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Women in Turkey

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Women in Turkey

Turkey is an interesting example, from the aspect of the position of women, because it is a country which is influenced by all the contradictions of globalization and traditions. First of all, the great majority of the population in Turkey is Moslem. Today, women are observed in the forefront of various echelons of the administration of the state. However, there are still inequalities between women and men, and also between women from different sectors of society, in accessing important development sources, such as education, health and employment. For many years the position of women in society has improved gradually. Although there are some decrees in violation of the equality of men and women in the law, significant steps have been taken in recent years to alleviate this discrimination. A national mechanism has been established and some laws have been amended. The number of Women's Studies Centers set up in universities have reached 13, a Woman's Library was founded and a number of projects were put into practice by the governmental and non-governmetal organizations. Most importantly, a sensitivity has been created on the subject of discrimination against women, and this issue began to be perceived as a problem which should be discussed.
Turkey has participated in all the international conferences on the subject of women and has signed many international agreements directly or indirectly related to women. Turkey also accepted without reservations the Action Platform which was adopted at the Fourth World Women's Conference held in Beijing in 1995, in which she participated with a large delegation completely composed of women. By the year 2000, the Republic of Turkey represented by the State Minister at the Conference undertook:

• To increase the ratio of literacy among women to 100 percent,
• To decrease the maternal-child mortality by 50 percent,
• To make the eight year primary education compulsory, and
• To remove the reservations included in the Charter for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

In accordance with these undertakings, the compulsory primary education was extended to eight years and the reservations at CEDAW were removed.

 

The National Mechanism. The acceptance of women's issues as an independent political and planning problem was discussed for the first time in the Fifth Five Year Development Plan (1985-1990), and "the General Directorate for the Status and Problems of Women" was established as a national mechanism in 1990. The General Directorate, which was connected to the Prime Ministry in 1991, has been carrying out its activities under the responsibility of a State Ministry. It conducts a large variety of activities with the objective of protecting women's rights, of strengthening the position of women in social, economic, cultural and political life, and of providing the equal utilization of rights, opportunities and capacities.

Legal Equality. The principle of the equality of women-men has been adopted in the Constitution and in the laws of Turkey. The equal treatment of women-men within the legal framework was provided by the adoption of the Swiss Civil Code. Only recently, it has been realized that some of the decrees are insufficient for today's society. A commission formed by the Ministry of Justice, of the professors of civil law, has been authorized to prepare a draft bill which is sensitive to gender, which takes into consideration the amendments made in the laws related to the family in European countries, and also international agreements sign- ed by the Republic of Turkey. The Commission completed its studies and announced the new Turkish Civil Draft Bill on 17 February 1998. The most important changes envisaged through this proposal are as follows: establishing equality for both genders in terms of marriageable age by raising such age to 17 for both sexes, the joint representation of marital unity by both of the partners, joint decision-making regarding the couples residence and the opportunity for equal ownership of all assets procured during the span of marriage, removal of the act of adultery from the Penal Law, the right to use the maiden name before the husband's name and the right to work without permission of the husband. The reservations which Turkey had formerly expressed regarding certain articles of CEDAW are removed on 20 September 1999. Furthermore, legal action which has culminated in the promulgation of legal decrees of social reform for the prevention of domestic violence, a growing social dilemma in the contemporary

world, have been realized. Law number 4320 for the Protection of the Family which was brought into force as of 17 January 1998, regulates the punishment to be meted out against those mistreated within the family. The law includes preventive measures for all women and children who have suffered as victims of domestic violence and who would appeal to the judicial system for their protection. Furthermore, the law foresees removal of the injuring party from the maltreated family member's premises for a certain period of time and, should an incidence of violation of the law occur, foresees a jail sentence ranging from 3 to 6 months.

Education and Women in Professions. Although significant numerical developments were recorded concerning women's literacy with the law on the "Unification of Education", which recognizes equal educational opportunities to females with males, the inequality against females in the ratio of literacy still continues. One third of the women in Turkey still do not know how to read and write. At the Beijing Conference the Turkish government undertook to make all the women in the population literate by the year 2000. As a matter of fact, within the scope of the "Project for the Improvement Women's Education", a sum total of 231,000 women have been reached out to with literacy courses throughout the country as of the end of 1999. Furthermore, with compulsory education being raised to eight years, from the former one of five years, by a law enacted in 1997, the rights of female children to receive secondary school education is now under state guarantee.

The sectoral employment data shows that professional women are represented by a great proportion in the fields of university teaching staff, medicine, dentistry and law.

The participation of women in higher education has increased throughout the years. The data shows that the share of women in higher education is close to one third of the total. The formation and acceptance of the concept of the equality of women and men in a country like Turkey where the majority of the population is Moslem, and where patriarchal values are dominant, has been possible to a great extent with the existence of a secular educational system.
The inequality of the genders in the educational field directly affects the opportunities for the employment of women. Although a consensus of opinion has been reached from the aspect of the importance of women's participation in the labor force in Turkey, problems still continue in practice. The participation of women in the labor force is low. According to the 1998 data, this ratio is around 28 percent. The great majority of women within the labor force work in the agricultural sector as non-paid family workers. However, it is possible to talk about a positive correlation between the education and the employment of women. As a matter of fact, the rate of unemployment for urban, educated women (28.6%) with those of their male counterparts (30%) displays a paralellism. Furthermore, the sectoral employment data shows that professional women are represented at high ratios as university teachers and in the fields of medicine, dentistry and law. One of the obstacles preventing women from employment in productive fields is maternity and child-care. In order to change certain law and regulations concerning the maternity and child-care leave, there are still various activities carried out. After these changes the duration of leave for both workers and civil servants will be brought to an equal status and maternal leave will also be reinterpreted as parental leave.

Women and Health. Undoubtedly no gender discrimination exists regarding the laws as well as their practice in the health sector in Turkey. On the other hand, prolific pregnancy and birth have a negative health impact on both the mother and the child. With the 1994 World Population and Development Conference, the Ministry of Health adopted a policy change which included the emotional, social and physical health of women and young girls with an integrated approach, rather than only reproductive health and family planning as it did in the past. Another initiative brought onto the agenda by the Ministry of Health after the Beijing Conference, is to ensure the participation of men in reproductive health and family planning. This is a positive step taken by the state towards the improvement of health services sensitive to gender.

Women in Politics. Thanks to Atatürk, the founder of the Republic, who believed in the necessity of complete equality between women and men, all the political rights considered to be the foundation of citizenship rights were recognized for women in Turkey in a very short period of time. Women in Turkey obtained the right to vote and be elected in municipal elections in 1930 and in parliamentary elections in 1934. Prior to that date, the number of countries where women had the right to vote and be elected as members of parliament was 28 and the number of countries where women actually were elected as members of parliament was 17. When it is taken into consideration that women obtained the right to vote in 1944 in France, in 1945 in Italy and in 1948 in Belgium, it appears that Turkey was way ahead compared with many countries.

A total of 18 women became members of parliament in 1935, which was the year when women members were represented at the highest ratio in the parliament with 4.6 percent. However, as of 1946, when the multi-party system was adopted, a decrease in the number of women deputies was observed. Although the number of women taking an active role in politics has increased in recent years, the number of women are still considerably less than men. The last general election, which took place on 18 April 1999, brought 550 deputies elected into the Turkish parliament, 22 of which were women (4 percent).

 

The women's movement, which gradually makes its voice heard in Turkey, became influential in having women enter into every field in the life of the community and especially in politics. Today, the political parties consider women beyond being just voters and give them a place at the top of their candidate lists.

 

The Voluntary Women's Movement. In 1980s, when women's movement gained impetus all over the world, there observed an increase in the number of voluntary women institutions established in Turkey. Through the mobilization of the general public, these women's institutions have played a significant part in leading the amendment and abolition of certain items discriminating women in both Civil Law and Penal Code and also have taken an active part in their consciousness-raising endeavors on women' problems. In recent years, alongside with the increase in the number of the centers for helping women who were victims of violence or abused, it is noticeable that the associations with special tasks of supporting and reinforcing the women's participation in politics have also come into being. The Foundation for the Advancement and Recognition of Turkish Women, The Women's Shelter Foundation of Purple Roof, the Association of Women's Rights Protection, the Association for the Support and Training of Women Candidates are just a few names among more than 150 voluntary women's organizations working nationwide.

 

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