On October 28, we patiently listened to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two-hour speech at the “Beginning of the Century of Türkiye” programme. During one and a half hours of his speech, Erdoğan listed the services and activities of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the past tense. The programme was held a day before the Turkish Republic marked its first century, on October 29, Republic Day. Did the AKP, which spent 20 years of the first century in power, expect us to forget this century while talking about a new beginning? What good news could he give for the future as he started a new century? While the expectations were quite high, what we encountered was a vision embodied in mega project Kanal Istanbul.
What followed were the adjective phrases of the century: “The century of sustainability, peace, success, stability, production, efficiency, power, digital, communication, science, development, peace, values, right, compassion, future, and youth.”
In fact, the century of youth was not initially included in the prepared website. It is possible that the President felt the need to include young people, who prefer to shout slogans instead of listening at every moment of the meeting, in the vision of the century.
However, the President closed his eyes to the fact that women, who have become the symbols of the resistance in many countries of the world these days in their fight to regain their freedom or who succeed in forming a majority in the governments of some countries, will be the dominoes of the coming years.
The century of women: Constitutional regulation
Erdogan’s discourse on women in his Century of Türkiye speech was again shaped around the concept of family.
“Women’s rights and the protection of the family are not alternatives to each other,” he said, reminding that they will submit their constitutional amendment proposal to the Parliament in the coming days.
“We have prepared a constitutional proposal that will guarantee the right to education and work for all our girls and sisters, whether their headscarves are covered or not, and protect our family institution from the threat of perverted tendencies,” he said.
Speaking to the muftis on October 31, he asked the muftis to talk about the family being threatened by heretical currents in their Friday sermons.
He said that with the constitutional amendment, while providing security for the headscarf, they also aimed to protect the family threatened by deviant currents, and that a strong family means a strong state. He even gave an example. Noting that he learned that “a perverse process in Mexico was placed on a legal basis” and that “there are people who want to do this in our country,” he said, “We will not make the Muslim community a victim to anyone.” He also added how bad the situation is in the countries that have these types of freedoms, but he did not say which countries these are.
EŞİK objects to the constitutional amendment proposal
While there is a danger of disturbing, marginalizing, and targeting some segments of society with the proposed constitutional amendment; the claim of a civil, democratic, liberal, pluralistic constitution that will strengthen welfare, justice, and peace, which is declared as one of the first goals of Türkiye’s century, is not credible.
The Women’s Platform for Equality – EŞİK, which objected to the constitutional amendment proposal, made a call not only to the government but also to the opposition parties and the public:
“The principles of equal citizenship and secularism, which are the basic principles of the Republic, cannot be compromised. Fundamental human rights and freedoms cannot be put to a referendum. Those who do not implement the Constitution cannot make a Constitution.”
In the statement made by EŞİK, which brings together more than 300 women’s organizations, it was stated that: “While the government started with the claim of preventing discrimination against women wearing headscarves with the amendment to Article 24 of the Constitution; the intent is actually to determine how women will dress, where and how they will wear a headscarf. With the proposed changes in women’s clothing, the space for intervention in women’s lives will be opened.”
“Fundamental human rights and freedoms cannot be the subject of a referendum”
Eşik says: “With the amendment envisaged to be made in Article 41, the government is trying to abolish the rights of women and LGBTI+s by imposing a family form whose boundaries are determined by itself, reinforcing traditional gender roles, and increasing the dose of sexist practises and discourses. The amendments envisaged in this article constitute a serious threat to women’s rights guaranteed in the Civil Code.”
In the EŞİK statement, for the possibility of submitting constitutional amendment proposals aiming to restrict freedoms and containing discrimination to the “referendum,” it is stated that “fundamental human rights and freedoms cannot be made the subject of a referendum. This is a universal rule. It is clearly against the Constitution. When it comes to fundamental rights and freedoms, the main determinant is not the majority. Fundamental rights and freedoms of people cannot be restricted just because the majority wants so.”
It was stated that a government that does not implement the current Constitution, that fuels polarisation in society, that wages war against the principles of equality and secularism and those who do not think like itself, and that drags the country into political and economic depression, can’t make or change the Constitution.
Stand by the libertarian family goal
By inviting all opposition parties to announce to the public as soon as possible that they will not negotiate with the government on proposing a constitutional amendment on this issue, and to close the discussions on constitutional amendments, EŞİK said:
“Be against discrimination. Be in favour of the libertarian family goal based on marriage equality and the principle of equality between spouses. Stand by the right to equal citizenship, including the existence of LGBTI+ individuals. Say that out loud to your members, your constituents, and, of course, the entire community. Oppose the amendment to the Constitution from the outset, do not bargain over the draft, emphasise that you will resolutely say ‘no’ until the end.”
In his “Century of Türkiye” speech, President Erdoğan also talked about making a mentality revolution to establish an understanding that will tell the truth.
With the freedom “to say wrong to wrong,” our mind thinks that the new constitution should be made by the new parliament, which will be authorised by the nation, while the elections are also close. The government is also expected to respect “this truth.”