Twisting Gender Justice in the Cause of Backlash: The Case of Turkey

Anti-gender discourses, a growing opposition to gender analysis, and a specific interpretation of ‘gender justice’ replacing ‘gender equality’ have gained visibility in Turkey following the rise of the Islamist de-democratisation approach of the ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP). The party initiated a re-patriarchalisation process, pressuring women’s and LGBTQI+ activism.

AKP’s approach to gender presents an intriguing case. In its initial years, during Turkey’s European Union (EU) candidacy, the Islamist government, attempted to make legislative changes that would actually improve women’s position in society. However, with their consolidation of power and the end of Turkey’s candidacy, AKP gradually and more pointedly moved toward women’s traditional roles in the family as mothers and wives.

Signing the Istanbul Convention

When Turkey signed the Istanbul Convention in 2011 there was an emphasis on the empowerment of women. Professor Feride Acar, the first president of the monitoring body of the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe, Group of Experts on Action Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO), was in a pivotal position in finalising the treaty, also playing a part in naming the agreement after Istanbul.

Turkey was the first country to sign the convention. However, double-dealing was visible in the government’s policy making even then, as in the same year, AKP transformed the Ministry of State for Women and Family to the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. This was a red flag for the women’s movements, particularly about conservative attempts of the government to consolidate women’s domesticised status and rights within the framework of family.

Later in 2019, the government nominated another candidate to replace Prof Acar in contradiction with GREVIO’s candidacy criteria. After taking control of the convention’s monitoring mechanism, the AKP regime started to promote Islamic notions of ‘fıtrat’ (‘natural’ attributes of sexes) as the basis of their controversial definition of ‘gender justice’ more explicitly in public affairs.

With fıtrat, gender justice is celebrated as an Islamist alternative to the perspectives of equality advocated by ‘the Western imposed gender ideology’ in an increasingly authoritarian atmosphere. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan emphasised women’s ‘delicate nature’ in his speeches several times, insisting that ‘women and men could not be treated equally because it goes against the laws of nature’, and he blamed feminists for not understanding ‘the special status attributed to mothers by Islam’.

Turkey’s Withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention

Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention ten years after signing it, announced by a presidential decree at midnight on March 19, 2021. Ironically, the first country that signed the convention also became the first to withdraw. Under the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, massive protests by women’s and LGBTQI+ organisations took place in the streets and on social media challenging the government’s decision.

Women’s rights organisations and bar associations filed lawsuits against the decision to withdraw with a solid argument that Turkey ratified the Istanbul Convention via its National Assembly and thus withdrawal by a presidential decree is highly disputable. Despite this,the decision was declared final.

While the protests and challenges to the decision were continuing, President Erdoğan answered questions about the withdrawal in a live broadcast with university students. He argued that the convention does not bring an added value to the protection of women’s rights in Turkey, as national law No. 6284 already offers the required protection. He further presented Islam’s condemnation of violence against women as a formal reassurance.

Attempts to rationalise the withdrawal from the convention contributed to increased awareness of the backlash. The convention was declared a threat against Turkish family values in several speeches by government officials and was targeted as an untrustworthy tool of European cultural expansionism. This backlash gradually reached Law No. 6284, which was passed in 2012 for regulating the prevention of gender-based violence, as some members of the parliament asked for its annulment, with similar arguments of it being Western-centric. Özlem Zengin, a female attorney and vice president of AKP even found herself as the target of backlash actors, including her fellow party members, and received threats for stating that Law No. 6284 should continue to be the red line in Turkey against the violence targeting women.

Women’s movements have a long history of pressuring policymakers and amending laws in Turkey. Revisions in the Turkish Civil Code such as on article 159, which required women to have the permission of their husbands to be able to work (abolished in July 1992) and article 153, which entailed the sole use of the surname of the husband (changed in May 1997) were products of women’s movements.  These amendments came as Turkish laws harmonised with European codes as part of the country’s accession to the EU. When the accession negotiations came to a standstill in 2018, gender backlash gained more currency, significantly weakening the rights and freedoms of women and increasing violence against women and gender minorities.

The ‘New Turkey’

With his latest election victory in June 2023, President Erdoğan has now initiated the discussion for a new constitution, which is expected to bring further regressive revisions to gender equality. Immediately following the election victory, President Erdoğan addressed his electorate in Istanbul from the top of his campaign bus, referring to every member of the opposition as ‘LGBT supporters [LGBT+]’ and he joined his supporters as they booed the opposition, continuing the tradition he started in his rallies before the election. LGBTQI+ has now become a shorthand that labels diverse strands of political opposition in the ‘New Turkey’ as a threat to the ‘sacredness of family’, and the ‘future of the nation’.

AKP refrains from using the term ‘gender’ in official documents, which is adopted by the new Turkish state in its authoritarian turn toward anti-gender directions. With Islamist nuances added to reverse its international use, ‘gender justice’ is turned in the state-sponsored lexicon and into a tool of backlash. In this lexicon, women are defined as ‘extensions’ of men; as mothers, wives and daughters.

Islamist women’s government organised and non-governmental organisation (NGOs and GONGOs) such as KADEM, normalise the neopatriarchal culture that limits women’s social presence with their participation in the labour market, as they collude by putting an added emphasis on women’s association with motherhood.  Such pro-family discourses work to justify conservative neoliberal versions of masculinities in Turkey. It also shows that anti-gender approaches in AKP policies are rooted in their Islamist challenge to the universal notions produced by a long tradition of struggle for gender equality.

In the current period of backlash in Turkey, anti-gender politics plays a critical role in the strengthening of an authoritarian regime . The executive presidency regime bypassed the National Assembly in the process of withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention. The neopatriarchal state under the Islamist AKP, creates new hegemonic perspectives via pro-family and anti-gender nationalism, and the Islamist biopolitics in civil society in the ‘New Turkey’ demands the emergence of a new patriarchal bargain with the complex power relations around gender.

Event: Counting the cost: funding flows, gender backlash and counter backlash

Major political and social shifts are stifling the possibility of gender justice across the world. Analysing this backlash as operating on global, regional and local scales in this webinar, we ask, where is the money?

While predominant anti-gender backlash movements and actors appear well financed, those countering backlash face significant financial challenges, heightened in the context of rising authoritarianism and shrinking civic space.

In this event, we were joined by leading experts and partners from Countering Backlash and beyond. Isabel Marler from the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) presented a mapping of sources of funding for anti-rights actors, and interrogate what is effective in countering anti-rights trends, while Lisa VeneKlasen (Independent Strategist, Founder and Former Executive Director of JASS), explored ‘where is philanthropy on anti-gender backlash’? Turning to national restrictions, Sudarsana Kundu and Arundhati Sridhar from our partner organisation Gender at Work Consulting – India focused on the impacts of funding laws for women’s rights organising in India.


  • 12 December 2023
  • 13:00 – 14:30 UK time


  • Lisa VeneKlassen, Independent Strategist, Founder and Former Executive Director of JASS (Just Associates)
  • Isabel Marler, Lead, Advancing Universal Rights and Justice, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
  • Sudarsana Kundu, Executive Director, Gender at Work Consulting – India
  • Arundhati Sridhar, Gender at Work Consulting – India



Watch the recording

Conference: Anti-feminist backlash in the Global South

Anti-feminist backlash is gaining momentum. It is essential for feminist organisers, activists, and researchers to collaborate to effectively counter this backlash.

The eruption of feminist responses to this backlash is evidence of just how important the concept of backlash is to feminist theorising and mobilising. Around the world, journals have devoted entire issues to the study of backlash. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Working Group on discrimination against women and girls released a paper on gender equality and gender backlash, arguing that in light of the ‘increasing misuse of the concept of gender [and] attacks on gender (equality) and women’s rights,’ it is ‘important to take stock of these developments, to counter the anti-gender attacks, and to clarify the use of the concept in relation to [OHCHR’s] mandate’.

In 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution ‘on experiencing a backlash in women’s rights and gender equality,’, and The New York Times published an article on backlash with the following tagline: ‘The rise of authoritarianism has catalyzed a rollback of gender violence protections and support systems’.

But it is essential that we do not overlook local specificities of backlash. In Lebanon, anti-feminist backlash extends beyond its normative definition as a hostile reaction or response to progress made within or by the women’s movement. Instead, anti-feminist backlash is embedded across institutions and social structures in Lebanon. This makes anti-feminist backlash less of a targeted response to a singular event; rather, anti-feminist backlash is systemic and diffusive in several contexts in the Global South.

This timely and important three-day hybrid conference, live from Beirut, Lebanon, and hosted by Countering Backlash partner Arab Institute for Women (AIW), will bring together feminist and gender experts to share, produce, and build knowledge on anti-feminist backlash. They will compare counter backlash strategies and build cross-sectoral and transnational alliances among anti-backlash actors in the Global South.

The sessions will be led by leading organisations, researchers, and activists from Countering Backlash, the Middle East region and beyond, including: the Lebanese American University, BRAC BIGD, the California State University, the Institute of Development Studies, Nucleus of Interdisciplinary Women’s Studies of the Federal University of Bahia (NEIM), Sakeena, University of Belgrade, and more.

Date and time

20 – 22 June


In-person: LAU Beirut Campus, Arab Institute for Women, Beirut, Lebanon

Online: WebEx


The sessions will be conducted in English.

Find out more about each day of the conference below.

20 June

Join us on 20 June for the Anti-feminist backlash in the Global South conference. You can sign up to exciting sessions and hear from leading gender-progressive researchers and activists from Lebanon, Brazil, Inida, Palestine, Tunisia, Turkey, the UK, and the USA.

All times are UTC+3.

Register to attend the 20 June sessions

  • Keynote Speech / 09:30 – 10:30 (UTC+3)
    • Maya Mikdashi

  • Panel 1: Backlash: Understanding Power Dynamics / 11:00 12:30 (UTC+3)
    • Moderator: Lydia Both – Program Director at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
    • Speakers:
      • Elif Savas: “Gendering the Far-Right: A Comparative Perspective” – Ph.D. Student, Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst
      • Hasina Khan: “Muslim Women’s Rights in the Context of Muslim Personal Laws in India: Between State Repression and Patriarchy” – Founder and Member of the Bebaak Collective 
      • Isis Nusair: “Anti-Feminist Backlash, Counter Strategies for Resistance and Modes of Building Transnational Alliances” – Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies & International Studies, Denison University
      • Caroline Ramos: “Redpill Movement in Brazil: Straining a Re-thinking of Identity Politics Under Neoliberalism” – Researcher in Gender and Women’s Studies, American University in Cairo (AUC)

  • Panel 2: Backlash Against Gender Rights: Exploring Global and Regional Perspectives / 13:30 – 15:00 (UTC+3)
    • Moderator: Lina Kreidie – Academic Director of the Tomorrow’s Leaders Gender Scholars (TLS) Program, LAU
    • Speakers:
      • Amel Grami: “Learning from the Anti-Feminist Backlash in Tunisia” – Professor of Gender Studies, University of Manouba
      • Nurseli Yeşim Sünbüloğlu: “Masculinist Backlash and KADEM” – Visiting Faculty Member in the Core Program and the Director of the Women’s Studies Research Centre, Kadir Has University
      • Islah Jad: “The Backlash Against the CEDAWISTS: The Case of Palestine” – Associate Professor and Lecturer on Gender Issues and Politics, Women’s Studies Institute and Cultural Studies Department, Birzeit University
      • Abir Chebaro: “Misogynistic Discourse and Other Types of VAWP as Tools for Backlash on Feminism in Lebanon” – Gender Consultant and Activist

  • Panel 3: Linking Backlash and Crises: Why Now, Why Here, There and (Almost) Everywhere? / 15:30 – 17:00 (UTC+3)
    • Moderator: Sohela Nazneen – Research Fellow, IDS
    • Speakers:
      • Nay El RahiResearcher and Activist, AiW-LAU
      • Jerker EdstromResearch Fellow, IDS
      • Nurseli Yeşim Sünbüloğlu Visiting Faculty Member in the Core Program and the Director of the Women’s Studies Research Centre, Kadir Has University
      • Teresa Sacchet: “How Far is the Concept of Backlash Helpful in Analyzing Gender-Based Political Violence? Reflections from Brazil” – Professor and Researcher of the Graduation Program in Interdisciplinary Studies on Women, Gender, and Feminism, Federal University of Bahia

21 June

Join us on 21 June for the Anti-feminist backlash in the Global South conference. You can sign up to exciting sessions and hear from leading gender-progressive researchers and activists from Lebanon, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Tunisia, and more.

All times are UTC+3.

Register to attend the 21 June sessions

  • Panel 4: Countering Backlash Against Gender Rights: Innovative Practices and Lessons Learned / 09:00 – 10:30 (UTC+3)
    • Moderator: Zina Sawwaf – Assistant Professor of Gender Studies, Social & Education Sciences Department, LAU
    • Speakers:
      • Deepta Chopra: “Innovative Strategies to Counter ‘Cyclical Backlash’: Women Protestors in Shaheen Bagh” – Senior Research Fellow, IDS
      • Diana Ishaqat: “Lessons and Experiences: The Anti-Feminist Backlash at the Protection of Orphan Women in Jordan” – Communications and Fundraising Manager, Sakeena
      • Faten Mbarek: “Can Intersectional Movements be a Solution to Counter Anti-Feminist Backlash – Case Study from Tunisia” – Assistant Professor, University of Gafsa, and the Head of Department of Sociology, Higher Institute of Applied Studies in Humanity
      • Sriya Satuluri: “10 Steps Forward And 3 Steps Backwards: A Journey Towards Creating a Gender Just & Violence Free World” – Social Worker and Mental Health Professional, Swayam

  • Panel 5: Misogyny, Morality, and State Repression: Anti-Feminist Backlash in Pakistan, Malaysia, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh / 11:00 – 13:00 (UTC+3)
    • Moderator: Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss – Director of the Title IX Office, LAU   
    • Speakers:
      • Azza Basarudin: “Anti-Feminist Backlash: The Case of Malaysia” – Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, California State University, Long Beach
      • Tina Beyene: “Anti-Feminist Backlash: The Case of Ethiopia” – Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, California State University, Northridge
      • Khanum Shaykh: Anti-Feminist Backlash: The Case of Pakistan – California State University, Northridge
      • Maheen Sultan & Shravasti Roy Nathan: “Reform of the Hindu Family Law under a Muslim Majority State: Intersectional Backlash Dynamics: The Case of Bangladesh” – Senior Fellow of Practice and Co-Founder of the Centre for Gender and Social Transformation, BRAC University / Research Associate, Gender and Social Transformation Cluster, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development

  • Panel 6: Workshop: Grasping Patriarchal Backlash: Briefing and Interactive Gameplay – Chess / 14:00 – 16:30 (UTC+3)
    • Facilitator: Jerker Edstrom – Research Fellow, IDS

22 June

Join us on 22 June for the Anti-feminist backlash in the Global South conference. You can sign up to exciting sessions and hear from leading gender-progressive researchers and activists from Lebanon, Bangladesh, Morocco, Serbia, UN Women, and more.

All times are UTC+3.

Register to attend the 22 June sessions


  • Panel 7: Backlash in the Media: Analyzing the Role of Traditional, Digital, and Alternative Media Outlets / 09:00 – 10:30 (UTC+3)
    • Moderator: Diana Mukalled – Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Daraj
    • Speakers: 
      • Omar Khaled: “Voices of Change: Exploring the Impact of Alternative Media Platforms in Combating Hate Speech Against Feminism in Lebanon” – General Manager, Spot Cast in Lebanon
      • Nađa Bobičić: “Anti-Gender Discourse in Serbian Mainstream Media” – Research Associate, University of Belgrade
      • Israr Hasan & Sharin Shajahan Naomi: “Online Misogyny in Bangladesh: Facebook as a Site of Anti-Feminist Backlash” – Research Associate, BRAC James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University / Gender Expert, BRAC James P. Grant School of Public Health

  • Panel 8: Breaking Barriers: The Struggle for Gender Rights and Freedoms / 11:00 – 12:30 (UTC+3)
    • Moderator: Gretchen King – Assistant Professor of Multimedia Journalism and Communication, Department of Communication, Arts & Languages, LAU
    • Speakers:
      • Sanae Ansar Ech-Chotbi: “Anti-Feminist Cyberviolence as Perceived by Activists: The Case of Morocco” – Ph.D. Candidate at the Centre for Communication and Digital Media, University of Erfurt
      • Nastaran Saremy: “Woman, Life, Freedom Movement in Iran and its Regional Connections” – Ph.D. Student in Media and Communication Studies, Simon Fraser University
      • Iffat Jahan Antara & Pragyna Mahpara: “Silencing Dissent: How ‘Piety Policing’ and ‘Cancel Culture’ are Undermining Gender Justice Activism Online in Bangladesh” – Senior Research Associate, Gender and Social Transformation Cluster, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development / Researcher, Gender and Social Transformation Cluster, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development

  • Panel 9: Case Study on the Feminist Civil Society Platform in Lebanon / 12:30 – 13:00 (UTC+3)
    • Speakers:
      • Representative from the Feminist Platform (TBD)
      • Marianne Touma & Rima Al Mokdad: “Presentation of the Study Findings on Backlash in Lebanon” – UN Women
    • 12:30 – 13:00 (UTC+3)

  • Panel 10: Reflections on Backlash: A Conversation / 14:00 – 15:30 (UTC+3)
    • Moderator: Nay El-Rahi – Researcher and Activist, AiW-LAU
    • Speakers:
      • Sohela Nazneen: Research Fellow, IDS
      • Tessa Lewin: Research Fellow, IDS
      • Jerker Edstrom: Research Fellow, IDS


Research Grant
Purple Line: Framing the Backlash against Gender Equality and Strategies of Resistance in Turkey


Turkey announced in March 2021 its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention – a human rights treaty on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. This was despite intense protests from women’s right organisations and lawyers, and amidst national uprisings. The official statement from the Government to withdraw from the Convention stated that it “was hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality – which is incompatible with Türkiye’s social and family values.” This withdrawal resulted from the top-down and bottom-up backlash that has been ongoing since 2016, targeting women’s and LGBTQI+ rights. Increasing frequency of femicides, and incidents that violate civil and legal human rights are other significant consequences of this backlash. Women’s rights and LGBTQI+ organisations, amongst others, supported each other to counter the backlash against these rights.

Purpose of research

This grant will be used investigate top-down and bottom-up backlash against gender equality and women’s rights, as well as the strategies developed by women’s rights organisations and human rights activists to respond to this. The researcher will review existing literature, interview lawyers, feminist activists and academics The findings will be disseminated through podcasts, blogposts, and social media platforms.

Research Grant
Gender Backlash in Turkey: The Case of State-Sponsored KADEM


Promoting family-values and being active in campaigns against gender violence in Turkey has made KADEM a focus of gender backlash. KADEM (Kadın ve Demokrasi Derneği in Turkish, The Women and Democracy Association in English) is a government-sponsored Islamic feminist organisation in Turkey. The organisation is seen as an ‘acceptable face’ of women’s rights in the country and promotes conservative family-values in-line with the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi in Turkish) politics. This is seen as deeply patriarchal and opposed to any emancipatory feminist politics.

Purpose of research

The researcher will analyse KADEM’s publications, their media mentions, as well as carry out interviews with Islamic-feminist organisations and Islamic organisations. The aim is to support a network of feminist scholars working against gender backlash to pro-duce more efficient strategies to resist gender backlash in Turkey.