Celebrating Women on the Shop Floor

Turkish Workers

Besides the large factory, an equally, if not more powerful signifier of modernity in Kemalist development narratives was the public visibility of women. The secular republic represented nothing short of an all-out attack on existing social institutions surrounding the status of women, which became a matter of sharp contrast between the perceived failures of the Ottoman Empire and the accomplishments and vision of the Kemalist regime. Women’s legal and social emancipation has been irrevocably tied to the crusade for national liberation and progress.


The large factory was seen as a hub for the development of a modern social ordering, including gender relations.

Yesterday vs. Today

As key spaces for state-making symbolized transformation, modernization, and progress, factories seemed to be a sort of westernised cultural representation of the world with women at the forefront of that representation. Comparisons between the gendered oppression women suffered under the Ottoman imperial rule and the emancipated Republican female citizen filled the pages of mainstream media and fuelled state discourses. The republic had finally freed the Turkish women from the kafes (lit. cage, referring to the latticed windows that blocked outsiders to see into the Ottoman homes), and brought her “by the side of the machinery.”[1]

Kemalist elites often claimed that the emancipatory path of industrial labour force participation was completely closed off for women before the Republic. Alternatively, when Ottoman women’s industrial labour was acknowledged, it was depicted as women’s suffering under foreign control in the “dark, old times.”

[1] Uzel, ‟Kayseri Fabrikası,” 1935.