Efforts to establish gender equality in Turkey date back to the 19th century, but they had limited success as far as the social life of the women was concerned. However, radical reforms launched under Atatürk’s leadership during the first ten years of the Turkish Republic (1923-1933) restructured the Turkish society, that underwent a huge transformation.
These reforms were also instrumental in the recognition of women as citizens with equal rights. The Unification of education Law of 1924, which centralized the education under a single system, the adoption of the Civic Law and the Turkish Penal Code in 1926, and granting of suffrage and the right to be elected to parliament in 1934, long before many other nations, were the most important achievements of women during the early years of the Republic.
Directorate General for the Status of Women:
Initiatives to abolish gender inequality in Turkey have increasingly intensified and the status of women in society has been steadily improving.
New legislations have created the legal framework which would further improve gender equality. Thus, the Directorate General for the Status of Women was set up in Turkey in 1990 as a national mechanism on gender equality.
As a coordinating agency, this Directorate General works to prevent all sorts of indiscrimination against women, to improve women’s rights, strengthen the position of women in social, economic and cultural life, to raise the educational level of women, and to support all initiatives and activities in these directions.
It also conducts studies in coordination with related institutions and organizations to develop strategies and to formulate basic policies on issues relevant to its field of competence.
The number of “Research and Practice Centers for the Problems of the Women” established in universities, has reached 15, a library and a Documentation Center were set up within the Directorate General for the Status of Women, and a Library of Women’s Works was opened in İstanbul.
Besides, numerous projects have been concluded in cooperation between governmental and non-governmental organizations. The “Development of Social Gender Equality Project” and The “Prevention of In-family Violence Towards Women Project” are examples of the projects being implemented.
As a member of the contemporary world, Turkey has taken part in all four world conferences on women, and has unreservedly accepted the Beijing Decleration and Action Platform that was declared immediately after the last conference in Beijing (1995).
Turkey also accepted the “UN Convention for the Elimination of All Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)” in 1985 and undertook the responsibility of presenting a country report every four years, according to article 18 of the convention.
Primarily the Constitution and other laws guarantee the principle of gender equality in Turkey. Article 10 of the Constitution reads: “Men and women have equal rights. The State has the obligation to ensure that this equality exists in practice”.
Meanwhile, Article 41 of the Constitution, which reads “Family is the foundation of the Turkish society” is followed by “and is based on equality between the spouses”.
In addition, the new Turkish Civil Law that went into effect on January 1st, 2002 no longer designates the head of the family, considers the spouses equal in marriage and stipulates that both may represent the institution of marriage.
The amendment that was brought in 1997, giving the right to the women to keep their maiden names, provided that they are used before their husbands’ surname, has been kept as is.
According to the Civil Law, both husband and wife co-manage the union of marriage, do not need permission from each other to work in a profession of his/her choice and use the right of guardianship over their children together or in line with a court verdict in case of conflict.
In addition, the new Law entails “equal ownership of acquired properties” with the provision that the spouses contribute to expenses of the union as well as they can. Meanwhile, the new Law also increased and equalized the age of marriage for both males and females.
Following the enactment of the new Turkish Civil Law, the establishment of family courts came to the national agenda. Hence, the Law on the Establishment, Duties and Functioning of Family Courts was adopted and went into force on January 9th, 2003. Furthermore, radical legislative amendments have been adopted to prevent domestic violence, one of the major problems in the world.
Besides, the New Labor Law which went into force on June 10th, 2003 has a provision banning discrimination of any kind, including by gender, from the standpoint of fundamental human rights for whatever reason, in employee-employer relations. The new Turkish Penal Code which went into force on June 1st, 2005, also introduced modern arrangements regarding gender equality and violence targeting women.
With the amendments made to Civil Law No. 4320 on April 4th, 2007, the children of couples who live separately although they are still married, and the people within the family who have received legal rights from the courts to live separately, have been brought under the custody of law.
This law includes the stipulation that, “in case of brutality, the judges of the family courts have the right to ask for the violent member to be examined or treated at a health center and that these procedures will be charged.”.
Women and Education:
An overview of the last ten years in Turkey reveals substantial improvements in the participation of girls in all levels of education. Extending the duration of compulsory basic education to eight years in 1997 boosted the number of girls going to school at all levels and increased the average length of the education they receive.
The net rate of primaryschool attendance for girls was 87.93% during the 2006-2007 school year.
This improvement has also reflected on secondary education, and the net rate of secondary school attendance for girls has increased to 52.16% during the 2006-2007 school year. The difference between boys and girls in school attendance, especially in primary education, has greatly diminished.
Turkey vows to increase the literacy rate of women to 100%, and this promise is explicit in all the related international conventions it has signed and all international documents it has accepted-without reservation.
To this end, Turkey has initiated a number of comprehensive ventures such as “100% Support to Education”, the “Education of Father-Mother-Child Project”, and “Family Education Programs”,“Fathers Support Training Program”.
Also, with the support of non-governmental organizations, the private sector and international organizations, ventures such as “Come on Girls, off to the School”, “Daddy send me to School” and “Kardelen Project” are continuing.
Women and Work Life:
The rate of participation of Turkish women in work life and the positions they hold vary in line with their level of education. Currently, the rate of women filling university staff positions is 39% and the rate of women professors has reached 27%.
A total of 36.7% of all architects, 29% of all doctors and surgeons and 33% of all lawyers are women.
As for the overall picture in Turkey, 48.5% of all working women are employed in the agricultural sector, 14.4% in the industrial sector and 37.1% in the service sector. As for their working status, only 14.3 out of every 100 women are working for themselves or as an employer, 46.7 are working for a salary or daily wage, and 39 are working for their families for free.
Women and Health:
Substantial improvements are observed in most of the indicators of life quality in Turkey.
Life expectancy at birth, a general indicator of life quality, is steadily rising (74.2 years for women, 69.3 years for men in 2007) and approaching the corresponding figures in developed countries where both sexes receive equal service.
In Turkey, total fertility is falling and the use of contra-ceptives is rising. When age is taken into consideration, Turkish women are observed to give birth at relatively younger ages, the highest fertility rates belonging to women in the age groups of 20-24 and 25-29.
Childbirths at ages below 20 and above 35, which constitute a higher risk of disease and death linked to pregnancy and childbirth, comprise 22% of total childbirths.
The Rate of women employing contraceptive methods is increasing, and 71% of all married women use contra-ceptives.
Women in Politics and Decision Making Processes:
Despite Turkey’s egalitarian legal code, including suffrage and the fact that the right to be elected was achieved on equal terms with men during the local elections of 1930 and parliamentary elections in 1934, long before a number other European countries, Turkish women have yet to attain an adequate level of political participation and representation.
According to the 2007 General Election results, 50 deputies out of 550 deputies are women in the TGNA, representing 9.1 %. There is only one female Minister in the Ministerial Board. A similar picture is seen at the local administration level, for the results of the March 2004 local elections manifest that 0.56% of all mayors are women and only 2.42% of all city council members and 1.81% of all provincial council members are women. The women in Turkish Breaucracy take leading positions as ambassadors, assistants to district governors, deputy under-secretaries and General Directors.
Voluntary Feminist Movement:
Changes in social life have naturally inspired women to demand improvement in their social status and accordingly the women’s movement, which already started in the Reform period in the Ottoman era, has gained momentum thanks to the reforms made during the early Republican period.
The Turkish Women’s Union formed in 1924, had paved the way for women’s participation in economic, social and political life on an equal footing with men.
Women’s organizations have not only multiplied but have also diversified in the aftermath of 1980.
In the 1990s the feminist movement displayed a tendency toward institutionalization with certain concrete projects and efforts exerted to establish an ongoing relationship with both the local and central administrations. This resolute movement also managed to establish an interaction with state institutions. As a result of this process, many institutions such as women libraries, women’s shelters, consultation centers, periodical publications and women’s research centers in universities, started to emerge. At present, there are more than 200 women’s institutions in the form of associations and foundations.