Interview with Pinar Ilkkaracan

Pinar Ilkkaracan is a founder of our partners International Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR) andWomen for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways in Turkey. Trisha of the Where Is Your Line? campaign has done a great interview with Pinar for their new series, Badass-Activist Friday. Check out an excerpt below, or read the whole thing here.

Sexual and bodily rights continue to be an issue of contestation in the Middle East – something that people often reductively relate to Islam. But of course, there are many discourses and challenges from different, and overlapping societal attitudes. Would you tell us a little more about the situation as you see it? Are there significant class differences in beliefs (i.e. village vs. city?)

In contradiction to the wide-spread myth in the West that there is no activism on sexual and bodily rights in Muslim societies, these rights are very important to many human rights, women’s rights and health activists in the Middle East and other Muslim societies. In the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), we have members who are significant opinion leaders as NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in their countries, including from Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt or Turkey.Based on national experience, we share the common view that Islam – religion – is often misused as a powerful tool for political power when it comes to gender equality or sexuality.

For instance, although the majority of the dictatorial governments in the Middle East based their raison d’être for limitations of personal freedoms on restriction of religious extremism in their countries, they did not hesitate at all to make political compromises when it came to women’s human rights, especially on issues of women’s sexual and bodily autonomy and the rights of LGBTQ people. Thus, women’s human rights and LGBTQ rights became increasingly an arena of a contested politics in the Middle East area of politics. It seems that with the on-going revolutions in the Middle East, it will become even more contested. The new opening spaces for politics will pave the way for religious conservative politics and groups – which is unavoidable for democratic regimes. Thus, I think women’s rights, in particular sexual and bodily rights will become targets of national politics more in the future.

Turkey is in fact, incredibly progressive in terms of legislation regarding violence against women and sexual equality – it was among one of the first countries in the world to pass a protection order law against violence. Do you think this legislation has been effective? How does it intersect with cultural attitudes towards women and sexuality?

Indeed, Turkey experienced a gender equality revolution in the 2000’s. We, as the women’s movement, made an incredible effort to join our forces across all divides to form huge national platforms to defend our rights – Turkish and Kurdish women, rural and urban women – to realize the reform of full gender equality in the Turkish civil code in 2001 and the right to women’s bodily and sexual autonomy in Turkish penal code in 2004. It was a revolution in terms of gender equality in the legal sphere. Yet, as WWHR, including me, expresses in many platforms, the implementation of the reforms is very poor, mainly due to the conservative politics and policies of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) government in Turkey. I think the present government is way beyond the Turkish and Kurdish Public on these issues, as our campaigns – on the reform of Turkish Civil and Public Codes – in fact were successful due to the support of the public and the media, despite the resistance of the governments.

Read the full interview here.

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