Women’s role in Turkish society is an interesting topic for outsiders who either perceive women’s role to be associated with negative connotations or don’t have the slightest idea about women living in Turkey, a country that for many years wants to join the European Union.
Thanks to Turkish feminist movement, in the early 20th century some fundamental rights have been achieved through the demands of female activists.
Since then, the feminist struggle has gradually advanced and for many years women’s role in Turkish society has gradually improved.
Now it’s rather difficult to imagine what Turkish society would look like in 21st century without the feminist struggle for equality.
Nevertheless, a significant cultural change doesn’t come overnight. There is still a long road ahead to reach a change in mentality in Turkish society, blast centuries-old traditions and finally liberate women completely, so they could participate in every aspect of society equally with men.
Keep up reading to find out the most interesting aspects of Turkish feminist movement, their impact on women’s role in today’s Turkish society. Plus get acquainted with some brave women who weren’t afraid to stand women’s rights.
Women’s Role in Turkish Society Today
Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in the 1920s, women have had equal status with men in Turkish society, at least by law.
So it is undeniable that significant steps have been taken in recent years to improve the position of women in Turkey. For example,
- Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution bans any discrimination on the grounds of sex.
- The article 41 of the Turkish Constitution was revised to read that the family is “based on equality between spouses”.
- The new code also granted women equal rights to property acquired during the marriage.
- The minimum age for marriage was raised to 18 (17 with parental consent). In cases of forced marriage, women have right to ask an annulment within the first 5 years of marriage.
- In 2004, an update to article 10 of the constitution placed the responsibility for establishing gender equality in the state: “men and women have equal rights. The state shall have the obligation to ensure that this equality exists in practice”.
- It is the first country which had a woman as the President of its Constitutional Court, Tülay Tuğcu.
- Turkey had a female supreme court justice long before the USA did, and Turkey has had a female head of government, something the USA, for all its success in women’s liberation, has not yet had.
- A national mechanism has been established and some laws have been amended. The number of Women’s Studies Centers set up in universities has reached 13, a Woman’s Library was founded and a number of projects were put into practice by the governmental and non-governmental organizations.
- Turkey has participated in almost all international conferences on the subject of women and has signed many international agreements related to women.
Are People’s Mentality and Laws on the Same Page in terms of women’s role in Turkish society?
However, when it comes to mentality and values in society even significant changes don’t come overnight.
So, it comes as no surprise that there is a large discrepancy between formal rights and the social position of women in Turkey.
For example, domestic violence is still a serious issue in Turkey. According to the report by the Turkish government dating from 2009, 42% of the surveyed women said they had been physically or sexually abused by their husband or partner.
Almost half of them never speak to anyone about this and only 8% approach government institutions for support. When they do approach them, police sometimes prefer to “reconcile” the families rather than protecting them.
According to data compiled by the “We Will Stop Femicide” activist platform a total of 365 women were killed by men in the first 11 months of 2017. Among many victimized women, some end up committing suicide.
The report stated that most women killed were victims of murder for;
- wanting to get a divorce,
- taking decisions about their lives independently,
- financial reasons,
- turning down man’s reconciliation efforts,
- and debates about their children.
On July 2017, hundreds of women marched in Istanbul on to protest against violence and animosity they face from men demanding they dress more conservatively. Protesters say there has been an increase in the number of verbal and physical attacks against women for their choice of clothing in Turkey in recent years.
Many people still believe that woman’s role in Turkish society is that of mother and homemaker. Maybe due to this conservative and outdated attitude, there are still inequalities between women and men when it comes to women’s involvement in labor market.
Women’s employment has decreased since 2000 and the participation of women in the workforce in Turkey lags behind some Islamic countries as well as western countries.
Women’s Role in Turkish Society and Labor Market
According to World Bank, women made up 30.5% of the labor force in 2014 (roughly unchanged from 1990 when they made up 30.8%).
Many believe that women are sometimes forced by men to quit their jobs. On the other hand, it is possible that the involvement of women in the labor force is underestimated.
The thing is half of the women in Turkey’s labor force are unregistered and the ratio of unregistered women workers in the country is much higher than that of men.
Despite the relatively low involvement of women in the workforce compared to other countries, women in Turkey are quite well represented in the business world. For instance, the number of women in business leadership roles in Turkey is almost twice higher than that of Germany.
What should you know about Turkish Feminist Movement?
How did Feminists Change Women’s Role in Turkish Society?
The Turkish feminist movement started in the 19th century during the decline of the Ottoman Empire, when educated women within the elites of Constantinople began to organize themselves as feminists.
Early feminists published woman magazines in different languages and established different organizations dedicated to the advancement of women.
The first women association in Turkey, Ottoman Welfare Organization of Women, was founded in 1908 and became partially involved in the Young Turks Movement which was a driving force in the founding of the Turkish Republic.
These feminists fought to improve women’s role in Turkish society and increase women’s access to education and paid work, to abolish polygamy and an Islamic veil.
Want to know if Turkish feminists achieved their goals or their efforts were in vain? Then keep up scrolling because we are going to look at the 3 waves of Turkish feminist movement in more details.
The First Wave
The first wave of Turkish feminism occurred in the early 20th century, when, after the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the feminist movement gradually became part of the Kemalist modernization efforts which copied the model of western societies.
During this early period, women’s organizations began to demand equality in civic and political rights.
Under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s rule, polygamy was banned, divorce and inheritance rights were made equal.
The right to vote first in the 1930 municipal elections and then in the 1934 general election was finally granted under the leadership of Atatürk.
In the 1930s for the first time, Turkish women entered politics. The first elected female mayor was Sadiye Hanım (1930). In the elections held on 8 February, 1935 18 women entered the parliament.
From this time women in Turkey were portrayed as emancipated and liberated. However, there still remained a large discrepancy between formal rights and the social position of women in Turkey.
The thing is women were perceived as mothers of the republic and blind supporters of Atatürk’s one-party government.
The Second Wave
The second wave of feminism is believed to have come about in the 1980s as a result of 1980 military coup d’état.
In the 1980’s, women’s movements truly became more independent. Women started to express their feminist concerns due to the vacuum left when many of the male activists were imprisoned.
After the coup women brought up issues such as the elimination of violence against women, the oppression experienced in the family, sexual assault and the challenge against virginity tests.
Those women have been termed Kemalist or secularist feminists although many commentators drop any prefix at all and refer to them simply as feminists.
The year of 1987 saw the first mass feminist demonstration of Turkey that took place in Istanbul. Feminists protested against male violence.
As the movement gathered momentum, various organizations and campaigns were established.
One such campaign was the ‘Purple needle campaign’ which sought to raise awareness and bring an end to violence and sexual abuse of women on public transport through the means of protest, conferences and parliamentary lobbying.
Many different forms of protests were used by feminists such as night marches, and the occupation of all male coffee houses and nightclubs in Istanbul as well.
By rejecting the idea that these coffee houses and nightclubs were only for men, feminists attempted to break the male domination of the public sphere while simultaneously breaking their stereotypical roles in the private sphere.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the rise of the feminist movement was exemplified by the publication of over 100 women’s magazines and periodicals and with the establishment of women’s organizations and the opening of women’s studies departments at a number of major universities.
The Third Wave
The development of alternative feminist groups and the emergence of different stands of feminism in the 1990s is seen as the third wave of feminism in Turkey.
Apart from the mainstream (secular) feminists, there appeared Kurdish nationalist feminists, Islamist feminists and, more recently, project feminism.
The Kurdish nationalists, for example, want particular emphasis on Kurdish women, who they felt were being overlooked, while the Islamists want to address the aims within the religious context.
Since the 1990s and into the 2000s there has been a rise in what has been termed ‘project feminism’. This type of feminism is usually led by a combination of NGO-government initiatives, often with the aid of funding from international organizations such as the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Organizations were able to target widespread problems such as violence within the family structure, female illiteracy, and unemployment.
However, project feminism is something that is widely debated among feminists. Many believe that project is pursued for alternative gains, for example, for the gain of women’s votes by governments or for the gain of profit by certain NGOs.
The wide range of organizations and periodicals that were established demonstrates the heterogeneous nature of Turkish feminist movement.
According to some experts, this kind of division between different feminist organizations and the lack of a central organizing body made it more difficult to create a coalition and to achieve considerable success regarding the role and status of women in modern Turkish society.
However considerable work has been carried out in favor of women in Turkey.
- Since the 1990s, feminist discourse has become institutionalized, with the foundation of women’s studies centers and university programs at universities such as Marmara University or as Istanbul University.
- In 1993, Tansu Çiller became the first female Prime Minister of Turkey.
- In 2002 the Turkish government reformed Turkish criminal and civil law, and since then, the rights of women and men during the marriage, divorce, and any subsequent property rights have all been equalized.
Female Freedom Fighters in Turkey who Changed Women’s Role in Turkish Society for the Better
Speaking of Turkish Feminist Movement it is almost impossible to forget about Nezihe Muhittin as her name is directly linked to Turkish feminist movement.
As Turkish women’s rights activist, journalist, writer, and political leader Nezihe is the founder of the first party of the Republic of Turkey, People’s Party of Women or Women’s People Party.
The party was founded for the political and social rights of women.
However, People’s Party of Women that concentrated only on women’s right to vote in the late 1920s, was shut down.
Most likely the Kemalist elite thought it was too soon for the new states to cope with multi-party politics.
Later Muhittin established the Turkish Women’s Union and within the framework of this organization the first wave of feminism in Turkey gained pace.
Simply put, Muhittin spent her life working to improve the quality of the lives of Turkish women.
Turkish architect, city planner, publisher, leading activist of the “Second Wave” feminist movement in Turkey Nurser Öztunali (1947-1999) joined leftist women who publicly defined themselves as feminists and carried out feminist political activity in the 1980s.
After divorcing her husband in 1981 Nurser openly declared that she had been systematically beaten by her husband and she encouraged women to unite and say “No!” to all forms of violence.
Her small office became a center for the new feminist movement in Turkey, a forum for heated ideological and political debates and a meeting place for consciousness-raising groups.
Öztunali was among the 35 women in Istanbul who set up “Women’s Circle Publications” in 1984 where feminist books and articles were translated and published with the aim of raising women’s awareness of women’s issues and sexism in Turkish society.
Öztunali, who worked tirelessly as an activist from 1981 to 1996, along with other leading feminist women, contributed to the establishment of feminism as a political and indigenous phenomenon in Turkey.
Another Turkish feminist that deserves our attention is Ramize Erer (1963), a Turkish female cartoonist, painter, short story writer and feminist.
In March 2011, she was one of the founders of the feminist humor magazine Bayan Yani, the only comic in the world designed exclusively by women. She continued to run it from Paris during her exile after threats were made against her in Turkey.
The Angoulême International Comics Festival honored Erer with a Prize for (“2017 Creative Courage Award”) the emphasis on feminism in her cartoons.
At the awards ceremony, she said:
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