ISTANBUL: Strong reaction to a plan for a women-only park in Istanbul has focused attention on the divisions between Turkey”s secularists and supporters of the ruling AK Party, which has its roots in political Islam.
Critics of the plan see it as the latest sign that the ruling party is trying to push through an Islamist agenda, but several female voters in the district said yesterday they loved the idea.
News that the AK Party-run municipality of Bagcilar was planning to create a park exclusively for women, reported in the local press this week, prompted a fierce reaction among secular Turks who say the party is trying to give Islam a greater role in public life.
The controversy reached parliament on Thursday, when opposition CHP lawmaker Bihlun Tamayligil asked the assembly: “Can you reconcile the principles of the Republic with applying the segregation of men and women?” according to local media.
The row is the latest of several between pro-secular and Islamist-leaning camps in Turkey, which is officially secular but overwhelmingly Muslim.
Municipalities run by the AK Party caused outrage in some quarters last year by banning alcohol in restaurants they run. Islam bans alcoholic drinks. The party also wants to lift a ban on women wearing headscarves in official buildings.
Tension between the two sides is likely to increase as the November 2007 general election draws nearer.
“They”re talking about (protecting women from) sexual harassment but this is an Islamist agenda … it’s very obviously an application of harem-selamlik (separating men and women),” Pinar Ilkkaracan, founder of the NGO Women for Women’s Human Rights, told
In some parts of Istanbul skimpily-clad women hop between nightclubs, but in Bagcilar, where nearly all the women on the street wear headscarves, the AK Party seems to be in tune with voters — at least with a handful of local women.
“It’s good, I hope it happens. It”d be more comfortable,” 21-year-old textile worker Nurgul Karayanik told Reuters in the neighbourhood. “Men make comments, leer at women a lot in Turkey,” she said.
Some were puzzled by other women’s opposition to the plan.
“There are women who don’t go out because of men … because (they think) it’s sinful. And men make comments, it’s uncomfortable,” said 49-year-old Muteber Kucukkaraca.
Local mayor Feyzullah Kiyiklik, angered by the controversy, declined to give any details.
“We haven’t finished the park yet, we haven’t opened it, no decision has been taken … but if you are interested, the day we open our park you could also come, inshallah,” he said.