'Women's Movements, Feminism and Islam in Turkey: From the Ottoman Empire to the Present'


On Oct. 25, Dr. Ayfer Karakaya-Stump visited the College and presented her research on women’s movements in Turkey before a crowd of students in the Blackistone lecture room in Anne Arundel. The lecture consisted of her findings on feminism in an Islamic context and covered Turkish women’s activism from the reform movements of the late Ottoman Empire through the early Republican era.

Karakaya-Stump began the lecture with an overview of the diverse feminist movements in Turkey as they progressed over the last century. According to Karakaya-Stump, feminism has been an issue of debate since the early 19th century.

“My goal is to show you that Turkish feminism has strong roots and that it is still vibrant today in 2012,” Karakaya-Stump said. “My assertion of the indigenous roots of Turkish feminism is grounded in the assumption that the potential for feminist consciousness is always present in any society, arising from innate discrepancies in the constructive categories of gender and the internal tension that exists within any given gender system.”

She went on to define feminism as any movement that seeks change in the existing gender roles with the ultimate goal of empowering women. She stated that women’s issues have historically been a battlefield for modernizers and conservatives, and have been viewed as intertwined with discourse on national progress, public veiling and most recently, on abortion and women’s reproductive rights.

Interestingly, the initial feminist discussion in Turkey was conducted by men, however after some time, women joined in.

“What made [women’s involvement] possible was the emergence of women’s press,” Karakaya-Stump added. “For the first time in the second half of the 19th century there appeared periodicals that were specifically for women and that also included women authors. In general the women’s discourse was very similar to the discourse of the reformists, with issues of progress and education. The empire had to progress along western lines in order to be able to compete with the west, and women too had to progress, to help the nation. Education, of course, was the main demand.”

The lecture continued with an examination of various Turkish Feminist journals and writers, as well as the different waves of feminism that affected this area.

Karakaya-Stump concluded with an examination of the debates over wearing a headscarf publically, calling it an example of the “personal” becoming “political.” The issue has become increasingly controversial in present day Turkey.

Overall, the lecture was well received by the students and staff in attendance.

“Learning about the modern day feminist climate in Turkey was extremely interesting,” said junior Leila Kurman. “I especially liked learning about the headscarf debate that is currently occurring there.”