“Struggle and sacrifice” – being a woman in modern-day Turkey

What does it mean to be a woman in a conservative, male-dominated society like Turkey? The latest episode of SAT-7 TÜRK talk show Turning Point took this as the focus in the week that marks International Women’s Day (8 March).

The topic is a vital one in a nation that in 2018 was ranked 130 among 145 countries for gender equality by the World Economic Forum and where World Health Organisation data says 38 per cent of women experience violence from a partner in their lifetime.

Aimed at young adults, Turning Point is a weekly, live show that targets important everyday and social issues. Viewers call in to offer their perspectives, and the four panellists share thoughts based on personal experience and biblical wisdom.

Female panellists Annamaria Cedolin and Gizem Düzgüner kicked off the discussion this week by saying what being a woman means to them.

Annamaria Cedolin

“For me it means life, it means patience, it means struggle, it means sacrifice,” Annamaria said.

“I had the same thoughts,” Gizem agreed. “When I think of woman what comes to mind is the birth of something, the creation of something. As Annamaria said, it means to work, it means not giving up, it means to persevere, especially in our community.”

Timoteos Onur Özçelik added “bravery” as the first word that sprang to mind when he thought of women in modern Turkey. Last year some 474 women were killed by men, including 114 because they wanted a divorce, rejected relationship proposals or wanted to make a decision about their own lives.

Panel host Uygar Düzgüner was the first to stress the equal status that men and women ought to have. “When I look at it from my life, there is no difference in the place of a woman from that of a man,” he said. “They are equal and should have the same rights as men.”

“Where would we be without women?” he asked, and the first live caller to the show rang in.

In an example of the positive dialogue SAT-7 TÜRK promotes, the caller introduced himself as a Muslim father of two who realised the Turning Point panel were speaking as Christians. He said that the equality of men and women was set out in the Scriptures of both faiths and in the Torah. These show that a woman’s place should never be below that of a man, he said.

Moving from theory to practice

After this, the focus switched from theory to practice. Uygar stressed the importance of actions reflecting beliefs: “If your faith says that you must give women equal value, you must also act upon it.”

A female caller brought a wake-up call. “As women we always experience second-class treatment,” she said. “People always go over the heads of women to pursue their goals, or they try to make decisions on behalf of women.”

She said men in her workplace feel very free to tell a woman, “Oh, be careful, you’ve put on weight,” while women would never be expected to comment in the same way. And the judgments can go deeper, with men thinking they have an automatic right to “label a woman’s actions as moral or immoral”.

The panellists responded by diving more deeply into issues of domination and oppression and the normalisation of such behaviour in the media. Here in Turkey, as in the West, women are often shown as victims in crime series, and elsewhere they are objectified.

“At the core of this is the tendency of the strong to oppress the weak,” Gizem said. “Men who are stronger continue to place pressure on women.”

Although Turkey has laws to protect women against violence, the number of murders has escalated over the last decade, from 66 in 2008 to 440 in 2018. Worldview, another TÜRK show, this week addressed this frightening development.

Turning Point highlighted the importance of instilling respect for the equality of women in schools and laying a stronger foundation for society. Equality does not mean that men and women are the same, panellists agreed. The female panellists both stressed the skills of empathy, compassion and emotional understanding that they often bring more strongly to relationships, family and church life.

Biblical models

Annamaria and Gizem both said they found inspiration from the Bible’s teaching on creation and the role of Mary and other women in the New Testament.

“God didn’t create Eve from a bone in Adam’s foot so that he could [step on] her,” Annamaria said, “or create her from a bone in his head so that Adam should look up to Eve. He created her from a rib – a bone close to his heart that protects the vital organs. She is a helper, a shield, when necessary a protector, she completes man. This is why we are equal in God’s eyes.”

She added: “There are Deborahs, Judiths, Ruths and important female leaders in Jesus’ lineage, and God’s plan of salvation begins with the pregnancy of a teenage girl. God chose to be born of a woman, and He gave that girl freedom to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to creating the Saviour through whom all can be saved. This shows a huge love.”

The point was not lost on one viewer who messaged the show: “Very true. Woman was created as a helper, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit as a helper. So being a helper is no obstacle to being of equal value.”

Tackling the virus of femicide

Putting this belief into action was also underlined in the latest episode of Worldview, presented by Senem Ekener and Volkan Er.

Speaking of rising domestic violence and how it affects all social classes and cultures, Volkan said, “We must not become desensitised to this; this is not normal. Just as when a virus is spreading and people put on masks, we need to take a firm stance and stand against this.”

Too often in the media, he said, “women are discussed as goods or property. The mentality that a man can get many women demonstrates the [low] value that is placed on a woman.”

Women in Middle Eastern societies are often asked to bear the responsibility of maintaining family honour alone, they said, but are not given honour in themselves. In contrast, the Bible presents man and woman as made in the image of God.

“What we call human honour, the need for respect, is deserved equally for both genders,” Senem affirmed. “We are not going to stop emphasising this, because we as Christians do not see a woman’s value as less.”

The broader picture: Some 11 Middle East and North African countries were ranked lower than Turkey for gender equality by the World Economic Forum in 2018. This reality is one reason why women’s programming, showing women their God-given value and offering them practical and biblical advice, is a priority on all of SAT-7’s Arabic, Turkish and Persian-language channels. 

Food for thought: Gender discrimination and gender-based violence affect all societies, including our own. What services do you know of in your own community that help people who are victims of these? Is God asking you to change your own attitudes on gender equality in any way?

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