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Safak Pavey 9 février 2014

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie.
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The New Review (UK) Sunday, February 9, 2014, p. 12-13
Cover Story: « Who would be a woman in politics? »

Constanze Letsch

Safak Pavey * is not a conventional parliamentarian. When she visits towns all over Turkey, she arrives in the battered family car. Instead of bodyguards and a driver, she is often accompanied by her mother, one of Turkey’s most famous and courageous investigative journalists, Ayse Onal.

‘I can’t believe what is debated, like should pregnant women be walking on the street?’

Before entering parliament, she worked for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). After living abroad for 15 years, Pavey accepted an offer to stand in the 2011 elections because she was concerned about the direction her country was taking.

« There was a big gap between what was happening on the street in Turkey and the image of the country portrayed to the outside world. »

Pavey, who lost her left arm and left leg in a train accident when she was 19, became the first disabled woman ever to be elected to the Turkish parliament. She now represents Istanbul Province for the main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP).

Almost three years on, she is more concerned than ever. « I cannot believe the things that are discussed in the public debates, » she says. « Should pregnant women be walking on the street? Should girls and boys be in the same classroom? These are the debates that we are currently having. »

Her entering parliament, where the dress code for women was a suit with a skirt, triggered a months-long discussion about, as she says « only my name and my prosthetic leg. I was absent from a debate I had not initiated and that I didn’t want. »

It ended with the right for female MPs to wear trousers. Citing recent plans for abortion curbs, a ban on caesarean sections and fights over the headscarf, Pavey underlines how much of Turkish politics deals with women’s bodies and women’s behaviour, without actually involving women themselves.

« Priority is placed on the chastity of women. You can be corrupt, or a murderer and still hold your head up high on the street without problems, whereas if there are any suspicions of your chastity and moral behaviour as a woman, you get lynched. And if you question this as a female MP, you get lynched all the same. »

In 2012, Pavey made a parliamentary inquiry about the gender separation of university dorms. Pro-government newspapers immediately started a vicious smear campaign against her, calling her an « immoral woman » who promoted « boys and girls sleeping in the same rooms ».

Melik Birgin, a leading member of a local AKP youth branch, sent her a tweet from his official Twitter account, saying: « Allah took one of your legs and you haven’t woken from the sleep of blasphemy. What is it with your stubbornness? » Pavey wrote an open letter to the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urging him to remove Birgin from his post. Erdogan complied.

« [Birgin’s removal] sent a signal that such words of hate are not acceptable. It’s a start, but of course not enough by far compared to the levels of discrimination faced by millions of people every day in this country. »

She adds that many other minority groups suffer similar attacks at all levels of Turkish society. A new law against hate crime was announced by Erdogan as part of a democratic reforms package last year, but it has still not been implemented. Pavey says she wants to keep fighting for what she thinks is crucial. « Many female politicians get intimidated by the aggressive behaviour of men. I don’t. Not because I am a courageous person or anything, but because I see international standards and I see that they are worth fighting for. »

* MP for the main opposition Republican People’s party


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