Bodies on the streets: gender resistance and collectivity in the Gezi revolts

Bodies on the streets: gender resistance and collectivity in the Gezi revolts

The summer 2013 saw enormous public demonstrations in Istanbul which engraved an image of solidarity and change in the political history of Turkey. This sense of solidarity encompassed numerous, diverse groups from different political ideologies and identities, including prominent women and LGBT activists who have suffered from state oppression. A focus of occupation for this protest was centred on Gezi Park, and it not only enabled actors to experience new forms of mobilisation, but also altered the perception of gender on a greater scale during the revolts.

This paper, published in Interface, a journal for and about social movements, draws on the personal observations and oral testimonies of protesters to provide an overview of the driving forces behind the Gezi Park riots. A particular focus is placed on the specific forms of practice of mobilisation, and the question of how gendered bodies could build a collective identity through the immediate moments of solidarity, via reclaiming public space as politicised bodies during the revolts. The authors also address the potential ways in which these newly learnt strategies can be used for the future politics. It is hoped that the paper can stimulate further discussion on the future politics of gender activism in Turkey.

The paper begins by presenting the context of the demonstrations and riots, providing an outline of the political and social landscape for women, LGBT activists, and others, including repressive laws and policies imposed by the SKP government, e.g. concerning reproductive rights and women’s social lives. It goes on to describe the spontaneous and autonomous response of protesters, and how this created shared identity through the claiming of public space. Also discussed is how a multiplicity of perspectives interacted; on the one hand in solidarity, but on the other exposing differences yet to overcome (such as the use of ‘queer’ directed at politicians in a pejorative sense by white, male demonstrators, whilst LGBT activists marched shoulder-to-shoulder).

Testimonies from protesters, in-situ, are then presented, reflecting a variety of perspectives, before the paper reflects on envisioning the future of gender activism. The authors conclude that there is reason for optimism in light of the testimonies offered, Gender groups are encouraged to reflect on and learn from what happened at Gezi, and to ponder the possibilities that come with the formation of such a new, big, collective organism in terms of creating new realms outside of institutional politics.

Whether developing this recent gender solidarity into an institutional politics or not, the authors argue that it is vital to sustain this collective consideration, and to use it at an organisational level for reclaiming the restrained rights of ‘sister’ activist groups, despite their different micro-ideologies. Further, through social media, such practices of mobilisation, empowerment, and moments of solidarity, can teach and inspire groups in places that have recently experienced or are yet to experience similar uprisings.

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