Congress Overview

Despite all the ups and downs, accession negotiations between Turkey and European Union (EU) are still on the move, even if not on a fast track. It can’t be ignored that besides other factors, the perception of Turkey among the public opinions of EU member states will have a decisive impact on the ultimate outcome of the negotiations. In other words, when it meets the required criteria for entering the Union, Turkey will come face to face with an important hurdle it needs to overcome: Negative public perceptions of Turkey and Turks in the mentioned countries. The image associated with Turkey in particularly some key EU member states may render debates on Turkey’s EU accession bid as well as voting behavior concerning the acceptance of Turkey’s full membership biased to a considerable extent. This state of affairs, we believe, underlines the need for further and deeper academic curiosity putting the spotlight on the perception dimension of Turkish-EU ties. Resolutely keeping reform process in Turkey alive and making the country’s reform efforts better known to European public opinion are of vital importance for Turkey’s nation brand image to make progress in the eyes of European people.

In some EU member states, recent years have seen the rise of racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic movements which stand in stark contrast to the founding philosophy of European Union. Exacerbated by the economic crisis, these movements have secured stronger parliamentary representation, negatively affecting debates in Europe on multiculturalism, pluralism and living together with differences. It is so much so that the argument claiming the “complete failure” of multiculturalism in Europe has been voiced at the highest level in a number of EU member states.

It is no secret that at the lower layers of European social memory lies a tendency to look down on, to insincerely sympathize with and to victimize Muslim women, which finds its roots in the colonial era and orientalism, and manifests itself in various ways in modern times. Muslim women who seek presence in different fields of life with their headscarves, thus gaining more visibility, have become the number one target of Islamophobic, racist and xenophobic wave in Europe, and some countries put into force restrictive legal regulations aimed at headscarved Muslim women.

These kinds of developments no doubt further impair the already distorted image of Turkey and its culture in the eyes of European people, creating an unconducive environment for Turkey’s EU accession goal. Fostering channels of dialogue, people-to-people contact and two-way communication between Turkish and European publics will surely help defusing mutual fallacious stereotypes, laying the groundwork for a convenient milieu of knowledge- and interaction-based perception.  To reverse the tide that leads to the othering of people who come from different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, values underlying the EU, we believe, must be highlighted and touted by Turkish NGOs at diverse platforms and through various activities, and building a positive image of Muslim women should become one the key flanks of forging a more favorable Turkey image in the minds EU publics.

In connection with this, problems faced –without considering any distinction- by women in different areas (for their gender, dressing manners, living styles, religious beliefs, ethnic origins, and etc.) require discussion with a broad-based and comprehensive academic approach spotlighting how negative perception of women from different walks of life have an impact on social and personal attitudes and behaviors towards them. In other words, further scholarly attention must be devoted to how negative images induce prejudiced treatment of women in various contexts.

 

Along the lines summarized above, International Women and Family Association (IWFA) is set to hold an international congress on “European Image of Muslim Turkish Women, Turkey’s EU Accession Process and the Role of Mutual Perceptions.” We believe such an event will help us have an impartial picture of the present situation, offering insights into problem areas and possible solutions to them. As a non-governmental organization focusing on women- and family-related issues, we would like to see Turkey’s EU accession journey in a new light, giving mutual perceptions of women in Turkey and Europe center stage.