Womenʼs Rights vs. Gender Justice? Exploring Oppositional Womenʼs Organizations and the Reshaping of Feminist Engagement in De-democratizing Turkey





Turkey, women, feminist engagement, civil society, de-democratization


Reflective of a wider, global trend of changing civil society space and anti-gender backlash against womenʼs rights, research is increasingly interested in exploring the dynamics and implications of hybrid and authoritarian regimes strategies toward civil society, and womenʼs organizations in particular. Nevertheless, few have focused on studying the role of governmental womenʼs organizations – so-called women-GONGOs - as mechanisms of regime strategies, such as in the case of competitive-authoritarian Turkey where women-GONGOs aim to constrain civil society space and feminist, gender equality-oriented discourse and practice. In this study, the aim is to explore how feminist, oppositional womenʼs organizations, despite their “outsider” positions in Turkeyʼs civil society, use and reshape feminist strategies to adapt, renegotiate or resist women-GONGOs as mechanisms of control, co-optation and regime interference.
Based on in-depth interviews with 21 womenʼs organizations in Turkey, the study finds that “outsider”, feminist womenʼs organizations in competitive-authoritarian Turkey perceive the influence of women-GONGOs as central to possibilities and limitations in civil society and womenʼs organizing. Consequently, interviews show that “outsiders” employ a variety of feminist strategies, mostly in combination, to create or maintain their activism and operations within the Turkish de-democratization context, for example turning to grassroots in combination with finding new alliances, or connected to sustaining activities within broader democratization movements. However, the study suggests that the changing space of civil society in Turkey affects these “outsiders” in different ways; for example service-oriented womenʼs organizations are less constrained in their feminist strategies compared to claims-making “outsiders”. Lastly, the study illustrates how the dominant role of women-GONGOs in Turkey impacts feminist discourse and practice of “outsiders”, thereby providing empirical insights and theoretical contributions to better understanding transformations of feminist engagement in Turkey and similar gendered de-democratization contexts across the Mediterranean and beyond.