In Turkey, feminists are saying "No" to the proposed constitutional reform. With referendum campaigns off to a start in Turkey, NGOs believe that the changes will hurt women’s rights.
On April 16, a referendum will be held in Turkey to expand the powers of the presidency. As soon as its date was set, "Yes" and "No" campaigns, calling to vote for or against the constitutional reforms proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, picked up speed on social media.
Women's organizations seem to be leading the No campaign among the NGOs. To make their voices heard, they are organizing joint campaigns on social media as well as on the streets as they believe that political changes of this kind could result in a regression for women's rights in Turkey.
In the last 15 years, politicians have increasingly indulged in authoritarian discourse on what women ought to do, for instance by saying their real role in society is as mothers. There were also even bills on banning abortion and on exonerating child sex offenders if they marry their victims, although both were withdrawn in the face of strong opposition both in parliament and in public.
The NGOs believe that these indications must be taken seriously. To prevent the situation with women's rights from worsening these organizations are resisting the constitutional reforms with caricatures, slogans and short videos.
Free debate in a state of emergency?
First and foremost, women's organizations agree on the fact that an ongoing state of emergency isn't a suitable atmosphere for the vote.
Nuray Karaoglu, chairperson for The Association for Supporting Women Candidates (KA.DER), says that state of emergency practices do not allow for a fair environment to carry out referendum campaigns. She also emphasizes that with all the closed media outlets, imprisoned journalists and dismissed academics since last year's failed coup attempt, there is currently no free platform to discuss the constitutional reforms.
Meanwhile, Fidan Ataselim from the We Will Stop Femicide Platform underlines that the constitutional reform process has been carried out at high speed in parliament. "Instead of quickly passing laws in parliament that concern women's murders and employment (editor's note: a bill on prevention of femicide has been pending for five years now. Killings of women in Turkey nearly tripled in frequency in the meantime, reaching 328 cases in 2016), they're speeding through a constitutional reform that will affect the country's future without any opportunities for discussion. This isn't good."
No female participation in reform plans
Women's organizations that oppose the reforms claim that different fractions weren't consulted and women were left out of the process. KA.DER chairperson Nuray Karaoglu says that the reform proposal was prepared by a committee of men
"A new constitution was written up without any consultations with us. We knew nothing about the new articles. This just means that the will of women is being ignored," she said.
The low number of female MPs in the Turkish parliament is a reason why women were not represented in the parliamentary committee. Only 81 out of 550 Turkish MPs are women. Seven of them are imprisoned at the moment.
Goksu Cengiz from the Pomegranate Women's Solidarity Network believes that the potential for Turkish women to make their voices heard has decreased both in politics as well as in public. Cengiz says that with the state of emergency, protests have been curbed and many women's organizations have been shut down with emergency decrees.
Against any leader having such power
According to World Economic Forum data, Turkey ranked 130th among 144 countries in gender equality. Women are concerned about conditions worsening.
The biggest criticism on the constitutional reforms is the fact that all power will be under one person. Critics argue that one person having all the executive authority will only strengthen current male-dominated politics and women will be excluded and alienated from politics.
Melek Ozman, from the Women Who Say No Platform, says that they are against a masculine leadership model that "slams his fist on the table, does what he wants and shouldn't be angered" - but argues that the proposed system legitimizes this model politically. She also insists that the problem isn't only the one-man regime that has been cemented with the actions of the current president. "We want politics to be pluralist, egalitarian and participative. That is why we would also say 'No' if the president were a woman."
Parliament powerless to check president?
Women Who Say No are concerned that women's rights will suffer if there isn't a strong checks and balances system in place that will prevent the executive branch from affecting the legislature and judiciary.
Fidan Ataselim, from the We Will Stop Femicide Platform believes that if parliament is weakened, women's struggles will be increased greatly. Another concern is a further augmentation of male-oriented gender perspective in the judiciary. Ataselim told DW that "even if courts say that they will be independent and impartial, the proposed system has no assurances for this."