The video above shows the so-called Night March in 2012. Since 2003, the Socialist Feminist Collective of Istanbul has been organizing the march every year on the evening of March 8th. The march takes place at the main shopping street, İstiklal Caddesi, in the district of Beyoğlu, and it is attended by several hundreds of feminists. The song "Olur Olmaz," which is added to the video, was written by the music collective Bandista from Istanbul on the occasion of Women's Day 2012 and has since been heard at many feminist events. To the right you can find the translation of the song.
The 8th of March is central to the study of feminist movements in Turkey: Following the sociologist Foucault, it can be considered a transnational discursive event that concentrates and increases the visibility of women and gender-political positions, including the manner in which they are negotiated (see Niederkofler et al 2011, p.9).
As „Dünya Emekçi Kadınlar Günü" (World Working Women's Day) suggests – the term used until the 1970s – the day's roots can be traced back to the country's communist movements. According to historical sources, International Women's Day in Turkey was celebrated for the first time underground in 1921 by female members of the Turkish Communist Party (TKP) in Ankara. It was not until 1975 that proof of an official event on the occasion of International Women's Day can be found. The Progressive Women's Union (İKD), made up mostly by (former) members of the TKP and members of the Revolutionary Worker's Union Confederation DİSK, celebrated the March 8th officially for the first time.
During the course of the military coup in 1980 it was forbidden to celebrate International Women's Day. In 1984, feminist movements that had started to organizing in the 1980s and leftist organisations officially celebrated March 8th – but for the most part, separately. The magazine Pazartesi organized a large communal event among socialists, Kurdish women's movements, and feminists using the slogan "Finally organized!" at the 1997 Women's Day in the district of Șişli in Istanbul.
Today International Women's Day in Turkey is called "Sekiz Mart (8th of March),"Dünya Kadınlar Günü" (World Women's Day) or "Uluslararası Emekçi Kadınlar Günü" (International Working Women's Day).
For several years, the biggest event takes place in Istanbul's traditionally liberal district of Kadıköy. In 2013, for example, around 10,000 women participated in a protest march and a women's party that had been organized by the 8th-of-march-women's-alliance. More than 35 different groups, composed of autonomous women's organisations, democratic mass organisations, work- and labour organisations, magazines, and women from political parties presented themselves and their claims during the protest march. The event was characterized particularly by Kurdish women, organized into the Kurdish-leftist Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Kurdish women's movement (DÖKH). Their identity becomes visible through the traditional Kurdish clothing they wear on March 8th.
The day offers the opportunity to formulate common demands in relation to current debates. In March 2013 there had been intense peace negotiations between the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, and the Turkish government. With the slogan "We are organized in resistance to gender-based discrimination, war, and poverty, against violence and against the exploitation of our labour force!" they demanded women's participation at the peace talks, the solving of the murder of the three Kurdish activists Sakine Cansız, Fidan Doğan, and Leyla Şaylemez in Paris, as well as the release of Kurdish political prisoners.
In addition, around 200 other events took place within the framework of International Women's Day in Istanbul: demonstrations, protest rallies, campaigns, press releases, award ceremonies, discussion meetings, lectures and seminars, Koran classes for women, information desks, book- and magazine publications, women's parties, meetings, art and culture events, as well as the distribution of flowers.
Similar to Valentine's and Mother's Day, March 8th in contemporary Turkey usually involves the distribution of flowers and other commercial offerings. Therefore activists criticize the commercialization and de-politicization of Women's Day and demand the radical re-appropriation of the event.
Furthermore, there are discussions within the women's and gender movements scene in Istanbul questioning the possibility of a common policy, given the fact that their ideologies, claims, and definitions of the "category woman" differ significantly. The debates are especially concerned with the subject of women's and gender policies: Who owns the 8th of March? Which women are represented on International Women's Day and who decides whether a group may or may not take part? At the three alliance events on March 8th, 2013 in Istanbul, for example, Muslim women('s movements) and Kemalist women('s movements) and their demands were nearly invisible and inaudible.
Nevertheless, the March 8th women's alliance represents a meeting and communication space – in Istanbul as well as in other cities – for different organizations and activists, which can also be used beyond March 8th for mobilization in regards to certain gender topics. Dialogue and common action – which simultaneously reflect on differences and power distributions – seem necessary, particularly in times of religious-conservative upheaval in Turkey, which predominantly has a negative effect on women and their freedom.
Lyrics and Music: Bandista (Turkey, 2012)
Let the father, the husband come
Let your police, your state come
Your ministers shall give me my rights
I don't want your scraps
Let the Martians do the housework
Let me keep the broom, if I am the witch
I will have a child if I want to
If I don't, let the line die out
Screw the nuclear family
I have thrown off the shackles
I am no longer a sister, no longer a lady
I will not fit your mold
She does not stay silent about the murders
She does not sit like a pillow in the corner
She does not try to keep up appearances
She is writing history, she is not just an extra
Turn the world upside down
He can beat his chest, he cannot beat you
Let your sisters hear your voice
The women shall take the streets
I cannot stay at home any longer
Take the streets for emancipation
I am no longer a sister, no longer a lady
I will not fit your mold.
Inspired by one of the slogans coined at the end of the 90's by the feminist movement in Turkey, this song is a mischievous rebellion against the male dominance that infuses everyday practices; against sexism and the "household work" it imposes; against the "nuclear family" as the site of oppression, sexism, moralism, violence and exploitation. It is a call to organizing and struggle; a call to the street and the square towards writing our own histories.