Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Power to Ceyda Sungur, the Woman in Red in Turkey

Turkish riot policeman uses tear gas as people protest in Taksim Square
Source: Reuters

Young women in Turkey are bravely fighting on the streets to demand their rights. I had the great privilege of recently visiting Turkey in March through the Atlantic Council's Young Turkey, Young America program, funded by the State Department. Turkey is one of the most amazing countries I have ever visited, but it is definitely lacking in terms of full civil rights for all its citizens, especially women. Conservative Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has publicly advised that Turkish women should each have three children. Erdogan has also championed the use of female headscarves, although culturally and historically, most Turkish women choose not to veil.

Reports claim that many young women have fully participated in the recent protests. Most notably, the unknown "woman in red" has become an iconic image that has shocked and motivated supporters worldwide. Images of women and girls experiencing violence during protests are very common and often mobilize public support. However,  these women are often anonymous. Images of women as victims are more common than women as active protestors.

The woman in red in Turkey is a real person. I hope she's doing OK. I wonder how she feels about the use of her image?  What is her story? Why was she there? Her voice deserves to be heard!

Since most reports of the events are in Turkish, I was only able to find out her name after posting to the Facebook group from my exchange program.  Most of the English speaking media does not reference her name.  But her name is Ceyda Sungur, and she is a Research Assistant in the City and Regional Planning Department at Istanbul Technical University.  When you Google her name in English, she is more often referred to as "girl in the red dress" rather than "woman in the red dress." The only quote I can find from her is when she shared "A lot of people here on duty, they ate the gas, no different from me."

Nonetheless, her bravery was captured in photos that went viral and inspired many around the world.  Thank you Ceyda for making the choice to take the risk and publicly protest. I eagerly hope these demonstrations will lead to lasting change for Turkey.

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