International Women’s Day—held on March 8 every year—is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and is a call to action for gender equality. Learn more about the role of women and their experiences throughout Istanbul’s history by visiting the Istanbul Women’s Library and Information Center and the Women’s Museum Istanbul.

By Olivia Rose Walton

Istanbul Women’s Library and Information Center

Catch a bus to Balat and spend some time at the Istanbul Women’s Library and Information Center. Housed in a Byzantine-era red-brick building with high vaulted ceilings, the foundation was established in 1990 to record the work and contribution of the city’s women from the Ottoman period to today and as a testament to women’s art, political and social commentary, and activism. The library, which started off with 100 books, now holds over 10,000, as well as hundreds of periodicals, newspapers, catalogues, and other works that are invaluable to researchers, academics, and curious readers. Hung on the wall are the works of artists such as Gülsün Karamustafa, the famed painter, filmmaker, and sculptor based in Istanbul. While mostly used by academics and researchers, the library is open to the public.

Istanbul Women’s Library and Information Center

One of the library’s most unique offerings is the collection of Ottoman and Republican-era women’s periodicals that record the voices and experiences of women over time. From these, one can gain a better understanding what it was like to be a woman in Istanbul in 1859, 1924, or 1997. The library houses works in both Turkish and English and even if you do not speak Turkish, the reading room is a peaceful spot in which to work or flick through the impressive archive.

The foundation also regularly organizes events and exhibitions; follow @kadineseleri for more information. Kadir Has Caddesi No.8, Balat; T: 0212 621 81 34; www.kadineserleri.org

Istanbul Women’s Library and Information Center

Women’s Museum Istanbul

If you have never heard of Adalet Cimcoz, Anna Comnena, or Nil Yalter, chances are you have not explored the Women’s Museum Istanbul. The museum is an online database of the lives and works of Turkish women of all creeds and professions. There you will find biographical information on women from the Empress Theodora I, the powerful companion of the Emperor Justinian; to Sabiha Bozcalı, one of the Turkish Republic’s most prominent female painters; to punk artist Aylin Aslım.

An hour or two spent browsing the museum’s remarkable resources will give visitors a real sense of the impact of Turkish women—something that often goes unrecognized or is simply forgotten in popular culture. Cimcoz, for instance, was one Istanbul’s first female gallery owners and a sponsor of the arts whose work at the Maya Gallery was recognized as a major boon to the city’s mid-century art scene. Her legacy is evident today in the work of contemporary gallerists and artists such as Joana Kohen. Comnena, on the other hand, kept close records of her life and times in eleventh century Constantinople that are invaluable to historians today. Yalter, an artist, used video to challenge patriarchal views on female sexuality, one of the first Turkish artists to do so.

The Women’s Museum Istanbul is a rich source of information for researchers and writers, but above all it is a testament to the contributions women have made to Istanbul and to Turkish history and society. If you take the time to explore the lives of these remarkable characters you will walk away with a better understanding of Istanbul.

Follow the Women’s Museum Istanbul on Facebook for event information; visit www.istanbulkadinmuzesi.org to view the database.

Istanbul Women’s Library and Information Center

Highlights of Women’s Day 2019

  • The 17th International Filmmor Women’s Film Festival on Wheels takes place from March 7–30 in Istanbul and will run in other cities including İzmir, Antalya, Adana, Mersin, Diyarbakır, and Giresun. The screenings in Istanbul are hosted by the French Institute, Istanbul Modern, Caddebostan Cultural Center, and Barış Manço Cultural Center, and featuring a selection of works by renowned director Agnés Varda, among many others. Visit www.filmmor.org for details.
  • On March 8, Kundura Cinema presents Female Director (2012) by Chinese director Yang Mingming and Thelma & Louise (1991) by English film director Ridley Scott. Visit www.beykozkundura.com for more information.
  • Istanbul Modern is organizing a series of activities for women on March 8. Besides free entry, female visitors can also participate in an exhibition guided tour, a workshop, and the screening of Since Otar Left (2003) by Julie Bertuccelli. The director will host a Q&A time along with the screening.
  • Visit SALT Galata’s exhibition Mihri: A Migrant Painter of Modern Times. The portrait painter Mihri (1885–1954) established herself as a prominent figure through her art and by advocating for the foundation of the Academy of Fine Arts for Women in the Ottoman Empire.
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