On Women For Women Human Rights
An Exclusive Interview with Pinar Ilkkaracan
For the Lightmillennium.Org’s 10th Anniversary issue

“Feminism is not only about women’s human rights, but also covers many issues such as militarization, economic and social rights or gay and lesbian rights. The women’s movement’s efforts in terms of Kurdish women’s rights in Turkey is still inadequate.”

pinar_ilkkaracan pilkkaracan_eu_cyprus
The European Support Team Conference (December 2009), which was focused on the reform of the “Criminal Code” in relation to
women’s rights in Cyprus. Ms. Pinar Ilkkaracan from Turkey, co-founder and founding president of Women For Women’s Human Rights
(WWHR - 1994), who presented the reform of the Penal Code in Turkey from a gender perspective, and the related campaign

“WWHR is running a program on human rights education for women in more than 40 cities of Turkey since 1995, so it is the 15th year now, and it is one of the most sustainable human rights education programs in the world.”

BACKGROUND: In last December, I was in Cyprus and through contacts, I got invited to a two days European Support Team Conference, which was focused on the reform of the “Criminal Code” in relation to women’s rights in Cyprus. The conference brought together women’s NGO representatives in order to create a platform to work together toward to the targeted “changes” in the penal codes of Turkish Cypriots. During the first day, which addressed the main theme of the conference, there were three presentations and the moderator. The first two speakers were judges, who presented penal codes from Spain and England, and the third one was Ms. Pinar Ilkkaracan from Turkey, co-founder and founding president of Women For Women’s Human Rights (WWHR - 1994), who presented the reform of the Penal Code in Turkey from a gender perspective, and the related campaign. As a result of the campaign, the Turkish Penal Code has become one of the most progressive penal codes in terms of women rights in the world. Yet, there are still difficulties, obstacles and challenges for its implementation. I greatly inspired by the accomplishment of WWHR and the successful campaign for the reform, which was led by Pinar Ilkkaracan and that she was able to bring many women organizations together in a platform with joint and persistent efforts that led to their success. Ms. Ilkkaracan has also been recognized for earlier achievements for advancing women’s rights in Turkey at the UN General Assembly during the International Women Day’s celebrations in 1999 by former secretary general Kofi Annan, and more recently as a Laureate of the Gruber Foundation Women's Rights Prize in 2007.

I’ve learned so much in detail about the women’s movement in Turkey and its accomplishments, as well as major challenges in Turkey via Ms. Ilkkaracan’s presentation, although it was a very brief and condensed one that it led me to propose her to conduct the interview below. As a result, Ms. Ilkkaracan agreed, and this interview was conducted at the WWHR center office in Gumussuyu, Istanbul on January 20, 2010. We are thankful to Ms. Ilkkaracan for her time and sharing her experiences with us for the Lightmillennium.Org.

Bircan Ünver: I attended the EU meeting to support local NGOs in Cyprus to create a platform in order to amend the “penal code” to safeguard women rights by chance, and was lucky to listen to your presentation. Would you start by summarizing your presentation in relation to women’s rights in Cyprus and the attempts to change the penal code in Cyprus?

Pinar Ilkkaracan: The seminar’s aim was to share information about the recent legal reforms that have taken place in Turkey regarding women’s rights. There have not been parallel developments in Cyprus in the past years. What I presented in Cyprus was an overview of the reforms pertaining to women that have taken place in Turkey over the last decade, that is between 1998 and 2009, concentrating in particular on the reform of the Turkish Penal Code, which has been celebrated as a big success of the women’s movement throughout the world.

BÜ: There were two other speakers, judges, from Spain and England. As an overall impression, your accomplishments are pure success. Regardless, could you assess Turkey’s penal code, in terms of women’s rights as it stands today, in comparison to Spain and England, so we can also put it in an international context?

PI: In terms of the formulation of penal codes, Turkey is in a very good position compared to all European countries. For example, after the reform of the Penal Code in 2004, Turkey’s Penal Code is much stronger in terms of gender equality, for example, compared to Greece.

BÜ: In the international context, can you elaborate or give an example how the Turkish Penal Code is better than those in other European countries?

PI: Women and men have full equality in Turkey in the Civil Code, as in other European countries. In terms of the penal codes, however, there are various problems. For instance, in Poland or Ireland. In Ireland the issue of abortion is a huge problem for women, whereas in Turkey, abortion has been legal since 1983. In Poland, there has been a case where a woman was raped and got pregnant, and she did not want to have the child, moreover, she was not in a state to have this child, but still she was forced to because it was illegal for her to get an abortion, and she went to court. This issue has brought to the European Court of Human Rights. For abortion, this is not the case in Turkey.

Overall, the new Turkish Penal Code is very progressive in terms of sexual rights. For example, marital rape is now criminalized in Turkey, but still not criminalized in Greece, where women are also demanding it.

Yet, when you start comparing countries in general, Turkey is in a very bad situation. Despite the fact that we’ve had so many legal reforms, according to the Gender Empowerment Index of the United Nations, Turkey’s rank is very, very low. Why? Because there is a lack political will and holistic policies to ensure gender equality in Turkey.

BÜ: Yes, that is going to be another huge issue. One of the first legal reforms towards gender equality came as result of huge campaigns against violence against women. What is the outcome in terms of legislation?

"Turkey is among the first countries in the world to pass a protection order law against violence.
The problem in Turkey is with implementation.

PI: For example, Turkey is one of the first countries, which passed, in 1998, a law on protection orders to prevent domestic violence. I have initiated the legal reform by introducing the concept of “protection orders” to Turkey. I edited a book titled “The Myth of a Warm Home: Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse” (Sicak Yuva Masali), published in 1996 in Turkish. I had already worked on a similar law as I was working in Berlin, before I came back to Turkey in 1994. As soon as I came back, I and MY organization WWHR started advocating for a law on protection orders in Turkey. At the time, there was a progressive director at the state Directorate of Women’s Status, and she became convinced about the importance of such a law. In 1998, despite the resistance of the coalition government of the Welfare Party and the True Path Party of Tansu Çiller (Dogru Yol Partisi), we managed to pass the law. As a result, in 1999, I was invited, on behalf of Turkey, to the March 8, International Women’s Day celebrations of the United Nations with Kofi Annan, at the UN General Assembly. In the world, Turkey is one of the first countries that passed a law on “protection orders.” The problem in Turkey is with implementation.

Before we go into depth, I think we should summarize the developments since 1998 because it has been really incredible. I must say, from the beginning on, that all of these achievement were made possible through the advocacy efforts of the feminist movement in Turkey. In almost all of the cases there has been significant resistance on part of the government and the parliament to our demands, yet the feminist movement has been very successful.

BÜ: Between different social economic and cultural social layers, and between movements in Turkey, do you think that there is sufficient support from woman to woman, and between women’s organizations of different segments, and cultural and economic levels?

"The women’s NGO’s in Turkey, compared to other women’s NGO’s in the world, even in the South,
have had very little financial resources……..yet, within the civil society in Turkey,
women’s movement has been one of the most successful."

PI: There is a very clear response to your question. There is an international organization, CIVICUS, which has conducted an international comparative research about the strength of civil society movements all around the world. I was a consultant to this research. It is a very important research because it was trying to measure the strength of civil society movements. The research showed that in general, compared to other countries, the strength of civil society movements in Turkey is still below average. This is normal because the civil society movements in Turkey emerged in the 1990s, so it is still very young, at its baby stage. Yet, a very striking finding of the research was that within the civil society in Turkey, the feminist movement has been one of the most successful, although the movement has had less financial resources compared to other women’s movements in the world. At times it has been very surprising for me. For example, when I went to Pakistan, or Bangladesh, I had to chance to visit huge women’s organizations with 50 employees or even more. For us, even paying the office rent or employing an office assistant was hugely problematic for many years. This is because the funding world thinks only of numbers, of statistics. For example, what happens in many funding organizations is that they focus on the “least developed countries” like Pakistan, etc. so Turkey has remained ineligible for a lot of funding. In addition of course, the feminist movement in Turkey had to flourish in a very hostile political atmosphere because of political repression.

“It was assumed that the European Union (EU) will give funding for the civil society.
The truth is not like that.”

As Turkey became a candidate for the European Union (EU) in 1999, it was assumed that the EU will channel lots of finacial resources for the civil society in Turkey, including the feminist NGOs. Ten years later, we can easily say that this has not at all been the case! The EU’s procedures for funding make it almost impossible for women’s NGO’s to receive EU financial support. The major portion of the EU funding for the civil society, including women’s NGO’s in Turkey goes to so-called EU tenders with huge amounts, starting from 2-3 million Euros the least. Such “EU tenders” set the condition that an alliance of firms and civil society groups form a group to apply. These conditions in end effect mean that the criteria set by them are not at all applicable for women’s organizations in general, not only because they have smaller budgets as determined by the EU criteria, etc., but also because the so called aims of these EU tenders rarely match with the priorities of the women’s movement in Turkey.

Two years ago, the frustration with EU funding regulations came to such a point that many women’s organizations in Turkey came together to write an official letter of complaint to the EU Commissioner about the situation. Unfortunately, we received only a formal reply, saying “Thank you for your concern.”

Yet, the energetic vigor of the feminist movement and its determination for equality of women in Turkey led to many successful legal reforms in Turkey despite all odds. Between 1996 and 1998, we had the campaign for the protection orders, the law passed in 1998. Between 2000 and 2001 we had the campaign for the gender equality in the Turkish Civil Code, which passed in 2001. Between 2002 and 2004, we worked on the campaign for the reform of the Penal Code from a gender perspective, and the code passed in 2004. The campaigns have been without a stop. Since 2007, we have been working on the campaign for Constitutional reform for clause to ensure de facto gender equality.

“The Welfare Party in the government said:
Domestic violence is not an issue for Islam.”

Just to give you examples on the types of resistance from the governments and the parliaments in the last decade: The law on protection orders for victims of domestic violence met the great resistance of the Islamist Welfare Party, which was in the coalition government at the time. They literally said, “such a law is against Islam.” They said that domestic violence is not an issue for Islam. We had to deal with their resistance and their arguments.

As domestic violence is a “women’s issue,” people did not care much; this was something they could comprise for agreement with the Islamist Welfare Party. Finally, we had to start and lead a huge media and public campaign between 1994-1996, as in all other campaigns we’ve led since then.

For example, during the Campaign for the Reform of the Penal Code, which WWHR initiated and later on acted as the coordinator of, we did not get a single penny of funding for the campaign or its coordination. There is no domestic funding available for feminist NGO’s in Turkey, the government gives funding to only to those organizations which are close to them. Because women’s organizations are always in the opposition, it is not possible to get funding from the government. Therefore, a lot of the organizations, including us, are dependent on international funding. However, if we had received any funding for campaign on the penal code from foreign (Western) sources, the AKP government and our opponents would have used it against us. As we were demanding “sexual autonomy” for women, they would claim that this is a Western agenda, as funded by Western countries. That would be a great danger.

"If we had received any Western funding, this would have been used against us."

As we worked on the reform of the penal code from a gender perspective, a lot of the wok was done overtime. We did not get out of this office (WWHR office) until 1 AM, 2 AM. We were doing our normal work, and then at night, my colleagues and I, a total of seven people, worked, including on the weekends. For three years, we did not even have vacations. If we had received any Western funding, this would have been used against us.

What was helpful was not the EU probably, but the reform process which was triggered by the EU accession. There was an atmosphere of reform. For more information:

BÜ: Now, I want to ask a specific question in relation to the EU and women’s rights in Turkey. For instance, there are defined chapters for negotiation, and recently environment chapter is opened. So, did it open a women’s chapter?

PI: There is a chapter on social rights and discrimination, but not a chapter exclusively on women or gender equality. The Turkish government formed a parliamentary commission called “Equal Opportunities Commission” for this chapter. Even that became a political problem between the women’s groups in Turkey and the government. We said that the commission should be named “Gender Equality Commission.” The government changed the name of the commission in the last minute to “Equal Opportunities Commission.”

That showed to me and other activists in the feminist movement that the government just wants to be able to say to the international community that “We have done a lot for gender equality,” but in fact they do not really want to work for actual gender equality. In fact, the legal reforms realized by the feminist movement in the past decade despite the resistance of various governments have rather served for an excuse for the present conservative AKP government to resist the international pressure in terms of lacking achievements on realizing gender equality. That became a huge problem for us, feminists in Turkey! For a long while, we were not able to put international pressure on the government as they were getting a lot of praise for the reforms which we had realized.

“WWHR is running a program on human rights education for women in more than 40 cities of Turkey since 1995,
so it is the 15th year now… “

We’ve spoken about the legal reforms and the success of the women’s movement, and the big steps toward gender equality in the legal sphere, but the biggest problem we face now is achieving actual equality for all women, including the implementation of legal reforms achieved in the past decade. That is what we’re working on. First of all, of course we continue advocacy and lobbying and put pressure on the government and lobbying to improve implementation of legal reforms. The full implementation of legal reforms is not something which can be achieved by women’s NGOs. The government needs a coordinated effort to ensure the implementation extensive legal reforms towards gender equality realized in Turkey in the past decade.

What we, as WWHR is doing is running a program on human rights education for women in more than 40 cities of Turkey since 1995 to inform women about their rights and to enable them to use these rights. It’s the 15th year of the program now and to my knowledge, it is the most sustainable non formal human rights education program in the world. What is unique about this program is that first of all it is not one of those short two three hour seminars. Our program is four months, on a continuous weekly basis. The main aim is to look at all spheres of human rights, including economic and social rights, political rights, but also bodily rights, sexual rights, reproductive rights, from a gender perspective. The main aim is to enable women to “internalize,” not just “learn about these rights.”

The women who participate in our training, the Human Rights Education Program for Women (HREP) mostly come from lower SES levels and have limited education. We are doing this program in cooperation with the state directorate for social services in Turkey. The trainings are being run in community centers throughout the country. And the community centers themselves are usually in the most disadvantaged areas and accessible to women.

BÜ: How many women attend the program? How many are in a group?

PI: We try to limit the participants in each group to 20 and 25 women, as the program is designed for a small group and almost has a therapeutic aspect. Every year, at least 1,500 women are participating in the program, who become significant multipliers of women’s empowerment in their villages, towns or cites. Women pass this information on to families, daughters, friends and neighbors. Within the framework of this program we are disseminating information illustrated brochures and booklets. They have many illustrations, so that women from lower literacy levels are able to read them. We also provide them with these booklets so they can distribute them in their communities.

Apart from that, the ultimate aim of the program is to catalyze grassroots mobilization. You can do a training, four months, wonderful! You can change the lives of individual women, but in order to achieve a socio-political change, they must be able to organize around their own needs and advocate for their rights. Therefore, the program ultimately aims to promote women’s organizing initiatives. The last two sessions focus specifically on women’s organizing.

BÜ: I understand that in a way, your program also aims to prepare women to establish their own organizations.

PI: Exactly. Until now, 16 women’s initiatives have emerged from the program. In all regions of Turkey, including of course the Kurdish region in the East and Southeast.

"[Conservatism] is something that is sucking the life out of the Turkish Women’s Movement."

BÜ: What is your opinion on how women’s landscape changed in Turkey, perhaps it has started since beginning of the 80s?

PI: The biggest problem for women in Turkey at the moment is the growing conservatism. I am doing research on this issue now. It has really accelerated. Of course conservatism is not an issue particular to Turkey. During the Bush era, there has been a huge increase in conservatism in the United States for example, and even in some European countries such as Poland or Ireland. I think this is very alarming because conservatism is something, which goes very deep, and it is everywhere. It seeps through a lot of holes, and is very difficult to resist. For example, if you would like to change a law, you can say, “This is a bad law.” But conservatism is not something tangible like a law. It is very difficult to resist it, or to campaign against it. That’s the reason why I started working on this research. There is a growing conservative ideology in Turkey and I think it reflects itself everywhere: in the media, the political and social landscape, and on women’s lives and the women’s movement. It is something that is sucking the life out of the Turkish Women’s Movement.

"….The women’s movement has always been against military interventions. This has always been very clear.”
“When it comes to conservatism, even the liberals in Turkey are not speaking about it .”
“For the first time it looks like women are alone, really alone, in their fight against conservatism and militarism.”

BÜ: My question would be do you concur that growing conservatism is, or has been, an obstacle in terms of implementation?

PI: It definitely is. I think it was first the women’s movement, which started speaking about the growing conservatism two years ago as we started the Campaign for the Reform of the Constitution from a gender perspective. Some of the constitutional amendments proposed by the government related to women were very conservative. But now, since last year, conservatism has also become a public issue in Turkey.

An additional problem is that in the present atmosphere in Turkey, if you criticize the AKP government at all, it is as if you are supporting the Turkish army – as the government is aiming at reforms to reduce the traditional influence of the army in Turkish politics. As feminists, we fully support this effort, as we are completely against the military power. The women’s movement has always been against military interventions. This is very clear. I would claim that the women’s movement has the clearest stance in terms of democracy; being against, not only military interventions, but all kinds of militarism.

Yet, we do criticize the government for its conservatism, for its lack of efforts to realize gender equality. But now, even the liberals who should actually be on our side are not criticizing the government when it comes to conservatism. So it’s a very peculiar situation for women. I can say, as a representative of the women’s movement, I have never felt so lonely in Turkey. For the first time it looks like women are alone, really alone, in their fight for gender equality. I believe we have the best analysis and demands for democracy but we are very alone.

“There have been two cases in Turkey where women were killed after a TV Reality Show program.”

BÜ: Within this context, how do you evaluate the media? For instance, is there anything about women in the media? Although there are 200 TV channels, I haven’t run into a channel dedicated to Turkish women!

PI: There are huge problems in terms of representation, and how women are represented in the Turkish media. Just to give you one example, because it’s very recent, reality shows. This trend came to Turkey from the United States. Such shows have terrible consequences for women. What happens in these so called women’s reality shows, which are usually between eleven and twelve o’clock during the day, is that they invite women who have experienced violence, or who are threatened by their husbands. They do this to get higher viewer ratings. This puts these women into incredible danger. They tell them, if you come to the program, we are going to help you etc., but of course, there is no such thing. There have been two cases in Turkey where women were killed after a reality show they have joined. The husband and the husband’s family see her on the program and they know where she is. It became a huge scandal. This is just one very concrete example of how media is using, abusing, and threatening women’s lives.

On the other hand the Turkish media has been also very supportive of women’s movement and our campaigns. I have worked in Germany in various feminist organizations for ten years, also for three very big campaigns for legal reforms in Germany. Compared to the situation in Germany, I can say that it was much easier for us in turkey to get access to the media. In Germany, women’s issues are considered marginal. It is not something that brings ratings, it is not a popular issue – unless it’s about almost racist depictions of immigrant women who are portrayed as victims of the “patriarchal culture” of the Turkish, Kurdish or Muslim societies.

Some women journalists who have important positions in the media – though they are a few – have been very supportive of our campaigns. For example, during the penal code campaign, significant women columnists as Ferai Tinc from Hurriyet, Zeynep Oral from Cumhuriyet or Ruhat Mengi from Vatan, supported our campaign relentlessly, writing about it very often, being in constant contact with us and trying to gain the support of the rest of the mainstream media.

To give another example, NTV, which is one of two biggest news channels in Turkey signed a protocol to produce and air a documentary series our women’s human rights education program. We produced the 12 episode series together and NTV aired it. This is, for example, probably almost impossible in the United States, that such a major news channel would do this.

What is missing in Turkey is feminist media channels. This has been the experience around the world. Women should have their own news distribution channels. In terms of media, the situation is bad everywhere, not just in Turkey. There are lots of UN decisions on women and media. It’s a part of the Beijing Outcome document, in is addressed in the CEDAW Committee. As a result of the privatization and globalization, what is happening is now is that we have conglomerates of big media empires, which makes it even more difficult for women to have access to the media. The decisions are taken at very high levels, you have to be at the top of the skyscrapers.

BÜ: Now, I’d like to go back a step. How did you get involved in the women’s movement, and can you tell us about your background and experiences in Germany, and your decision to move to Turkey and become a leader for the movement of women’s rights in Turkey?

PI: Well, I’ve grown up under the shadow of the 1980 military intervention in Turkey. The military intervention came as I was 18, full of idealism and from a left wing, social-democrat family. It was a terrible experience. My father, Ilhan Ilkkaracan, was a very idealistic person, who was involved in a lot of community initiatives. He is the founder of the first – and biggest – Eye Hospital in Turkey and the Balkans founded and supported by a charity organization. He led the charity until his death in 1993.

The military intervention of 1980 had a very big impact in my life. Since then, I think I have been resisting all kinds of militarism, forced authority and oppression in the world. As we had the military intervention, I was just entering university. As students, we were not even able to hold a meeting on any issue without getting permission from the military. After those years, I felt like I would like to go away, and although I had studied at an American high school, I chose to go to Berlin, Germany.

BÜ: How come?

PI: Because at the time – the end of the 80s, beginning of the 90s – Berlin was a home place of lots of political and social movements. That was my biggest wish, to get away from the political oppression in Turkey and to be involved in international political movements. As soon as I came to Berlin, I got involved in the feminist movement, anti-racism movement, refugee movement, girl children’s rights movement, and the environmentalist movement and so on. Gradually, I became more concentrated on the movement for women’s human rights. I became a public figure in the German media, I was invited to the parliament, I was giving interviews. I started two initiatives for legal reforms in Germany; one of them was for the Protection Orders against domestic violence, and the other about the rights of immigrant women who experience domeatic violence for residency. I was very happy in Berlin and having a very good life. But out of purely idealistic reasons, I returned to Turkey.

The democratization movement after the 1980 military intervention had started at the beginning of the 1990’s, so I thought, my country needs me, I should go back and share what I have learned and my experience. I had learned, for example, advocacy and campaigning. I had also become very politicized, even more politicized than I was in Turkey. That’s how I came back to Turkey and co-founded Women for Women’s Human Rights in 1994.

“Feminism is not only about women’s human rights, but also covers many issues such as militarization, economic and social rights or gay and lesbian rights. The women’s movement efforts in terms of Kurdish women’s rights in Turkey is still inadequate.”

BÜ: How was it coming back to Turkey after ten years in Berlin?

PI: Probably the worst was that there was no atmosphere of debate and discussion which was exactly the opposite of what I had experienced in Germany. As I came back, people employed a lot of self-censure, even in situations where there would be no danger to speak of the given issue. Second, at the time, the feminist ideology was very narrow, concentrating mainly on women’s rights, which I hope I have contributed to change. For me, feminism covers a lot of struggles, the struggle against militarization, the struggle for economic rights, the struggle for gay and lesbian rights etc. That was how I had conceptualized feminism. As I came back, I immediately started to work to have Kurdish women’s and the lesbian women’s human rights to be taken into consideration by the feminist movement. In the past 15 years, I and some other women of my generation have worked a lot to initiate a change in the Turkish feminist movement in this direction and I think we have come a long way. But still there are huge problems, especially in terms of Kurdish women. The women’s movements efforts in terms of Kurdish women’s rights is still very inadequate.

“I believe that sexuality is at the core of women’s empowerment, and it is usually sexuality that conservatives attack.”
“Rights violations like female genital mutilation and honor crimes are no different at the core, they both target and control women’s sexuality and oppress women.”

BÜ: You have also initiated and co-founded the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR). It is a network of NGOs and academic institutions in Muslim countries working on sexual and bodily rights. Would you tell us about it, and how the mechanism works and what are the outcomes in terms of its successes?

PI: I’ve been working on all aspects of women’s human rights, like economic rights, legal reforms, political rights and so on. But one of the areas that I have worked a lot on is sexual and bodily rights. I believe that sexuality lies at the core of women’s empowerment, and it is exactly for that reason that conservatives target women’s sexuality. When it comes to targeting and oppressing women, it is more difficult to say women shouldn’t participate in politics and shouldn’t work and so on; it is much easier to target and control women’s sexuality.

At one point, I understood that we –as the women’s Turkey-alone cannot realize any change regarding women’s sexual and bodily rights in Turkey as long as we do not have a regional (Middle Eastern) movement – as it was a regional problem, not a national one, for example in terms of honor crimes. A lot of customary practices that target women’s sexuality, for example, honor crimes, do not exist only in Turkey, but also in neighboring countries like Jordan, Palestine. I thought the only way to eradicate such practices is by working against them in a collaborative manner. Or let’s take female genital mutilation (FGM). There is no practice of FGM in Turkey, it is unheard of. The Turkish public learned about FGM as the feminists in Egypt put it out on the public agenda. For me, however, there is no difference between female genital mutilation or honor crimes, because at the core, they are both diverse cultural practices that aim to oppress women and control their sexuality.

With this analysis, I thought we should build a regional solidarity network to advocate for women’s sexual and bodily rights. In 2000, I published Women and Sexuality Muslim Societies. It is an edited volume of women’s perspectives on sexuality from many Muslim countries. The book became very popular because it was the first book talking about women’s sexuality and sexual rights from a women’s perspective in the Muslim world.

Through the extensive positive feedback we received to the book, we initiated the first contacts with women’s groups working on sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2001, just one week after 9/11, we had our first meeting. I’ll never forget that; because of 9/11 all the flights in the world were being cancelled. We called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked them what they would advise. They told us we should definitely cancel the meeting and that they couldn’t guarantee anything; everyone’s security is at risk. So, we called all the 21 women coming to this meeting from different parts of the Middle East and North Africa and told them: “We are very sorry, we have to cancel the meeting as we cannot guarantee your security.” Their replies were amazing. All of them said that they would come to the meeting despite all security concerns caused by 9/11. They told us that they consider it such an important meeting that there is no way we alone can decide on that and we have to hold it.

“Historically, there have been many political meetings at Pera Palace Hotel. A lot of the decisions about Turkey, the country’s future, the end of the Ottoman Empire were made at that hotel. Women, however, were not involved. It was all men. So for us, it was like going back and conquering our space in history.”

This was the point, where I understood that the time had really come to work on sexual and bodily rights in Muslim societies and how I came to the decision to initiate the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR). It was amazing. They came even though we told them not to come, and we had this meeting in Istanbul at a historical place, the Pera Palace Hotel.

Pera Palace Hotel is of international historical significance. Especially at the turn of the century, it was the home to many political meetings and decisions, like Turkey’s future, the end of the Ottoman Empire or Western interests in Turkey. Therefore, for me, who organized the meeting, it was very signifying to hold this meeting at the Pera Palace. It was like we all together, women from all Middle Eastern countries tell all –the men, all Middle Eastern governments or the previous as well as present Western colonialists: “Here we are, as women from the Middle East! From now on we are the owners and deciders on our bodies and sexualities, and thus our lives! Now, we own the power, which we’ve always had.”

Above image is from The European Support Team Conference
(December 2009), Pinar Ilkkaracan is presenting about success of
"The Campaign for the Reform of the Turkish Penal Code from a
Gender Perspective (2002-2004)"


Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways, an independent women’s NGO, was founded in 1993 with the aim of promoting women’s human rights in Turkey and on the international level. Since its foundation, WWHR has become a widely renowned non-governmental organization around the globe. Through years of activism, advocacy and lobbying, WWHR – NEW WAYS has contributed significantly to various legal reforms in Turkey, networking in Muslim societies and promotion of women’s human rights at the United Nations (UN) level. WWHR-New Ways also works as the international coordination office of the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR). Since 2005, WWHR - NEW WAYS has consultative status with the Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN.
For more information, please visit the following link:

- This interview is conducted by Bircan Ünver for The Light Millennium with Pinar Ilkkaracan on January 20, 2010 in Istanbul, Turkey. The interview was transcribed by Irmak Karayal, and published in June 2010.

Special Thanks to: Pinar Ilkkaracan for her participation to this interview, and given a great support for its outcome.

- For Profile of Pinar ILKKARACAN please click

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EVERYTHING SHOULD BE UNDER THE SUN: YES to the Global Peace Movement, YES to Loving & Caring Each Other, YES to Greatness in Humanity, YES to Saving Our Unique Mother Earth, YES to Great Dreams For Better Tomorrows, YES to Emerging Positive Global Energy, YES to National and Global Transparency, and YES to Lighting Our Souls & Minds.
We have only one WORLD yet! If we destroy it, where else will we go? NO to New Nuclear Weapons - NO to Star Wars - NO to New Nuclear Targets...NO to Weapons In Space -
NO to New Pretexts For Nuclear War - NO to Nuclear Testing - NO to All Types Of Weapons & War & War Culture...

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