When tens of thousands in Turkey took to protesting the government, beginning at the end of May, the demographics were astonishing to many global observers: At least half of the protesters are women. What is it about Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government that has so many women fighting back? Sevi, a woman protestor who’s camping out in Gezi Park, told TIME,
The reason there are so many women out here is that this government is antiwomen. … They don’t want to see women in public spaces. They want to see them in the home. And women have had enough.
Turkish women have every right to be angry with their government. Erdoğan has voiced his opinion many times that abortions in the country should be banned and that women should have three children each. Last year Erdoğan said, “There is no difference between killing a baby in its mother’s stomach and killing a baby after birth.”
Erdoğan is also getting criticism for not doing enough to stop violence against women. About 39 percent of women in Turkey have been physically abused, according to a recent U.N. report. Turkish protesters have said their prime minister is attempting to bring conservative Islamic values to their secular state.
The protests began on May 28 in Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul as a relatively small campaign of 100 people to stop the park’s 600 trees from being cut down to make way for a shopping mall. When police used tear gas and water cannons against these peaceful protesters and burned their tents down, the protests gained traction and soon transformed into what was clearly an anti-government movement.
Despite the Turkish deputy prime minister apologizing for the excessive police force, thousands of Turkish people are still protesting in the streets, chanting sayings such as “Dictator resign!” One of these protesters, Ozge Cesur, told The New York Times that she and her friends aren’t satisfied with the apology:
The apology that we have been waiting for a long time [for] came far too late. … We will stay here until Erdogan himself comes up and takes us seriously in making decisions.
After 11 days of protests, with more than 5,000 people injured and three dead, Erdoğan did finally agree on Monday to meet with protesters. But his announcement sounded more like a threat than a promise to negotiate. Erdoğan has warned that his patience “has a limit” and that:
Those who attempt to sink the bourse [the stock market], you will collapse. [Some have accused the protesters of causing the recent downturn in Turkey’s economy.] …. If we catch your speculation, we will choke you. No matter who you are, we will choke you.
But while Erdoğan doesn’t seem to be willing to back down, neither do those demonstrating.
Protester Ozlem Altiok, chatting with friends in Gezi Park about Erdoğan’s policies (including his call for women to each have three children), said, “Would he like more children like us?”