The Women and Justice Summit, held under the theme of "Cultural Codes and Women," started on Friday in Istanbul. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a keynote speech at the two-day summit and denounced Western views of women's place in society and how they confined women to one role.
"Cultural differences are the biggest factor shaping women's movements across the world. The dominant character of Western civilization manifested itself most in the view of women. Women are restricted to the same role today in every society in the world and the movement of populations from rural to urban regions supports this (forced role) and any other views of women are globally denounced. On the other hand, we see violence toward women as a serious issue in developed countries, contrary to the public image of women. It is unacceptable for a woman to be exposed to violence because of her gender," Erdoğan said.
"Women are expected to play the traditional roles imposed on them and any cultural difference is exposed to global shaming. I see this summit as an important step that will also cover those who disguise (norms) imposed on women as 'modernity.'
"I believe this summit will illuminate the path on this issue. A world where women are excluded is incomplete. Excluding women is against our faith, against human nature," he said.
The president said women have supported Türkiye's development and a future full of accomplishment was ahead thanks to their contribution. He also touched upon the government's work to improve the rights of women, including an amendment in the Constitution that says women and men have equal rights. In combatting violence against women, Erdoğan said the government took steps to increase prison terms for domestic violence and other crimes against women. "We improved the conditions of working women and financially supported working mothers," he noted.
Erdoğan also spoke about a new debate between the government and the opposition on the headscarf issue. "Opponents of the headscarf for women are now telling us to resolve this issue. I called upon them to help create a new constitution that won't have any discrimination against women. My colleagues handed that proposal to them but they are now being told that it is not necessary," Erdoğan lamented.
The biannual summit, jointly organized by the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM) and the Ministry of Family and Social Services, delves into the “norms” women are forced to adhere to.
Apart from Erdoğan, Family and Social Services Minister Derya Yanık and KADEM Chair Saliha Okur Gümrükçüoğlu were keynote speakers at the event. The summit brings together ministers, academics, researchers, journalists, businesspeople and representatives of various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). On the first day, a ministerial-level meeting was scheduled to be held, with the participation of guests from Libya, Palestine, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Germany, Hungary and Singapore, under the title of “Towards More Inclusive Societies: Women as Agents of Change.” On the second day, panels will be held.
The first panel, entitled “Women as Subject” focuses on discussions on a fair social structure and the empowerment of women as the subject of civic society, as well as challenges women’s movements may face in the future, along with questions on the potential of the women’s movement to reshape civic society as a movement questioning male-dominated public space. Associate professor Merve Safa Kavakçı from Türkiye’s Foreign Ministry; Afghan peace negotiator and women’s rights activist Fatima Gailani; Tesni Khriji Chirchi, an academic from Ibn Haldun University who also serves as executive director of Jasmine Foundation for Research and Communication; and Sharifa Noaman al-Emadi from Qatar, executive director of the Doha International Family Institute, will speak at the panel.
The second panel, entitled "Public Space and Working Life," tackles several topics, including norms defining women’s position in working life, how fragile women’s situation in working life is and ways to increase the quality and quantity of workforce opportunities for women, as well as their empowerment in accessing economic power. The panel will also discuss maintaining a balance between work and family life for women. Hayat Sindi, a biotechnologist from Saudi Arabia, will join LedBy Foundation founder Ruha Shadab, Yasemin Gür Solmaz, a member of the executive board of Türkiye’s Gürmen Group and Marlyse R. Ndjenga from Cameroon, a publishing director of Valeurs Ajoutees magazine, at the panel.
In the "Public Spaces and Market Rules" panel, participants will discuss how daily life and public space establish womanhood norms while creating social reality and challenges that women face in public space and working life, as well as their response to those challenges, in addition to a discussion on mechanisms required to protect and endorse women in working life. King’s Counsel Sultana Tafadar from the United Kingdom, World Hijab Day CEO Nazma Khan from the United States, chef and social entrepreneur Ebru Baybara Demir from Türkiye and award-winning American journalist Rowaida Abdelaziz will attend the panel.
The “New Lifestyle and the Construction of Culture” panel on Saturday will discuss the impact of new lifestyles on existing norms, how new lifestyles impose their legitimacy and whether this transformation is an opportunity or obstacle for women. The panel will also tackle the womanhood experiences in different cultures and how to build women-friendly media. Among the panel's participants are Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, a former basketball player from the U.S. turned motivational speaker who was prohibited from attending international matches because of her headscarf, Rizwana Hamid, a filmmaker and journalist from the U.K., Syrian filmmaker and activist Waad al-Kateab and Australian actor Reshad Strik.
The “Pictures of Womanhood” panel will delve into how women are associated with art and how visual and audio art forms build images and norms on womanhood and transform them, as well as how art criticism can intersect with women’s activism. Ayşe Taşkent from Istanbul University-Cerrahpaşa, historian, author and presidential adviser Hümeyra Şahin Oktay, filmmaker and producer Samah Safi Bayazid and designer and podcaster Ayşe Akova will speak at the panel.