Photo(s) of the Week
Regarding these photos: This last Wednesday was the “Republic Day” holiday (Happy 91st Birthday Turkey!) commemorating the founding of the Turkish Republic. It is a day where one will see flags and pictures of Mustafa Kemal EVERYWHERE. In the first photo,there was to be a firework show near the Bosporus Bridge, but there had been a large accident at a coal mine in the country the day before, so in solidarity, the fireworks were cancelled.
Response to Last Weeks Replies
I was glad to see many of you were able to connect some of your own favorite foods and customs to what was discussed here! Many of you noticed that some of the traditions are very similar between countries. Even something as seemingly insignificant as a superstition can help tell a story about one’s culture, you don’t even necessarily have to believe in it!
This Week’s Topic
One question I frequently get is because of Turkey’s mix of “east-west” culture is how women are treated and perceived in present themselves in society. In general, there is no easy answer to this, but I will try and shed some light on this issue.
Because of Turkey’s Islamic belief system, there is traditionally a huge emphasis put on women to appear with honor and modesty, especially in public. During the Ottoman period, regulations were spelled out on how women should dress, conduct themselves in life, and for married women especially this had special implications. Women traditionally wore some kind of head covering. There are many different kinds of coverings that exist even today in societies, An illustration here may help to distinguish them here.
It is noteworthy to point out that muslim cultures are not to only ones that have a practice of wearing head coverings: In Russia and other Slavic countries, among Christian-Arab cultures, and others, women have traditionally worn these. Sometimes it may have religious backgrounds, but it was also practical for rural workers on farms (to keep out the sun and dust for example).
When the Mustafa Kemal created the Turkish Republic, he wanted to make his new country more “European”, and thus discouraged women from wearing most forms of head scarves, and afterwards became illegal for women in the public sector to wear them at work (government employees, lawyers, judges, teachers, and other bureaucrats) as well as students. It was believed that religious signs of expression should be a personal matter.
However, in the 1980’s there began to be a more popular movement to allow these expressions in certain parts of life. More and more students challenged this rule by wearing scarves to state-owned universities. Over time, it began to become a more acceptable sight for most women.
Today, according to a recent survey, a majority of women in the country wear some kind head covering. But interestingly enough, a majority also agree that it is up for the woman herself to choose what she wishes to wear.
At the heart of the controversy here is the fact that the current Turkish Constitution puts a great emphasis on a separation and distance on religious expression. Those who follow the practices of Ataturk believe that if religion is not controlled, it will slowly lead to more radical ideas that could destabilize the country. There is also the fear among them that the current government is pro-islamic and is asking for more rights for just Sunni Muslims but not others. Those wishing for more freedom of religious expression say it is unfair for the state to tell them what they can and can’t wear. It’s an interesting topic and is currently very hot in Turkey!
A good friend of mine at my university, Renan, who also chooses to wear the scarf (and I would say is pretty liberal) gave me an interesting bit to think about “You can only tell so much about a person from first appearance; some girls where clothes from H&M with “Juicy” written on it, some cover their heads. Until you get to know them personally, you can’t really know what kind of person they are”
Since the founding of the Republic, there has been a large emphasis to bring more people into public education, especially women. Turkey has a very large percentage of children who attend public elementary school, and because of this, a high literacy rate. Women are encouraged to attend school and universities if possible. At my university, I was fascinated to find out that more than 65% of the students were women! Because they have a high degree of university placement, women are being found more and more in higher paid positions in the workforce. However, like in the United States, these is still a discrepancy between women in men in some of the higher levels of work, both in terms of position and pay.
One last photo I will leave you with: Last year there was a major political demonstration in Istanbul. In the main square, Taksim, there were plans by the government to tear down a park to build a shopping mall. This resulted in tens of thousands of people, mostly young ones, protesting against the government’s actions. Many people from different backgrounds and walks of life (including women!) came to attend these protests that ultimately became a national event. You can read more about it by googling “Gezi Park Protests”. The photo below shows a bit of this unity the country felt.
So my questions to you this week are:
1. What did you enjoy most about this week’s post?
2. Why are women’s rights an important topic to discuss?
3. What is the importance of self-expression (think about how you express YOURSELF on a daily basis, whether through clothing, style, activities etc)