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Ezgi Koçak of Ka-der Ankara: Headscarf ban is violence against women

Tuesday 11 January 2011, by Ayse Karabat

“We want equal representation. We seek a ‘parity law’ — not just quotas — for women. Thus, we demand half of all elected and appointed positions in decision-making bodies,” says Ezgi Koçak, executive member of the Association for Education and Supporting Women Candidates (KA-DER) Ankara branch.

General elections in Turkey are approaching, and some political parties have already expressed a desire to increase the number of female deputies, but Koçak in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman questions their sincerity and discusses effective ways to increase women’s participation in politics in Parliament and in local administrations.

She stresses that women’s organizations, especially KA-DER, face a long struggle for implementation of a quota. However, after the approval of constitutional change they are targeting a parity law to facilitate the equal representation of men and women in all elected and appointed positions.

The Sept. 12 constitutional reform package brought positive discrimination for women, and the new reforms state that to ensure equality between men and women, the state is obliged to take measures that cannot be considered to be against the principle of equality.

“For many years we insisted on a quota for women. But now we have left that behind, and our aim is a parity law, also referred to as a 50-50 law, which we are concentrating our efforts on. A quota is a temporary measure, but parity is a permanent implementation,” she says.

‘Equality is not an abstract concept, either it is there or it isn’t,’ notes executive member of KA-DER’s Ankara branch Ezgi Koçak, while explaining that KA-DER aims to change the fact that women are almost invisible in employment and politics in Turkey

Koçak says a parity law envisages equal representation on all lists prepared for elections. She says if equality is not ensured by elections, then political parties may face sanctions, such as a decrease in the financial aid they get from the Treasury.

“We want and we are lobbying to add the principle of parity to the constitution,” Koçak adds.

She points out that in countries with a parity law the representation of women has not reached 50 percent, but it is increasing compared to the past, and it is very helpful for increasing the number of elected female politicians:

“It has many advantages for women not only for politics but also for other positions where people are appointed. This is a binding law, and it has sanctions. This is why political parties are trying to increase the number of female candidates.”

While explaining the parity law Koçak frequently refers to another member of KA-DER — academic Selma Acuner, who works on the issue. She also refers to İlknur Üstün, another academic and member of KA-DER who works on the representation of women in local administrations. Koçak does this not out of courtesy but to highlight the organizational structure of KA-DER, which tries to refrain from a hierarchical structure as much as possible.

KA-DER an organization without hierarchy

According to their organizational principles, rotation is very important. Those elected to KA-DER executive positions can only serve two terms in office. For members of KA-DER, retaining a chairmanship, refusing to allow newcomers the opportunity to participate, fighting for power and similar problems are the results of a male dominant structure that is the main obstacle to women in politics. Thus, they try to avoid these kinds of structures.

“Our meetings are round table meetings. I can describe KA-DER Ankara as a feminist organization, although members do not perceive feminism from the same point of view. But this diversity increases the pleasure that we get from our work,” she stresses.

KA-DER has around 3,000 members from various backgrounds and eight branches, which follow their own agendas according to local needs. Koçak says their meetings in Ankara are very productive since the members know each other and have the experience of working together. She also appreciates the chance to represent KA-DER at international conferences despite her inexperience and young age.

Political parties sometimes cooperative

Koçak underlines that KA-DER, which was established in 1997, has other principles: It is against all forms of fanaticism, bigotry, racism, societal degeneration, war and violence.

“It believes in cooperating with civil society organizations and is environmentally friendly and pays attention to this in its training. It cooperates with the women’s branches of political parties on equal terms,” she notes. However, when asked if political parties treat KA-DER equally, she smiles and says it was very difficult to convince some political parties to even attend their receptions.

“Sometimes we have problems. Maybe they don’t want to attend our programs, but after we participate in theirs, they cooperate with us. But now, we are able to bring representatives of 12-13 political parties around the same table for our programs,” she says.

When asked what the atmosphere is like during meetings or training sessions for candidates when women from different political backgrounds meet, she smiles and admits that the first day, sometimes even the second day, they encounter problems but later they cooperate:

“Usually on the first day women talk with each other with the discourse of their party’s leaders. Their attitude is patriarchal, too. But during training when their awareness about the discourse of male dominant politics is raised, they discover that despite their ideological differences they have many common problems such as a lack of women involved in party decision-making processes and lack of day care centers for children. Sometimes we make them come together with other civil society organizations, and they have the chance to hear the expectations of civil society and are able to develop joint projects. But until we reach that, we face problems,” she says.

When she was asked if KA-DER is happy about solidarity among female deputies in Parliament she says female deputies do not have a feminist perspective but are able to cooperate on certain issues.

“During this legislative term an equal opportunities commission was established. The female deputies worked together on it. There was a consensus to name and shape this commission as the gender equality commission, but its name has been changed. During its establishment female deputies worked together. We noticed that some of the most important women’s problems do not make it onto the agenda in Parliament because there are very few female deputies,” Koçak explains.

She notes that male dominant politics expects more from female candidates than it expects from males. “For example, political parties do not demand higher education from male candidates but they insist female candidates should have a master’s or doctoral degree. Female candidates should be the daughter, wife or bride of a well-known or well-established family. The political discourse is very male dominant. Meetings are in the evening, making it difficult for women to participate. Women who are able to adjust themselves to male dominant politics are welcomed but still subject to discrimination. Female candidates are accepted to the extent that they adapt to male dominant behavior,” Koçak observes.

When she is reminded of criticism related to her organization’s claim that women have the ability and talent to participate in politics while wanting quotas for them is degrading, she smiles again. “Well, they say men and women are equal in the constitution, so if women are not in politics, this is their problem. But we tell them, ‘Equality is not an abstract concept, either it is there or it isn’t.’ We look at employment and at politics, and women are almost invisible. In particular, new rightist policies want to describe the role of women in accordance with patriarchal society and expect women to fulfill a traditional female role before anything else. While in this disadvantageous position, it is hard to talk about equal opportunity. Yes, we have the right to be elected, but we do not start the race from the same point; thus, to close the gap we need special measures,” she says.

Koçak adds that their problem is male dominant politics, not men and women who adopt male dominant politics. Nonetheless, increasing the number of female politicians is very important regardless of their adaption to male politics. “To change this system we need more women in politics. People should get used to seeing more women. For a qualitative change in politics, a quantitative change is important. The problems of women are not on the agenda of Parliament because these problems are the problems of women and they experience them, not men. So when their number increases, these problems will be addressed, serving to change the male dominant society,” Koçak points out.

Headscarf ban is violence against women

When asked about one of the obstacles preventing women from participating in politics, she pointed to the headscarf ban. She says the attitude of KA-DER on this issue and all kinds of female dress code issues can be described as violence towards women.

“We all cover ourselves. So it should be my decision how to cover myself. Any rule that tries to regulate it is a form of violence. Secondly, discussions on this issue -– regardless of whether they are against or in favor of the ban — use a violent discourse, too. They wound the female body because they treat the female body as an object. Tie it from here, do not wear it this way, if you put it this way it means this or that. … We look at the issue from the viewpoint that we should have the freedom to wear whatever we want,” she says.

Koçak adds that for them, especially for KA-DER Ankara, the participation of women in local politics is very important. “We did several projects to empower women in local politics. We see local politics as a way to strengthen democracy. Moreover, local politics directly touches the lives of women. The ones who benefit from the policies of local administrations or the ones who are harmed are women. If the city is noisy and the baby wakes up, the woman has to make it sleep again; if the city is dirty then it is the woman who has to clean the house two times a day. If streets are not well lit, they risk being attacked,” she says.

Koçak adds that apart from all their training programs and campaigns KA-DER also works as the secretariat of two important umbrella organizations for women — women’s coalitions and the European Women’s Lobby.

“The European Women’s Lobby is the umbrella for around 300 organizations. Via this lobby we have the chance to participate in European politics in Brussels, and we benefit by using international means and tools to ensure equal representation,” she says.

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Source : TdZ, 30 December 2010

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