Equality and human rights come in all forms, but this week’s blogs will focus on equality of the sexes. As one might suspect, as a female I am aware of and passionate about this topic. And, having returned from a trip to Turkey very recently, this topic is very much on my mind. One thing I appreciate about the University of Bergen, and about Norway in general, is the Norwegian ideal of equality. For example, as I’ve mentioned in a past blog, UiB has the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research (SKOK) which acts as an interdisciplinary research centre. SKOK strives to strengthen research pertaining to women and to gender throughout the university at large.
The experience of being a female, and one that probably stands out in Turkey (tall, pale, short-haired, possibly wearing a fedora), made me even more curious about the women there and the balance between cultural relativism, or respecting a culture instead of trying to impose different viewpoints upon it, with things that seem (to my culture anyway) unquestionable human rights, including equality of the sexes.
I say that my culture believes in human rights but let’s face it, the United States still has a long way to go on human rights issues including those relating to sex, gender, race, sexuality, the list could go on and on. But certainly, the values with which I have been inculcated created a dramatic tension with my experience walking down the street (stares, glares, and ogling abounded from both genders), interacting with shop clerks (who by and large would not acknowledge me even when I spoke, but would only interact and make eye contact with the male who accompanied me), and experiencing the culture (I missed out on the interiors of no doubt gorgeous mosques because of my reactionary nature to authority, conformity, sexist double standards paired with my difficult with confrontation… in other words I neither bring myself to don a headscarf, nor blatantly disrespect a culture which expected me to do so, so instead I sat in silent protest/reading for my thesis proposal outside of Bursa’s Green Mosque).
On my trip, I spoke with one Turkish native who said she feared that Turkey might go the in the same direction as Iran, a country which went from promoting women’s rights in the early 1960s including the right to vote, divorce protections, polygamy restrictions, and raising the legal age for females to marry from 13-15 years old up to 18 years old; to in 1967 repealing such protections, as well as requiring female government workers to observe Islamic dress code, barring married women from attending standard school, barring women from becoming judges, and again reducing the legal age of marriage for girls. If you’re curious about this time period in Iran, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels and the film based on them, Persepolis, illustrates it rather evocatively.
I can’t claim to have any specific insights into the Turkish women’s rights climate, but I wonder about Turkish women’s experience of being raised female, especially in the Islamic culture, I know whatever culture we’re raised in can be very powerful in subtly and not-so-subtly shaping our belief systems, I wonder how much access there is to other points of view for some women.
To read about the Turkish President’s view on women (they are designed for one thing, motherhood), click here. To read about Turkish women’s response to the deputy prime minister’s comment that decent women shouldn’t laugh in public, click here.
In many ways I think the United States and other countries have a lot to learn from Norway when it comes to women’s rights. Norway has struggled with issues like equal pay back in the 1970s, whereas in the United States it is still an ongoing issue. Norway also balances this type of issue focusing on women’s equality in the workplace with parental leaves for both mothers and fathers. Norway’s parliament also put into place a Gender Equality Act in 1978, which aims to support women through promoting equal opportunities for both women and men via non-discrimination in employment, cultural and professional advancement, and education.
There are several scholars from UiB who have studied Islam, or even Islam and gender issues, including Christine M. Jacobsen, Director of the Centre for Womens and Gender Research, and postdoc Marianne Bøe. You can check out their publications by looking at their bio pages (click their names above).
If you too are interested in the topic of women’s rights and women’s roles in different cultures, you might want to attend a lecture tomorrow (Wednesday 29th April). The Department of Foreign Languages and the Centre for Women’s and Gender Research have invited guest lecturer Hitomi Tonomura, Professor of History and Women’s Studies at The University of Michigan to speak. Her talk will offer a juxtaposition of Japan’s policies to expand women’s roles in politics and the workforce with the daily consciousness and experience of the average Japanese person using a popular TV show, “Disappointing Husband”, as a launching point for the presentation.
Come join me there tomorrow: 13.15 to 15.00 in Auditorium D at Sydneshaugen skole.