This was written by Kubra.
In Turkey and beyond, it is a common misconception that struggle for women’s rights is a new phenomenon. This struggle is thought of as not organic to the Muslim world, but imported from “the non-Muslim West.” This particular misconception has not only nurtured the neo-colonialist rhetoric of “liberating Muslim women,” but has also played an important role in the debate surrounding whether women’s rights or feminism can ever be “Islamic.”
Unfortunately, little has been done to research historical women’s rights movements in the Muslim world, even though there were many examples that clearly disprove this misconception and could provide a lot to the debate. For instance a simple research in the archives of periodicals that were published during the last two centuries of the Ottoman Empire expose a great availability and diversity of women’s publications, some of which are very focused on women’s rights. One such magazine is Kadınlar Dünyası [“World of Women”]. While its name suggests an early-twentieth-century Cosmopolitan, it was famous for its radical rhetoric and strong emphasis on women’s rights at the time of its publication.
Kadınlar Dünyası was first published in 1913 and ran until 1921, despite some disruptions. The magazine’s publication occurred amid a very unstable political and social environment in the then-crumbling Ottoman Empire. An intriguing aspect of Kadınlar Dünyası is the fact that it was promoted as a “by the women, for the women” publication and was authored and published by an all-female team. The magazine was backed by an association that advocated equal legal rights for women: Müdafaa-i Hukuk-ı Nisvan Cemiyeti [“Association for Women's Rights Advocacy”]. Most members on the board of the magazine were also members of this particular association.
Kadınlar Dünyası covered a wide range of topics and themes that were related to women, including but not limited to: experiences of women from different ethnicities, religions and parts of the Empire; struggle for improvement on women’s legal rights; analyses on women’s legal rights in different cultures and eras; employment of women; portraits on significant female figures both historical and non-historical at that time; and the education of women and girls. While an Ottoman publication, Kadınlar Dünyası maintained a cosmopolitan stance and regarded women’s rights struggle as an international phenomenon, covering news about women’s rights and conditions from around the world and also including several French pieces in its issues.
The magazine focused on the diversity of women’s experiences and emphasized commonalities and differences in conditions and experiences of women both in and around the Empire. This coverage is multi-faceted and covers cultural aspects as well as political and social ones; for instance, you can find an article about domestic status of women in rural Anatolia, but also a piece about the clothing culture in Kurdistan. This diversity was also presents in its editorial staff and contributors, which included names such as: Belkıs Şevket, the first Ottoman woman to pilot a plane; Yaşar Nezihe, a poet and prominent women’s and workers’ rights advocate; Dr. Amélie Frish, a gynaecologist who worked in Istanbul; Aziz Haydar, an educator and prominent advocate of girls’ and women’s education; and Fahroul-Bénat Sélimva, a Russian poet.