Economic Crises, Justice and Development Party and What Kind of Feminism?

Nil Mutluer

During the recent economic crises, conservatism of Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi: AKP) on sexuality has shown its limits. Especially with the economic crises AKP feels caught up in a trap thus such politics is not really surprising. The patriarchy as the underlying politics and discourse of conservatism is taken out of its aesthetic packaging of populism and just to protect “masculinity,” it pinpointed the women seeking jobs as the essence of unemployment. Although this is not something new, it is important to talk about it. How are we then going to discuss the neo-liberal politics of AKP? Of course the feminist literature provides us with a broad literature. But then whether this literature is sufficient for us to understand its extent in the society in Turkey is up for grabs… To deepen this discussion, I aim to first talk about how AKP defines the economic crises as the crises of masculinity and then address the ways economic politics of AKP are debated.

AKP and a New Conservatism

We cannot separate the politics of the economy from the political and social ones. This is valid for the politics of AKP as well. AKP is quite successful about swinging between democratic promises and conservative practices. Although they have made a big step with the Ergenekon case, the methods they employ to the parties of the case are no different from the previous governments. It is not necessary to be reminded of the police instigations and beatings in the back streets on May first or the impossible opening of the democratic openings on Kurdish issues. AKP has also shown a significant “performance” on sexism. AKP did not only position women as the family’s service provider, but also it has done all possible to represent homosexuality as immoral to the society. AKP’s list of conservative politics is too long to count. Now let’s focus on the economy and how economy is experienced as the crises of masculinity.

If we are discussing the crises, especially an economic one, it is obvious that we are referring to a space dominated by patriarchy. The crisis of capitalism that is shaped by patriarchal values also implies the crises of these values. It is typical of crisis periods that masculinity changes its form fast. Sometimes it goes through “modern development,” other times conservatism. Within the processes of fast changes meanings merge into one another. The crisis of masculinity becomes a common denominator for both conservatism and neo-liberalism. This denominator also includes protecting men’s honor and keeping their spirits up since the men are positioned as the main bearer of the smallest unit family within the capitalist and nation state system. Such a conservative denominator also enables the women who embrace different masculinities and patriarchal language to move together.

AKP government has been closely involved with the situation of women since elected. It did not only closely engage with women, but also presented the news on economy though women. In example, former state minister Ali Babacan argued that the amelioration in economy was a result of the women staying at home due to their husband’s increased income and he further noted that this is a good thing. He commented that the fact the women no longer get together for US Dollar or gold days and instead they prefer Turkish Lira as an example of the increased value of TL. Neither for the state nor for the local governments, AKP has stopped thinking about women! Istanbul’s Mayor Kadir Topbas, who rooted around the city with his neo-liberal politics explains AKP’s view of women very clearly in the interview he gave in Radikal newspaper with Funda Ozkan a long time ago. The former president of KAGIDER, Meltem Kurtsan noted to Ozkan that Topbas promised to use the schools as education centers during the weekends. When Kurtsan asked about what this education entails, Topbas noted “The women who come from Moldavia has taken over the care of our children and elderly. We should train our women so that they can find employment.” This approach is not only about class and it is classist, but also highly racist. Since they placed “our” women inside the homes for service, the prime minister also provided us with an important message “Have/bear three children.” These discourses were also supported with Social Security and General Health Insurance (Sosyal Sigortalar ve Genel Sağlık Sigortası, SSGSS)politics regulations by AKP.

Once the economic crises appeared, Economy minister Mehment Simsek made a sexist and not so smart analysis : “Do you know why unemployment has increased?” The minister of economy will provide us with an explanation. We are excited. We will learn the reasons of this crisis… And the explanation comes: “Because there is an increased search for employment during the times of crisis.” Yes, now we assume we will hear something new and continues to explain: “Especially during the crisis women’s share of the employment rises.” What? Suddenly women are the cause of the economic crisis. Otherwise when the economy was better they would be sitting nicely at home while their husbands were earning money! Besides, unpaid home care services are secured by insurance anyway!

Of course there were reactions to this explanation. In example, Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP) congresswoman Gaye Erbatur presented a parliamentary question to Turkish Grand National Assembly (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi, TBMM) and asked how come Şimsek claims such an argument at the time when women’s employment have fallen 22.2 percent. Furthermore, Erbatur reminded us that according to the Turkish Statistics Bureau unemployment ratio for November 2008 – January 2009 is 838 thousand people, thus she demanded an explanation from Simsek for presenting the unemployment ratio as 150-200 thousand people. Different reactions came from the president of Education and Science Worker’s Union (Eğitim-Sen) Zübeyde Kılıç, Serap Güre from Women’s Labor and Employment Initiative (Kadın Emeği ve İstihdamı Girişimi, KEIG) and other women’s organizations and individuals.

All these reasonable reactions could be explained with numbers. As Hidayet Sefkatli commented in her article, KEIG Platform’s publication in mid-April, “Women’s Labor in Turkey and Employment problem areas and suggestions for politics report” summarizes the situation. I quote some of the findings directly from Tuksal’s article: “Women’s employment in Turkey is less than 25 percent. While the pressure on women has increased in rural areas, women’s employment in urban areas has fallen – only one out of every five women over 15 years old is employed. Ratio of unregistered labor in the industries that women work is high, which is about 58 percent. (This ratio is estimated as 38 percent for men.) There is a huge gap between wages. Women are excluded from social security. Male-dominated unions exclude women.”

In fact, AKP is following what is expected from a conservative party strictly. Opponent leftist groups and feminists also resist these politics and criticize as required. However does this resistance reach the society? What form of politics do we need to follow? It is difficult to respond to these major questions in one article, however worth to start thinking about them…

Neo-liberalism, Conservative Partnership and Feminism

Although the numbers are important, they are not sufficient to understand the social facts.

To provide solutions we also need to understand the human aspects of these numbers. In the first issue of Feminist Politika, Yelda Yücel discusses this issue in detail. According to Yücel, politics for women is determined by patriarchal and capitalist negotiations. In example, since 2000 women’s employment has increased in the world while it has been declining in Turkey. Conservative politics in Turkey immediately reflects on women’s position in economy. As I noted in the previous section, women are pulled into homes and informal economy from public and formal work forces.

Then, how do we understand this patriarchal negotiation that Yücel discusses?

How could this conservatism benefiting from this negotiation be identified? Obviously repeating how the government is conservative would not be the solution to the problem. Continued patterns in doing politics, hegemony of individuals only deepen our ignorance. Divide, identify, othering, show as target… This is the politics employed by male-dominated strategies and now the ones who criticize identity politics do not shy away from doing the same. Among these one can find people who vary from people supporting Islamist politics to Kemalists, from nationalists to leftists, and even feminists. However the language of othering only serves to produce insensitive identity politics and an approach that is self-centered. While othering each other, surely they do not create a space for a language or a dialogue. Furthermore, it becomes impossible to hear the voices in between or open up spaces for such voices.

For this I would like to provide an example again from the Feminist Politika journal, an article by Handan Osmanağaoğlu. First of all I’d like to note that I share Osmanağaoğlu’s opinions through out the initial sections of the article. However, I dissent from her about her thoughts on “understanding” conservatives. To reduce the conservatives to “turban” and connect this directly with AKP only supports already tangled roads that have no space for dialogue.

Osmanağaoğlu in her article is appropriating a cliché of 70s Yesilçam and articulate today yet with another cliché.

“The equivalent of the reality lived by working class families in the 70s literature and film’s women who works at the big factories, meet each other in the midst of class struggles, and resist the neighborhood’s religious fanatics with their thick mustached husbands is fast forward disappearing. In poor neighborhoods now we find nuclear families with veiled women, working on contracts or working in workshops only with other women from the same neighborhood to support their husbands, kids that are devout to the nation with their husbands who go to Friday prayers, fast, and have no job security. For these conservative families the ideal for moving up the social ladder is about having holidays in five star Islamic hotels in the Mediterranean. The families find peace in the fact that if they could provide education for their children they would climb up the social ladder like the educated kids in the old Turkish movies within the economic abilities circumscribed by their conservative beliefs. With Turban, worries of the families about “brides who are educated but ignorant of the traditions” are reduced. Because now middle class conservative families have the chance to find daughter in-laws who are both educated and fit into the traditional family values.”

Of course there is value in popular culture to represent the cultural changes, however, in an environment where analysis within the class structure is not developed, to take popular culture as our basis might not be the best way to take. Such typologies demand these questions: In the 70s, were all the women living in squatters in struggle? Were they resisting the religious fanatics? Did the struggle stop suddenly? In the 70s, weren’t there husbands that wanted their wives to work in women only spaces? In the 70s when even the leftists got their share of nationalism, weren’t mothers raising kids devouted to the nation? In the 70s, weren’t there people going to Friday prayers? In the 70s, weren’t people fasting? Did men have more job security in the 70s? Does the increase on consumption depend on the rise in conservatism? Do conservative families wearing ‘turban,’ according to Osmanağaoğlu, really worry about “educated brides”? If so, is this new? Is conservatism only about religion? Does ‘turban’ enable finding conservative brides? Before then, weren’t there women in veil? If there is such a new class formation, where were these people in the labor-capital relationship? Weren’t they already living in this country? Did they arrive with AKP?

These and many more alike questions could be asked. I cannot really answer all them. When I think of the sociology of these class analyses, I do not believe that there are easy “yes” and “no” answers. We cannot understand the society we are living in and its class structures chasing clichés. To really understand we need to be familiar with the things we criticize; instead we prefer to reproduce clichés.

Osmanağaoğlu at the same time in her article comments that “wearing the turban can not be reduced to body politics.” She is right about the fact that we cannot reduce headscarves to body politics. However, at this point I have another question. There is almost no one arguing that headscarves equal to body politics. Both the Islamists and the feminist movement center their discourse on discrimination in women’s education and employment rather than the discourse on body politics. Even though this is the situation, some feminists resist recognizing. Like some of the Islamist politics that exclude feminist and LGBT politics to the “bedroom and body politics”, they judge without listening. Such generalizations hold false analyses. Because in Turkey neither all veiled vote for AKP nor people with modern attire are free of conservatism. None of us are out of this system; instead we are shaped by it. To understand this we need to understand what’s called the other.

While discussing about economics, to make generalizations puts us on risky grounds because in fact economic politics provide us with important clues about how we live. Feminist economists prioritize life quality and just distribution while mainstream economists target surplus maximization. What do we understand from just distribution and life quality? Don’t we need to recognize how these two concepts affect classes to understand conservatism? It is that easy to reduce conservatism to one form or category to analyze new middle class? It is necessary to understand the conservatism in the society and how it relates to capitalism. This would be essential to offer solutions to neo-liberal conservatism.

Although we use the word class often, it is not clear what we mean by it. Class enters our discourse as a metaphor and it continues to survive through the meanings we impose on it. Then this even becomes suggesting identity politics through class discourse. To describe the crises nostalgically, as it existed in the past and now lost, only reflects the loss of imagination (envisagement); it offers the possibility of analyzing neither class nor class structure. In fact this points to a big absence in Turkey. In Turkey there are very few studies on class and associations and differences within class in discourse and structure. Such analyses are required to understand the language of male-dominated crisis, the partnerships between different conservatisms, how these partnerships reflect on relations and structures, and how to produce feminist politics. If we refer back to Yücel’s article, we need to understand the negotiations between patriarchy in this geography and capitalism through all possible perspectives. Real liberation and the struggle with neo-liberalism would then become socialized, although slowly…


Jeff Hearn (1987) The Gender Oppression: Men, Masculinity, and the Critique of Marxism, Sussex: Wheatsheaf Books.

Radikal, 29.4.2006,

Radikal, 16.07.2003,

Radikal, Funda Özkan, 01.05.2004,“Kadın Girişimciler Parasız Kaldı”

NTV MSNBC, 10.03. 2008,

Especially with regards to the law on Social Security and General Health Insurance women’s organizations offered significant statements. Some of these comments could be listed as such:,,

Bianet, 20.03. 2009

Kazete, 19.03.2009,

Hidayet Tuksal, 4.5.2009, You can reach to further information on this subject from the following website.

Yelda Yücel, “Küresel krizde kadınlar cephesi: Türkiyeli kadınlar için olasılık”, Feminist Poltika, Sayı 1, Kış 2009, sf.28-29.

Handan Osmanağaoğlu, “Yeni Muhafazakârlık ve kadın emeği”, Feminist Poltika, Sayı 1, Kış 2009, sf. 26-27.

Marianne A. Ferber (2007), “Economics”, International Encyclopedia of men and masculinities, London, New York: Routledge.

From Amargi- Issue 13

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