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A Liberal Feminist

Istanbul University

One of the leading feminist activists of recent decades was Sirin Tekeli. Tekeli resigned as associate professor in the Faculty of Economics at Istanbul University in protest against the Board of Higher Education established after the 1980 military coup to control academic life.

In her writing Sirin Tekeli stressed the historical roots of feminism in Turkey: "The 1980s was not the first time that feminism came onto the agenda in Turkey. On the contrary, this was a century old movement, with its roots in late nineteenth-century Ottoman society." She also analysed "state feminism":

"Once equal suffrage was achieved the state claimed that 'gender equality being a reality in Turkey', women did not need an organization of their own Our mother's generation both because they got some important rights and were given new opportunities, and because they were forced to do so by repression identified with Kemalism rather than with feminism."

Kemalist women were expected to conform to a new ideal of modesty:

"It is therefore not wrong to say that, despite the existence of an exceptional Kemalist elite, the "Kemalist revolution" had not transformed millennial patriarchal traditions in Turkey. On the contrary, it had reproduced them while modernising them. So, women's main role, whatever their social environment, was still limited to the one they had in the family, as mother and wife. Almost all modern institutions, the primary and secondary schools, and particularly technical schools designed for them, aimed to produce modern housewives."

Besides creating a new vocabulary, the women's movement of the 1980s also gave rise to new institutions. Tekeli was one of the founders of the Women's Library and Information Centre in April 1990 in Istanbul. She was also a founder of the Purple Roof Women's Shelter Foundation. Such organisations became part of a new democratic civil society:

"For the first time in Turkish history, the tradition of the powerful centralized state inherited and restructured anew by the republic and consolidated three times by military rule, the last being the most radical has lost its glamour."

In 1997 Tekeli participated in the founding of Ka-Der (Association for Supporting and Training Women Candidates). Ka-Der's main endeavour continues to be to raise the presence of women in Turkish politics.

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