Threats against women’s rights no longer a discussion for the AKP, says MP Özlem Zengin

Özlem Zengin, a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and notorious for discriminatory remarks against women critical of the Turkish government, complained on a television program that it had become impossible to discuss women’s rights in her party.

“I feel extremely lonely in the party and very disappointed about the discussions around women’s issues,” she told the pro-government A Haber news channel.

The New Welfare Party (YRP), a small political party chaired by Fatih Erbakan, is discussing terms for joining the People’s Alliance led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and one of its demands is that the president repeal Law No. 6284 for protection of the family and the prevention of violence against women.

While the Turkish government has agreed to consider repealing the law, activists across the country have expressed outrage, saying it is the only legal measure against gender-based violence.

In a previous statement made in parliament, Zengin had said Law No. 6284 was a “red line” and therefore, non-negotiable. She was supported by Derya Yanık, the minister for family and social affairs, who said the law was crucial for the protection of women and that its repeal was not even a subject for discussion.

Zengin was harshly criticized by more conservative party members for the statement and targeted on social media.

“I don’t want to talk about this law any longer since I’ve become the target of criticism and insult on social media,” she said on A Haber. “I have been receiving threatening text messages, which is a very serious problem. Of course, we can debate Law No. 6284, but what I’m criticizing is the form of this discussion.”

On the one hand by saying the law’s repeal could be open to discussion Zengin demonstrated she was not firm in her stance for gender equality; on the other hand, she criticized the framework of the discussions.

“The debates are mainly carried out by men,” she said, “and when female politicians present an opinion they are immediately targeted, and although the law directly involves women and their safety, they are not included in the current debates about its repeal.”

Zengin added that she and her colleague Yanık had made statements in favor of the law with the knowledge and permission of Erdoğan, insinuating this alone should be a reason to be shielded from criticism.

Although Zengin is supportive of the law for protection of the family and the prevention of violence against women, she has not always been consistent in supporting gender equality. The AKP deputy is known for calling victims of unlawful prison strip-searches as “disreputable” and “immoral” during a speech in the Turkish parliament.

Zengin said if illegal strip-searches had occurred in prison, then the victims should have reported them immediately. Zengin added that allegations concerning strip-searches were “fictional” and were used by “terrorist organizations” to disparage the government.

She has accused opposition deputies, who brought these claims to parliament, of “terrorizing the legislature.”

In March 2021, Zengin came under fire for alleging that women who were jailed as part of a government-led crackdown on the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in 2016, deliberately conceive in conjugal rooms to create the perception that women in Turkey were jailed with their babies.

Conjugal rooms, also called “pink rooms,” were introduced as a prison reform by the Turkish government in 2013, with inmates allowed to spend between two and 24 hours with their spouses depending on circumstances.

Although inmates incarcerated on Gülen charges are prohibited from using these rooms, Zengin claimed they were purposefully getting pregnant to tarnish Turkey’s image. Lawyers and opposition MPs called out Zengin for blatantly lying to the public.

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