The PEN Women’s Manifesto and Updates on Freedom of Speech in Turkey

by    /  May 10, 2018  / No comments

Group photo: Author Zeynep Göğüş, PEN Turkey President Zeynep Oral, Award recipient Nazan Moroğlu, poet Inci Asena -Duygu Asena’s sister, with film critic and translator Sevin Okyay, Tarık Günersel, short story writer and General Secretary Tülin Dursun, and Vice-President Halil Ibrahim Özcan, who is also the Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee.

Women’s Rights in Turkey and the PEN Women’s Manifesto

Aggression against women has increased alarmingly in Turkey during the past decade. Not only by male civilians but also by the police. Severe verbal attacks of some right-wing newspapers against Turkish women in Western clothes showing their hair and legs have been provoking these ignorant attackers.

But for this column, I prefer to share a positive visual instead of one displaying the brutal police force against womn’s peaceful demonstration in Ankara.

As PEN Turkey Centre, we held a meeting for the award ceremony in relation to March 8th, International Women’s Day, which originated thanks to the struggle of women workers in the United States.

PEN Turkey Women’s Rights Award in the name of the late feminist novelist and journalist Duygu Asena has been presented to the activist lawyer Mrs. Nazan Moroğlu, who is also an author and academic.

Hosted by Goethe Institute in Istanbul, the award ceremony gave a chance to exchange views on the present situation in Turkey in a global context.

PEN International Declaration on Women’s Rights was mentioned as a vital contribution.

The PEN International Women’s Manifesto was prepared last year. Below is an excerpt:

The first and founding principle of the PEN Charter asserts that ‘literature knows no frontiers’. These frontiers were traditionally thought of as borders between countries and peoples. For many women in the world – and for almost all women until relatively recently – the first, and the last and perhaps the most powerful frontier was the door of the house she lived in: her parents’ or her husband’s home.

  1. Wor(l)ds in Danger, a column by Tarik Günersel
  2. Life is words in action, literature is action in words.
  3. Humans are about to destroy their spaceship Earth. Some of them are aware of this and they try to change the course of events. Will they succeed? Will more humans be alarmed and do something?
  4. Literature is vital and translators are messengers of world peace.
  5. Though I shall focus on the literary scene in Turkey and its problems regarding freedom of expression, I shall not omit the other parts of our planet. Today local is global and vice versa.
  6. Tarik Günersel
  7. Poet, playwright, actor, and director Tarık Günersel worked at Istanbul City Theater as a dramaturg.
  8. His works include Breaths of Infinity (a mosaic of poems) and My 300th Birthday Speech (short stories). His Becoming consists of his aphorisms and various ideas from world wisdom.
  9. His plays include Billennium, Nero and Agrippina, Sociology of Shit, Threat and Virtually Yours. He has written four libretti for the composer Selman Ada: Ali Baba & 40, Blue Dot, Forbidden Love, and Another Planet. His translations into Turkish include works by Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Vaclav Havel and Savyon Liebrecht. His presentation of World Poetry Day to PEN International in 1997 led to its adoption by UNESCO. As the former president of PEN Turkey Center he was elected to PEN International Board in Tokyo from 2010 to 2012. In 2013 he initiated the Earth Civilization Project with the collaboration of several intellectuals from around the planet.

For women to have free speech, the right to read, the right to write, they need to have the right to roam physically, socially and intellectually. There are few social systems that do not regard with hostility a woman who walks by herself.

PEN believes that violence against women, in all its many forms, both within the walls of a home or in the public sphere, creates dangerous forms of censorship. Across the globe, culture, religion and tradition are repeatedly valued above human rights and are used as arguments to encourage or defend harm against women and girls.

PEN believes that the act of silencing a person is to deny their existence. It is a kind of death. Humanity is both wanting and bereft without the full and free expression of women’s creativity and knowledge.


1. NON-VIOLENCE: End violence against women and girls in all of its forms, including legal, physical, sexual, psychological, verbal and digital; promote an environment in which women and girls can express themselves freely, and ensure that all gender-based violence is comprehensively investigated and punished, and compensation provided for victims.

2. SAFETY: Protect women writers and journalists and combat impunity for violent acts and harassment committed against women writers and journalists in the world and online.

3. EDUCATION: Eliminate gender disparity at all levels of education by promoting full access to quality education for all women and girls, and ensuring that women can fully exercise their education rights to read and write.

4. EQUALITY: Ensure that women are accorded equality with men before the law;, condemn discrimination against women in all its forms and take all necessary steps to eliminate discrimination and ensure the full equality of all people through the development and advancement of women writers.

5. ACCESS: Ensure that women are given the same access to the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to enable the full and free participation and public recognition of women in all media and across the spectrum of literary forms. Additionally, ensure equal access for women and girls to all forms of media as a means of freedom of expression.

6. PARITY: Promote the equal economic participation of women writers, and ensure that women writers and journalists are employed and paid on equal terms to men without any discrimination.

Cumhuriyet Journalist Released

The leading secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet’s journalist and PEN member Ahmet Şık was released after being kept in prison for almost 1.5 years. His first comment was that we should be angry rather than joyful because of the release. He was and is right: let’s not forget that his unfair imprisonment is a systematic misuse of power, which has caused a lot to many intellectuals, and that so many of us are still in prison.

Mom and Baby in Prison

Teacher Ayşe Çelik has been sent to prison for a year with her baby girl. Last year she joined a live TV show by phone and said “Children should not die in southeastern Turkey.” So she was accused of “propaganda of a terrorist organization.”

Early Election

Erdoğan’s AK Party and his ally MHP decided to hold an early election on June 24th, 1.5 years before the normal agenda.

If the PKK stops talking, which is unlikely, the opposition may have a chance. Otherwise, a significant amount of people will think that the opposition does not distance itself from terrorism and they will once again vote for Erdoğan. The pro-government media already accuses the opposition for not being “national and local” and of being tools of the USA.

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