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“Resisting together means living together” – Female journalism in Turkey


08 March 2024

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Özgür Sevinç Şimşek was sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison in Turkey for her journalistic activities. Şimşek, who is also a film director, regained her freedom in 2021 after having spent 5 and a half years behind bars.

Looking back to past years: The Women’s Day Marches or Feminist Night Marches were banned in Istanbul. When women still found their way to protest, they were met with police violence and the use of tear gas. What do you expect for this years’ 8th of March in Istanbul and all of Turkey?

The Feminist Night March, which was organised by women on the 8th of March last year, was banned by the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office with the approval of the governor’s office, but the police did not hesitate to use violence against the women participating under various pretexts. They used verbal harassment, teargas, and physical violence. Four years ago, in 2020, the police kept hitting the women’s heads until their shields were broken, and yet it was the women who were put on trial for “participating in unauthorised rallies and marches without weapons and not dispersing spontaneously despite the warning, resisting to prevent the execution of police duties, damaging public property”.


This is actually an expression of how afraid they are of women. According to the system and the understanding of the male state, women should stay at home, remain silent when they are subjected to violence, and remain silent against harassment and rape. But this understanding doesn’t tolerate women being on the streets. The male state knows that no matter how much it intervenes, women will never give up, because the Feminist Night March is made possible by the struggle of all of us every year. It is an expression of the rebellion within us all. In other words, we are the ones who make this march happen. Everyone who participates determines how that night will be shaped. Not the establishment or the male state, but we, the women. Even seeing this makes them angry. But they will get used to the presence of women. Because we, the women, have the power to change everything. We know that the 21st century is the age of women’s revolution. We trust and believe in this, and with this power, this year – as every year – we will stand together hand in hand, side by side, against the male state, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and labour exploitation. Taksim Square will be shaken by the power of women’s unity. 


We stand side by side, in solidarity with each other, rising up, resisting together against all kinds of violence created by the male-dominated establishment, to build our lives in favour of justice and equality. We do not give up our struggle, our lives, or each other. As women in Turkey, at a time when fascism is trying to destroy our hope and take away our ability to dream, we must remember that “hope” is to act together. It is in our hands to be together across the world on 8 March, to be a part of that crowd, to unite and “hope” together, to turn it into a collective hope, to turn it into a collective struggle. On 8 March, all women of the world, let’s chant for our rebellion!


How significant is the 8th of March this year in Turkey? In what context do people see this day?

We will welcome 8 March at a time when violence against women is increasing daily and taking different forms. There are local elections in Turkey at the end of March. In this run up election period, poverty, unemployment, labour exploitation, violence against women, femicides, and inequalities are deepening and increasing. Women are being murdered in their homes, young women in Kurdistan are being harassed, raped, and murdered by private military personnel, police officers, and gendarme. Moreover, today we see women being killed under the disguise of ‘suicide’. But perpetrators experience impunity by the male state. And impunity for crimes against women causes new crimes every day and violence against women is rewarded. This impunity policy of the male state becomes a means of legitimising violence against women. This is why one of the most important goals for women all across the country, from the justice vigils led by peace mothers and the hunger strikes in prisons, is to grow women’s struggle against policies that legitimise women’s poverty, violence against women, and femicides.


The discussions around the notion of “family”, which is often sanctified by the government, is another agenda point. The governing AKP party held various workshops on the theme of “the sacred family”, joined by parties such as the islamist Yeniden Refah Party and the Hür Dava Party, with which it formed an alliance to win the general elections in May 2023. It held “Grand Hate Marches” and “Crime Marches” under the name of “Grand Family Meetings” that targeted the lives of women and LGBTIQ+ people.


Additionally, gender identities were ignored and queer festivals were banned. They do not tolerate LGBTQ+ people and caused them to be murdered in the streets as a result of hate speech. 


This list is far from complete, but amongst all these struggles, our rebellion has still grown. In this context, March 8 is the day of resistance, hand in hand struggle, women’s comradeship and solidarity. Each woman is shouting her rebellion with this in mind, chanting that “the streets are ours”, with faith and confidence in the transformative power of women.


Under which circumstances are women working in Journalism in Turkey?

While it is difficult to be a woman in Turkey, it is even more difficult to be a woman journalist. Women working in the male-dominated environment of the media face discrimination and violence at work. While women are subjected to many forms of discrimination, mobbing, violence, or harassment in the media, they also carry a heavy burden due to unpaid extra hours and they do not receive equal pay for equal work. Moreover, women journalists struggle against masculine language and violence both in the office space and on the streets. Women journalists report their news in a field where the employer, editor-in-chief, and news director are men, and have to comply with the beauty standards set by the patriarchy. Sometimes they also face police violence in the field. The number of women working in all sectors is increasing, also in the field of journalism, but the number of women in decision-making positions such as editor-in-chief or news director is still insufficient. 


Male journalists are usually sent to cover police and courthouse news, which are seen as ‘important’ areas in journalism, whereas women journalists are first expected to prove themselves in the profession before being directed to these areas. Of course, the experiences of women journalists are not limited to these. 


Being harassed and arrested in custody is another element of pressure for women journalists. Rather than following the news, journalists have to follow the lawsuits filed against them. For example, Dicle Müftüoğlu was just released on 29 February 2024 after months of imprisonment. Last year, more than ten female journalists working for Kurdish media organisations and institutions were held in prison for months. We are subjected to harassment and violence while following the news and harassment and violence inflicted by news sources. We also experience discrimination at the workplace,  just because we are women. And while working 24 hours a day, many of us journalists are unfortunately condemned to miserable wages. However, the number of women journalists who form assemblies in the face of all this, who speak out, who join unions, women’s committees in the unions and their management, and have a voice is increasing day by day.


What are your own experiences as a woman working in journalism? How do they correspond with what you shared before?

Many of the things I answered in the previous question actually point to my own experiences. In 2014, I was sentenced to six years and three months in prison on charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation” for going to a press conference and reporting on it. I spent five and a half years in prison. The statement in my indictment claimed that “Özgür Sevinç Şimşek took a photo of the group holding a press conference and left the area”, which already summarises everything. During the court process, I was accused of being a “member of a terrorist organisation” even though I presented as evidence the news I had reported and made clear that I was a journalist. This is not only happening to me, many of my colleagues are going through the same or similar processes.


After my release from prison, I continued to work in the media field and was subjected to various forms of mobbing, violence, and pressure. Again, I was surrounded by police officers in places where I went to cover the news and I was subjected to hours of ID checks. The ID check, which normally should last no more than a few minutes, took hours and prevented me from doing my job — which was their purpose. 


At my workplace, me and other female colleagues had to endure verbal harassment and insults by a male colleague I was working with. The male editor-in-chief and the unit manager tried to cover up this situation by claiming that, because we were friends, we could solve it among ourselves, despite having witnessed the harassment. While the male managers face no sanctions for these actions, me and my female colleagues have to deal with this behaviour every day, every hour. It wears us down. 


Three years ago,Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention. A decision that has been criticised since women are no longer explicitly protected from violence and domestic violence anymore. Have the consequences of Turkey’s decision been noticeable since 2021?

In short, the Istanbul Convention aimed to protect women from all forms of violence and discrimination, to promote equality between women and men, to design a comprehensive framework, policies, and measures for these purposes, and to promote international cooperation on these issues. Entered into force in 2014, Turkey was the first signatory and ratifying party, but withdrew from the convention in 2021. Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk, the then Minister of Family, Labour, and Social Services, said “there will be absolutely no going backwards in terms of protecting women’s rights and combating violence against women” and said that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention because it caused “social segregation”.


The consequences of Turkey’s withdrawal have of course been noticeable. Since the discussions about a possible withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention began, there has been an increase in femicides and suspicious deaths of women. “The Istanbul Convention keeps you alive” was not simply a slogan. According to the data of the Platform to Stop Femicide, we know that at least 315 women were murdered in 2023, 67 women were murdered in the first two months of 2024 alone. These massacres are not independent of misogynist policies. This shows how wrong the decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention is and how it jeopardises our lives.


You yourself went on a hunger strike in solidarity with Leyla Güven when she was given a sentence of 22 years in prison. What role does solidarity between women play in the movement?

There has been a war in Turkey for years due to the Kurdish question being left unresolved, and wherever there is war in the world, children and women are the biggest victims. Leyla Güven took the lead to find a democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue, and started a hunger strike. Thousands of political prisoners, non-governmental organisations, women’s organisations, and democratic rights organisations outside the prisons have supported her. It was very important to support a woman who was pioneering for peace, so I joined this struggle and went on hunger strike. In Turkey we have seen what kind of power we have when we women rely on each other, when we struggle together, when we unite our hands and our hearts. We have learnt by chanting our rebellion together on the streets, in detention, and in prison. We have learnt that resisting together means living together. Our solidarity has turned into a united power and has surpassed the prison walls. I said this very often in prison, and I always say it to myself as a life lesson, ‘no wall can be built up to the sky’. We will overcome it somehow.

Interview conducted by Emma Wendland, Support Intern at the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).


Information about the ECPMF Journalists-in-Residence Programme is available here.

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