head to toe coverings of conservative or fundamentalist Islam. Seeing this is usually a shock and not common. Istanbul especially is a very modern city grappling with an emerging nation economy and an influx of village people seeking to share the gold with which the city allegedly paves its streets.

Village women have always been slightly more emancipated than their city “cousins” on the long road from Islamic rule under the Ottomans to a free, democratic and secular (non religious) state…

Even during the time of the sultans, village women, in general, were accepted by the men as more equal than city women because their labor was so essential to the survival of the household and, by extension, the village. A village man tended to be a bit more circumspect before he abused his wife, there were customs and rules which must be obeyed handed down over the generations and even though the men had superiority, they only exercised it when a women fell out “of her place.”

I do not believe this is different, for most of past history, from Europe or the “New World” in America. A woman’s road to greater freedom has been a long struggle against repression, brutality, bloodshed, rape and humiliation in most of the so-called “civilized” world.

The reality in the more remote villages is a bit different, especially in the far eastern part of Turkey and some of the fundamentalist enclaves. Women there are still treated as property “owned” by their men and especially their families. This is a conservative country, with traditional values and no more so than in these villages. Traditional values outweigh considerations of the laws freeing women from rape by their husbands or the “honor killings” often perpetrated by fathers or brothers against a sister or daughter who has an affair with someone before she is properly married.

An interesting and detailed bibliography of women’s issues in Turkey could make for good reading or research for those of you so inclined.

It is an interesting irony that the Justice and Development Party or AK(Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi), which came to power two years ago under Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his foreign minister Abdullah Gul, has so-called “Islamic roots” and yet is rightly credited with moving the country toward the west and EU membership.

Atatürk started the revolution by turning the ship of the Turkish State around from East to West in the ’20’s and ’30’s. Now a conservative and slightly “religious” political party, which Atatürk would have probably repressed or eliminated, with a broad base of support, especially among those who could be called “fundamentalist” is trying to make Turkey an important and emergent power broker between the Middle East and the West.

This is an interesting country…

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