The videos of the International Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Gender Equality in Turkey, held online on 23-24 May 2022, are on our YouTube channel for those who missed it.
Focusing on the theme of freedom of religion or belief and gender equality in Turkey, the conference aimed to explore and analyze human rights issues at the intersection of the right to freedom of religion or belief and gender equality, both of which are protected in core international human rights treaties.
Of the 21 presentations, 15 were selected from the submissions received to the call for papers. The conference provided an excellent opportunity for researchers to come together from different parts of the world and Turkey and from various fields of study such as sociology, cultural studies, anthropology, media, theology, political science, law, gender studies, history, educational sciences and social work.
In the welcoming remarks of the conference, Dr. Mine Yıldırım from the Freedom of Belief Initiative, stated that freedom of religion or belief and gender equality are often perceived as conflicting rights. She underlined, however, that according to the international human rights protection paradigm, both rights should be defended and protected without exception. She emphasized that, as in all human rights, it is necessary to defend these two rights without any hesitation, to try to explore synergies, to analyze the situation well where tensions and violations exist and to uphold human rights standards.
In the opening session chaired by Prof. Dr. Emrah Bertil Oder, Prof. Dr. Serpil Sancar discussed the state-religion relationship in Turkey in the context of gender equality. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Nadia Sonneveld, focusing on family law in Egypt, touched upon the pros and cons of freedom of religion. Dr. Marie Juul Petersen’s presentation focused on freedom of religion or belief, gender equality and sustainable development goals.
In “Religious Interpretations, Rituals, and Women’s Agency” session, chaired by Prof. Dr. Bedriye Poyraz, Nurgül Çelebi examined the position of women in the Christian tradition in particular with reference to Syriac women. Ruveyda Çınar addressed the areas where masculine norms strengthen patriarchy and gendered Islamic law. Additionally, she referred to Islamic practices, in which culture, as “religious authority” is normed with masculine discourses and transformed into tools of hegemony. Dr. Vanessa Rose de Obaldia, examined the principle of gender equality in the context of spatial and practical practices in cemevis and participant roles in faith-related institutions.
In the second session chaired by Işık Tüzün, the discussion centered on freedom of religion or belief and gender equality in the education system. In this context, Dr. Arzu Saldıray discussed the challenges experienced by Alevis, in the scope of the mandatory religious culture and ethics lessons from a gender perspective. Hazal Ocaklı, anaylzed freedom of religion and belief of girls in the context of parents’ right to religious education.
The session chaired by Kadriye Aysel Fidan featured experiences from the field and faith communities in the intersection of freedom of religion or belief and gender. In this context, Sena Arslan shared the experiences of the “Women in Mosques” campaign, which aims to strengthen women’s access to and participation in mosques. Kayra Akpınar discussed the position of women in Protestant churches, while Ceren Ataş evaluated Alevism on the basis of gender equality. Finally, Fatma Yavuz discussed whether the President of the Presidency of Religious Affairs can be a woman.
In the session titled “Representation of Religious Symbols in the Public Sphere” chaired by Dr. Ayşe Çavdar, Prof. Dr. İlknur Meşe evaluated the historical change regarding the headscarf issue, within the framework of the tense relation between freedom of belief, secularism and religious oppression, and shed light on the changing perception of youth on religion and freedom. Prof. Dr. Adelaide Madera analyzed the tensions underlying the multiple narratives regarding the headscarf and noted that depolarizing the legal-political conflict between religion and the public sphere could allow women to construct their autonomous understanding of religious messages and define their own identity in the public sphere. R. Özgün Kehya, analyzed Buket Alakuş’s film Der Hodscha und die Piepenkötter in terms of gender and religious representations and stated that women play an integral role in gaining certain religious rights in the film, and thus deconstructing gender stereotypes.
The “Body Politics and Islam” session was chaired by Prof. Dr. Betül Yarar. Zeynep Kuyumcu examined the sexual and Islamic negotiations of LGBT+ Muslims who experience a conflicting relationship with their sexual orientation, gender identity and Islam, and discussed the ways to develop inclusive spaces for various Islamic interpretations and beliefs. Dr. Duygu Altınoluk analyzed the narratives of university women who stopped wearing headscarf within the framework of feminist methodology and Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower. Burcu Kalpaklıoğlu, discussed how female preachers working on the Alo Fatwa line convey the Presidency of Religious Affairs’s discourses and fatwas on family and marriage, and how they reinterpret them according to the stories they listen to and their own experiences as women.
In the last session chaired by Assoc. Prof. Zehra Yılmaz, “Public(’s) Governance at the Intersection of Freedom of Belief and Gender” was discussed. Figen Vural discussed human rights, gender equality and freedom of religion or belief in the context of social work, as a profession based on human rights and dignity. Şehide Zehra Keleş Yüksel and Zelal Yalçın examined the nature of public employment in Turkey in terms of non-inclusive employment dynamics in the field of public social work. Furthermore, they examined the pubic service processes, which are public encounters, in terms of women’s encounter with each other, their relationship with the public and their public imaginations. Finally, Hümeyra Dinçer discussed how the idea of ”leading a Muslim life” was constructed and conveyed to Muslim women by female preachers appointed by the Presidency of Religious Affairs, focusing on the sermons they gave for the community of women in mosques.