In an interview published in Cumhuriyet newspaper on 13 November 1990, about relationships before marriage, Minister of State for Family Cemil Çiçek said, “This is the approaching of people to each other with animal instincts. Is this a clothing store, you change it often like a dress? It is not possible to accept this. How is flirting different from prostitution?” His statement caused reactions and protest actions of women.
While a group of feminist women in Istanbul called on Cemil Çiçek to resign, they also called on all women to protest “that whistle sound” of Cemil Çiçek by making noise and whistling, starting from Saturday, November 24th.
“We will blow our whistle on the street, at work, at the bank, on the bus, on the ferry, in the kitchen, on the visiting day, in the toilet, wherever we remember Çiçek’s words and get angry. Of course, instead of a whistle, we can play trumpets, bells, drums, anything to express our anger. We call on all women to join the whistle protest and blow the whistle behind Cemil Çiçek.”
On Saturday, November 24, feminists held whistle-blowing protests on Istiklal Street in Istanbul. The police intervened in the action. Eighteen women were subjected to violence and detained. Seven women were immediately released. Eleven women were released after being detained for a few days.
It was not a coincidence that Cemil Çiçek was the Minister of State “for Family”, or the words spilling out of his mouth or that he called flirting a prostitute. The answers he gave to questions about topics such as youth, family, and women had integrity. Moreover, these words were a reflection of the government’s sexist policies towards women. According to the report on the “Turkish Family Structure” in the 6th Five-Year Development Plan, dissolution started in the family structure, and as a result of women’s participation in the working life, there were some changes in the traditional roles within the family. The sacred role of family headship given to the father in the Muslim-Turkish tradition was also weakened. In the report, the existence of a woman was defined by her role in the family. There were no women outside the family. The Motherland Party (ANAP) Government, which was in power at the time, made strengthening the family and protecting it against the dissolutions discussed in detail in the report one of its chief goals. Based on the information in the report, the “Family Research Institution” (29 December 1989) and the “Presidency of Status and Problems of Women” (April 1989) were established with two successive decrees.
The Family Research Institute, which was brought up to the agenda by ANAP that remained in power uninterruptedly from 1983 to 1991, was supported to be established by Turgut Özal during his term as Prime Minister and Presidency, and of which State Minister Cemil Çiçek was the founding father, was headed by Necmettin Türinay, member of the editorial board of the Yeniden Mücadele (Struggle Again) journal, which is described as “the most aggressive of all the journals which have strong ties with Islam”. Melih Gökçek also took his place among the managers of the institution.
Feminist women tried to raise their voices against these decrees by saying “No to the decrees against women”, distributed leaflets, and placed an advertisement in the newspaper titled “Women Say No” signed by hundreds of women. On November 2, 1990, 30 women held a divorce action to protest the decrees.
Translator: Gülcan Ergün
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan