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    Country Reports


[Editor's note: this report is based on Turkey's second periodic report to CEDAW. Turkey submitted a third report late in 1996 which was not available at the time the IWRAW to CEDAW reports were produced.]

Turkey was 'invented' as a modern, secular state after the First World War. Atatürk, who led the country to independence and became the first leader of the new Republic, inaugurated nothing less than a cultural revolution in which the influence of Islam and the country's Ottoman past were to be exorcised, or at the very least, banished to the periphery of Turkish life.1 Not surprisingly, there has been a gradual return to Islamic ways and a reawakening of ethnic and religious identity among minorities. In the 1950s the law that banned Arabic calls to prayer in mosques was revoked, in 1965 the government reintroduced vocational education for the clergy, and by the mid-1980s at least ten per cent of secondary students were attending religious schools.2 Successive governments after Atatürk discovered that rural voters never wholeheartedly accepted secular reforms, and that "his nationalism could not fill the spiritual gap once plugged by Islam."3

The course of women's rights in Turkey mirrors precisely Atatürk's radical social and political transformation, as well as the return to more traditional ways. Urban, educated Turkish women in the 1920s and 1930s probably enjoyed greater state support and encouragement to enter public office and the professions than women in Western Europe and the United States. Turkish women were first admitted to academic positions in 1932-33, and by 1946-47 forty-four percent of all faculty in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and twenty-two percent of the Humanities faculties were women.4

The early Republican reforms, including the elimination of the shari'a, cleared the way for comprehensive changes in women's status. However, while Turkish women were in the forefront at the beginning of the Republican era, the general assessment is in recent years that these reforms have stalled - and, since the recent advent of an Islamic government, a negative trend has set in.

Tansu Ciller and The Refah Party

The Islamists demonstrated their growing popularity in the 1994 municipal elections, when Refah Party (RP) mayors were elected in Istanbul and other cities. Former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller earned the scorn of many women voters by entering into a coalition with Refah after the December 1995 general elections. As a result of the coalition, Necmettin Erbakan, a career politician and leader of the Refah or Welfare Party, became the first Islamist Prime Minister since the country became a secular republic in 1923. The women who voted for Ciller, who now has the dual role of deputy prime minister and foreign minister, have filed two suits against her for breaking her campaign promises.5 In the lead-up to the general elections, Ciller often claimed to be women's best and only guarantee against Refah coming into power. Angry voters claim that she opened the floodgates for fundamentalism in order to save herself and her husband from an investigation into allegations of corruption. As one former colleague of Ciller's at Bogazici University said, "Now, thanks to her, we can turn on the television and watch Refah men complain about how they can't go on holiday because there are no separate pools for women."6 It seems that everyone in Turkey is now arguing about women and Islam. One observer says that 'the new coalition has forced everyone to re-examine and defend what they believe in. It is no longer a question of looking East or West: this is where the next big ideological battle will be fought and won."7

This shift in power relations, slight as it is for now, is a matter of concern far beyond the Turkish borders. A cornerstone of Western security policy, Turkey has the largest standing army in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation,8 and is viewed by the US and its allies as a bastion against nationalism in Russia and fundamentalism in Iran and other neighbouring countries. As stated in the Guardian August 1996, "the scope for conflict, were Turkey, like Iran, to 'go Islamic' would be immense."9

For many Turkish women, however, the problem is not so much the immensity of the conflict but rather its subtlety. As one feminist source explained, "our problem is not that people who believe in the Kur'an want a better life for the people of Turkey," but that the old patriarchy is reasserting itself in the guise of religion and the religious right.

Business as usual?

Many secularists are not particularly concerned about the presence of the Islamists in government. They note that Prime Minister Erbakan is a career politician, and they feel that the ascendancy of his party will lead to the same political corruption as it has for other parties, with merely a change in the links of patronage. For others, however, the RP is not what it appears to be. Refah is an umbrella group which includes conservatives as well as radicals, and some fear that Erbakan's more radical backers may be far more dangerous than he is. Dr. Nilufer Narli, an associate professor at Marmara University, cautions that Refah has been playing a democratic game for over a decade, "but the real question is: are Refah's members ready for an 'historic compromise' with the system...or are they practising taqiya - the concealment of one's true aims for the welfare of Islam?"10 A Turkish professor of political science says "if you read the Islamists' newspapers, you'll see that what they're telling their voters is: 'You haven't given us enough votes to govern alone. We have to act like this.' Their argument is, 'Give us more power and then see what we can do.' "11

Human Rights in Turkey

Human rights violations in Turkey have been denounced frequently, particularly since the Kurdish insurgency began. In October 1996 Amnesty International singled out Turkey for special attention in a world-wide campaign against human rights abuses. Amnesty's secretary-general, Pierre Sane, told a news conference in Istanbul that Turkey had singled itself out "by signing international human rights standards [sic] and proclaiming abroad that human rights are a priority, and then covering up torture, disappearances and political killings."12

The 1994 report of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances records more disappearances in Turkey than in any other country in the world.13 Most of these were from the south-east, where the Turkish army has been fighting Kurdish separatists for the past twelve years. In the first six months of this year, according to the Human Rights Association in Ankara (IHD), 114 people went missing. According to the IHD, disappearance allows someone to be tortured with impunity. There was hope in some circles that when the Refah Party first came to power there would be an improvement in the situation in the south-east - many Kurds who have migrated to the cities are members of Refah - and a general improvement in the country's human rights situation. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. During his campaign, Erbakan spoke out strongly for a negotiated settlement of the war in the south-east. Upon election, he quickly changed his tune and called for nothing less than a military settlement of the problem, and not long afterwards called for a massive increase in the military budget.

The president of Turkey's Human Rights Foundation, Yavuz Onen, says that Refah may well wish to solve the Kurdish problem in a more just and humanitarian fashion, and that perhaps they are against torture and disappearances. However, "they are the government, but they do not enjoy the real power of the state, because this system is based on military force."14 After the last coup in 1980, the Constitution was amended to give a key role to the National Security Council, a joint government -military body chaired by the President. Mr. Onen says that that is the real government of Turkey. "In 20 years, Parliament has never rejected a single demand made by the Council to the government."15 A Western diplomat in Ankara has been quoted in several news sources saying basically the same thing - "torture is something that can be stopped here. There are people at the top of the government who want it to stop. But they have got to get control of the apparatus."16

At an annual three-day meeting of the Supreme Military Council last August, attended by Erbakan, the generals announced the army had expelled thirteen soldiers for "reactionary activities," which meant propagating Islamic fundamentalism in the ranks. As Prime Minister, Erbakan will have to approve the expulsions. Despite Refah criticism that the armed forces has an anti-religious bias, Erbakan has been careful not to alienate the military.17 However, secularists claim that even the armed forces, which in the past has intervened whenever the secular state was endangered, is not as secular as it used to be, and that the growing Islamist movement is beginning to penetrate the ranks of the military as it has the government.


The 1926 Civil Code replaced the shari'a and gave women equal rights to divorce and inheritance, abolished polygamy and made civil marriage a state requirement. Women's suffrage was granted in 1934, and the 1961 and 1982 constitutions further elaborated civil and social liberties. However, feminists criticise the shortcomings of the current legal framework, particularly the discriminatory provisions remaining in the Civil and Penal Codes. Reforms have been pending in the legislature for several years.

Of equal concern, however, is the de facto situation, in which domestic responsibilities and employment combine to make it very difficult for most women to be informed citizens, much less politically active. Power and wealth (almost seventy-five percent of household property belongs to men) is so unequal that legal rights to inheritance or to political participation are often of very little consequence. Sources emphasised that any discussion of women's legal status must begin with the proviso that women (and men) can only claim their rights if they have enough money to afford an experienced lawyer. Otherwise, their legal rights are easily violated.

Virginity Control Examinations

In July 1993 Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigated the prevalence of forcible virginity control exams and the role of government in conducting or tolerating such exams.18 Although the extent of this abuse is unknown, after extensive interviews with doctors, lawyers and women's rights activists, HRW concluded that "the threat of such exams follows women through their lives." Whether at the hands of the state or private individuals, the presumption exists that female virginity is a legitimate interest of the family, the community and the state, and therefore forcible examinations are deemed justifiable and override individual rights to privacy and equality before the law.19

Although most forced virginity examinations are thought to involve private families, state agents use this practice on women in police custody, on political detainees, and in hospitals. Discrimination by the police regarding sexual conduct is the standard practice, based on deeply rooted cultural assumptions. An unmarried couple staying in a hotel can be detained for suspected prostitution, but it is the woman whose sexual conduct is at issue. She can be detained and examined, and the result of the exam can be considered evidence in an investigation of illegal prostitution. The HRW report states:

"Evidence indicates that police detain women for suspected illegal prostitution or immoral activity without justification and without first conducting any kind of investigation to support their accusations. These women are not charged with the crime of practising prostitution illegally. Nor are they brought before a prosecutor or judge. Instead, they are held without charge and forced to submit to gynaecological exams."20

Turkish sources interviewed by HRW say that it is terribly difficult to document forced virginity testing, because neither the woman nor her family want it to become public knowledge that virginity has been questioned. Incidents of further physical abuse or sexual assault during these examinations are even more difficult to document and prosecute.

More than one source has stated that a girl can be dismissed from school if she is not a virgin. The HRW report related two 1992 suicides by secondary school girls who had been ordered by school authorities, along with several other female students, to submit to virginity control exams. The extent to which virginity testing is still used, or threatened, in the schools is unknown.

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Articles 3, 5, 6, 12, 15 and 16

Feminism appeared on the Turkish political scene, rather dramatically, through public meetings and marches in the latter half of the 1980's. From the beginning, specifically in May 1987, when women staged a public protest march in Istanbul, activists have placed the physical abuse of women very high on their agenda of needed reforms. Up to the present, the Campaign Against the Battering of Women has brought together ideologically divergent women's organisations. A booklet produced jointly by a number of groups participating in the campaign, entitled "Shout and Be Heard," takes the position that violence against women in Turkey is not confined to any particular group or class and identifies the family as the major site of violence against women.21

Concern about the pervasiveness of violence against women is shared by Islamic groups as well as secular, feminist organisations, although their methods and objectives are very different. For example, one writer notes that "the aggressiveness of the Turkish male and the physical harassment that women were subjected to in overcrowded public buses ...[prompted an] Islamic journal [to] launch a campaign for segregating public transport.22 The head of a women's advisory group in Ankara, which has an RP mayor, is quoted in a recent article: "We had to take a municipality to court because they wanted to close down a women's shelter citing lack of funds....The shelter is one of only eight in Turkey and houses about a dozen women, mostly victims of male violence and rape."23

One well-known feminist academic in Turkey told IWRAW that the government's assistance to women's shelters has been on a very small scale (this problem precedes the RP victories in municipal elections), and that there is still no legislation to protect battered women. Currently the process for a woman to gain protection from a violent husband is very tedious, and few women try to make use of it.

Honour killing

Sources have mentioned one matter of concern - the apparent increase in honour killings - as an indication of the atmosphere surrounding the new Refah government. It is unclear whether more of these killings are actually occurring, or whether the media has brought them more to the attention of the general public. Either way, activists are troubled by the public's heightened awareness of the killings, and more particularly, by the way the cases are being treated in the courts.

The most sensational honour killing in recent months occurred in Istanbul with the slaying of ten members of a family by the estranged husband of a woman who had asked for a divorce and who had returned to live in her mother's house. But more often, an honour killing is carried out by a young male who kills a female member of his own family. These young men are often chosen by older male members of the family to carry out the killing. Often very young men are 'appointed,' because as minors they will be granted reduced sentences.

Women's rights groups are very concerned that the courts have done nothing to prosecute the decision-makers in these cases, but prosecute only the youth who has carried out instructions and who will only remain in jail for a brief period of time. Feminists say that this is yet another indication that the new government will gradually allow religious (or customary) practices and prohibitions to be observed as if they had acquired legal or normative status.


A recent book on modern Turkey includes a commentary on sexual violence as part of an interview with the public prosecutor of a rural town:

"Ninety percent of the sex crimes are between men and women; ten percent may be men and men, but I've only heard of only one incident where a man has raped another man. The aim of our rapist is to marry, you see. There are times when people just want to satisfy their lust but more than sixty percent have the aim of marrying. Say a man took a woman, and the woman wanted it a bit, but she is too young, the man has to go to prison. That's the law: you go to prison for under-age sex.....If a man has kidnapped a woman, and then he marries her, and that is approved of by the parents, then it's OK. But if they divorce within five years then he is arrested for kidnapping. I think it's unfair. Of course, I could not say such things in court or I would be considered biased....There is, of course, wife beating, but it doesn't get reported because women tend to accept it in families of lower culture."24
Sources say that the law does not distinguish between rape within or outside of marriage. A woman can file for divorce if she is forced to engage in sexual relations by the use of physical force. If she can prove that physical force was used, she can also claim compensation. However, the courts regard marriage as an institution which provides people with a means to fulfil their sexual needs within the law. Accordingly, they do not accept the idea that there can be rape in marriage, so the law is not applied in cases of marital rape.


According to one women's rights organisation, prostitutes have to be registered and work in a brothel or in specially designated areas. Independent, unregistered sex-work is forbidden. Unregistered women who are working as prostitutes can become registered through the authority of a government committee, whose work, according to this source, is kept secret.

The article of the Criminal Code which provided for a reduction of one third in the punishment for rape if the victim was a prostitute, was annulled by the Turkish Grand National Assembly in 1990. However, the punishment for forcing someone to engage in prostitution still varies according to the age of the woman and whether or not she was a virgin before the criminal act took place.

According to the 1994 Human Rights Watch report on forced virginity testing, the enforcement of prostitution regulation by the Turkish police is highly arbitrary. Registered prostitutes undergo regular medical examinations to diagnose and treat sexually transmitted diseases, as a matter of course. In the case of suspected illegal prostitution, however, the police are supposed to conduct an investigation to obtain evidence and submit a report to the commission that monitors prostitution, and then the commission should take action based on the report. In practise, however, police and state health care providers detain women without conducting a preliminary investigation, and force them to undergo gynaecological exams. The stated purpose of these exams is to check for sexually transmitted diseases, but medical and other sources for the HRW report indicated that women are examined to determine evidence of virginity or recent sexual activity. Evidence of a ruptured hymen or recent sexual activity is taken as evidence of prostitution.25

The police arbitrarily harass unmarried couples and unmarried women, accusing them of prostitution. Women walking on the streets alone or with men have been stopped and questioned by police. Women who live alone have been denounced as prostitutes by neighbours and then harassed by the police.26 In such cases the women are often asked to accompany the police to have a virginity exam.


In a recent interview concerning the impact of the growing Islamist movement on women, one of Turkey's leading feminists, Sirin Tekeli, described some of the staffing changes that have occurred at the Women's Library in Istanbul27, and in the municipality of Istanbul in general. She mentioned the replacement of one key female administrator with a radical Islamist, and the replacement of two Library staff members with the former municipal manager of cemeteries. She also stated that the female director of Istanbul city theatres was removed from her post. Tekeli said the Library had not had any difficulties since these changes were made in the period of the RP transition to power, but she concluded the interview by saying "I have the impression that the RP does not want women in top managerial positions, just as it does not want women deputies in the parliament."28

Women played an important role in the success of the RP in the municipal elections in 1994, campaigning among the village men and women who make up the majority of new arrivals in Ankara, as well as the other cities in Turkey. 29 Refah appeals to this constituency, both men and women, because it supports their wish for a more traditional lifestyle. According to the Turkish Daily News, Refah party worker Sibel Eraslan, identified as an important campaigner in the election of the new RP mayor of Istanbul, lost her job as the head of Istanbul's RP women after demanding higher party posts for women.30 In general, however, when asked why no women were selected by Refah as candidates for the last election, Refah women have maintained that they were asked to stand and refused.31

EDUCATION - Article 10

Secularist vs. Islamist education

Islamists have built strongholds in the Ministries of Education and Interior, where high officials are able to select supporters for key jobs and staff positions. Islamist dominance is reflected in policies, textbooks and teacher selection. Secularists denounced education officials said to be collaborating with Islamists in the April 1994 municipal elections. As a result, fifteen top ministry officials were sacked, accused of distributing pro shari'a materials to schools and other activities. It is widely believed, however, that the sackings were only a gesture, and that the education system is still deeply infiltrated by Islamists.32

According to Sami Zubaida, many Islamist groups have focused their efforts on the field of education and on the formation of a new generation of Islamist functionaries, professionals and cultural leaders. Their central focus has been the imam-hatip schools established by the government for the training of mosque imams and preachers. In 1992 there were almost 400 of these schools. Islamic foundations have provided scholarships, run residence halls, published books and in other ways provided crucial help to the imam-hatip schools. Curriculum is not confined to religious subjects, but includes a full range of secondary education. Only a small number of graduates go on to work in religious professions. Many proceed to higher education at the main universities and find employment in the public service, with the help of networks established by the Islamic foundations. Their work is not clandestine but open and public. As Zubaida says "they provide an Islamist platform of modernity that effectively challenges the hegemony of Kemalist secularism and the Western orientation of Turkish educational and political culture."33

The 1993 World Bank report

The following sections on Education and Employment, including rural employment, are based on a very thorough 1993 World Bank report on women in development in Turkey.

The educational gender gap

While there has been a significant reduction in the enrolment and literacy gender gap in Turkey in the past two decades, the proportion of female enrolments continues to decline as the level of education and training increases. Female enrolments represent only about a third of enrolments in middle schooling, secondary schooling and higher education.

Because of high grade repetition and large numbers of children who start school late, government gross enrolment figures exaggerate actual school attendance. According to the WB, there remains "very important unfinished business in providing basic education to all children in Turkey. This is particularly true for girls, since....forty-one percent of girls of primary and middle-school age currently do not attend school."34

In every grade beyond primary school, girls perform better than boys in terms of promotion rates, yet the transition rate from primary schooling to middle schooling is much lower for girls than for boys. The principal challenge for reducing the male/female enrolment gap in primary and secondary schooling is to raise the proportion of seven year old girls who start primary school, and particularly, to raise the proportion of girls completing primary school who progress to middle schooling.35 In every region in Turkey, the greatest difference in enrolments between males and females was at the middle school level.36

Vocational education

Although considerable progress has been realised in narrowing the educational gender gap, the female labour force remains at a disadvantage. Data on the source of training of the skilled labour force underscores the importance of schooling in relation to employment: forty-five percent of skilled women received their training at school compared to eighteen percent of men. Nearly sixty percent of men received their training on the job, compared to about thirty-five percent of women.

In the Turkish national education system, secondary school students make their own choices whether to attend general schools or vocational/technical schools. About one quarter of vocational and technical secondary schools, mainly commercial and tourism schools, are gender neutral. About a third are designated as girls' schools, offering training primarily in occupations which traditionally have attracted women, but also more recently programmes for the industrial and service sectors, such as travel and tourism service, textile-design, electronics, office management, secretarial training and computers, etc. Boys can attend these schools, but few do. Analogously, boys' vocational schools offer training in typically male-dominated professions. About six percent of students in these schools are girls. Within the non-formal education system, gender segregation is also widespread, with only boys enrolled in Apprenticeship Training Centres and girls enrolled in Girls Applied Craft Schools.37

Parents in some regions in Turkey are willing to send their adolescent daughters to separate girls' schools, but not to co-educational schools. The government's policy of co-education for these groups may be self-defeating, if its goal is increased school enrolment for girls. The fact that all general secondary schools are co-ed constrains the career options of girls whose parents are opposed to co-education, since these schools are the normal route to most higher-level jobs. These parents have the option of sending their daughters to girl's vocational schools, withdrawing them from school altogether, or sending them to a religious school (Imam Hatip), an increasingly popular option.

Several of the centralised co-educational boarding schools which the Ministry of Education has built for children in remote villages have attracted only boys, and have consequently become de facto boys' schools.38 At the primary level, co-education is not really a problem for most families.

Of particular concern is the access to education for girls at the level of basic education. The WB report claims that the majority of girls not attending primary or middle school are not attending because no school is available.

EMPLOYMENT - Article 11

The industrial sector

Since the 1950s, about ninety-seven percent of women in the industrial sector have been employed in manufacturing, and within this sector, an extremely high concentration of women work in textiles. A distant second is food, followed by machinery and equipment. These concentrations are long-standing, reflecting to a large degree the employment of women in activities that are an extension of their traditional household duties.39

While employment growth was not rapid, manufacturing has created significant job opportunities for women since 1970. The share of women who are classified as 'employers' is very small, however, and has remained so, whereas the male share has grown steadily. This reflects in part the prevailing view that it is inappropriate for a woman to run a workplace by herself, given the competitive nature of the manufacturing industry and the conditions of the workplace.

As in most other developing or middle income countries, the female labour force in the industrial sector is young, mainly between fifteen and twenty-four years old. If the twelve to fourteen year old group is included, women under twenty-five comprise half the female manufacturing labour force. While less than ten percent of the female labour force is employed in the industrial sector, there is a high degree of job segregation - eighty percent of women work in textiles and food industries, and of these, eighty percent are in the lower ranks of production, and on average they earn up to thirty percent less than men. 40

The informal sector

Sub-contracting by large enterprises is most prevalent in the textile and carpet-weaving industries, where informal workshops permit larger firms the greatest cost reductions, and allow them to circumvent regulations and to recruit women who may have difficulty working outside of their community. Many of these are family workshops, where a woman may not be paid at all, since her work is part of a family effort.

Homebased production

In Turkey, homebased production refers to the system of women producers who are paid by agents or middlemen on a piece-rate basis. This system covers carpet and rug weaving, handloom weaving, lace making, crocheting, tailoring, souvenirs and food production. It means minimal overhead to the agents, and flexibility for the women workers, but the wages are very low, partly because productivity is very low. Generally speaking, male relatives control the women's earnings.41

The services sector

Compared to industry, the services sector has been one of relatively rapid employment growth for women. The majority of women are in community, social and personal services. As in industry, there is serious under-estimation of the number of women working in this sector.

Notwithstanding the high proportion of women professionals, women are still segregated in the lower ranks of each profession. For instance, in academia, women account for over thirty percent of all faculty, but only twenty percent of full professors. In government, women account for just over twenty five percent of professional staff, but only a small percentage of them are directors and chiefs in the line ministries. Similarly in the health sector, there is a great concentration of women in the paramedical ranks.42

For women who work in the industrial and service sectors, the lack of appropriate training is perhaps the greatest constraint to their advancement. While the gender gap in educational attainment has been narrowing continuously over the past thirty years, gender segregation in the labour force has not yet begun to narrow.

Men receive significantly more on-the-job training than women, and although more women in skilled positions received their training in school, enrolments of girls in vocational training schools is significantly lower than for boys - as low as 3 to 1. The WB attributes the low enrolment of girls in these programmes to the fact that they are not useful, and the girls know it. A reassessment of training policies and courses for women in education, industry and throughout the private sector should be a government priority.

Employment discrimination

Gender neutrality has been the legal norm in Turkey, and yet the position of the majority of women has remained essentially unchanged by their legal emancipation. In the 1980s it was accepted within government that gender-neutral policies have not been sufficient, but little seems to have been done about it.

Although discrimination is proscribed in the Constitution, in practise there are serious difficulties in obtaining legal redress. The World Bank study emphasises the need for a legal mechanism to provide redress for employment discrimination, and also for the need to provide legal assistance to applicants.

Turkey has also entered a number of reservations to the European Social Charter, including a reservation on part of Article 8 concerning the right of employed women to protection, largely because there is no job security for women workers dismissed on grounds of pregnancy or confinement. - Article 50 of the Turkish Constitution on Working Conditions and the Right to Rest and Leisure states that "minors and women" shall enjoy special protection regarding working conditions. Many regulations introduced for the protection of women actually constrain them to traditional and generally low-paying occupations. For example, women are excluded from:

  • Industries in which raw materials or partly manufactured or finished goods are processed, cleaned, altered, ornamented or prepared for sale;
  • The construction and repair, alteration and demolition of building and all industrial activities connected therewith;
  • The transportation of passengers, goods and animals by land, air or water.43

Job security

Under Turkish labour laws workers have no job security. Dismissal of workers has been legislated as an absolute right of employers, who may lay-off a worker for any reason. The worker may be entitled to certain types of compensation, but cannot demand reinstatement in the event of an abusive or discriminative dismissal. Employers usually claim "immoral conduct on the part of the worker," because the burden of proof is on the worker, and few laid off workers can spare the expense and time of a court case, and other workers do not want to stand witness against their employer.44

Conclusions of the World Bank Report

The gender differences in status, occupations and sectoral distribution in Turkey are marked, and they have changed very little over time. Since 1955, two-thirds of women workers have remained concentrated in the unpaid family worker category, usually in agriculture.45 The proportion of women in the professions rose steadily from 1965 to 1990, the share of women among service workers almost doubled, and the percentage of women among clerical and sales workers also increased dramatically. The share of women in managerial and administrative occupations, however, remained at about six percent between 1970 and 1990.

RURAL WOMEN - Article 14

According to the World Bank, the agricultural sector employs almost three quarters of the female labour force, and of the total agricultural labour force, one half is female. However, only about three percent of these women receive a wage, approximately five percent are self employed, and the remainder are unpaid family helpers. (Household Labour Force Survey, State Institute of Statistics, 1990.) Women's agricultural participation is limited in commercial crops, where most operations are mechanised and dominated by males, and greatest in family consumption crops. Women are also involved in sericulture and increasingly in apiculture.

Women working in agriculture are not covered by labour legislation. According to the World Bank study "this reflects the continuing pressures of the large landowners, and is widely considered to be one of the major shortcomings of the Turkish labour laws." 46

Notwithstanding the importance of women to the agricultural sector, women do not have ready access to agricultural resources and support services such as extension and training, information, credit or appropriate technology. The village extension agents who work with the farmers directly are invariably male while the home economists, who also work in the villages, are all female.

Male extension agents are required to contact a particular number of farmers, who are defined as the titled owners, so advising women in their farm activities would be an addition to the agent's normal work load. Even if they had the time, few women are able to talk freely with extension agents in the absence of a male relative. The curricula of extension programmes and research are biased towards commercial crops, which tend to be male-intensive activities. Village extension meetings are also attended primarily by men.47

According to a World Bank survey in one of the main Turkish banks and its regional branches, women receive little agricultural credit. Similarly, technology improvements in the agricultural sector have tended to benefit commercial crops with only limited development of technology for female-intensive activities.

Because rural development has been identified as critical to the social and economic well-being of the country, particularly given the untenable rate of growth in the major cities in the past few years, the government must provide significant development assistance for rural women. The increasing educational attainment of rural women over the past decade exacerbates urban migration. Without access to technology, extension services, credit and research, the female rural labour force will remain under-productive and the flow of migration to the cities will continue.48

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LAW - Article 16 - Article 153/1 of the Turkish Civil Code

Very recently the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeal reaffirmed Article 153/1 of the Civil Code which states that a woman must assume her husband's name upon marriage. Legal activists have been trying for a long time to get the Constitutional Court to annul Article 153/1 on the ground that it is unconstitutional. There is great concern that this new ruling, a confirmation of women's dependent status, signals a shift within the courts, which in the past have been protective of women's rights. Until now no court had clearly stated that there was no contradiction between Article 153/1 and the Constitution. - Articles 440 and 441 of the Turkish Criminal Code

Another very recent change concerns the crime of adultery. Formerly, two different Criminal Code articles covered this matter, one regarding men and another regarding women. Article 440 states that a woman has committed adultery if she has sexual relations with a man other than her husband. Article 441 of the Criminal Code stated that a man commits adultery if he has sexual relations with an unmarried woman and lives with the woman like husband and wife in the house he shared with his legal wife, or lives openly with the woman in another residence.

The Constitutional Court has annulled article 441. The legislature has one year to replace the annulled article with a new one. If a new law is not passed to replace the old one, fornication will not be a crime for men anymore, but only for women, through Article 440 of the Criminal Code. Although this would be the most serious outcome, sources say that there is probably a greater chance that a law will be passed to annul Article 440 also, or, most likely, that a new Article 441 regarding men will be passed.

Sources explained that if a new Article 441 is passed, in order to be constitutional it must define adultery for men the same way it does for women in Article 440. This means that the definition of adultery for men will be much stricter than it has been in the past. Activists do not feel that this state of affairs is necessarily an improvement, although initially it may appear to be so. If a new law is passed concerning "male fornication," then there is equality in the law, but it will also represent increased restrictions on consensual sex between mature partners, which secular activists do not feel should be a criminal concern. Fornication is a criminal offence because it is considered a threat to the family. New legislation further establishing the sanctity of the family would be a significant step towards accomplishing an Islamist agenda.

Even in the brief period that the Refah or Welfare Party has been in charge of government sources say that the issue of family values has acquired increased importance. Many women are in favour of stricter, equal punishment for fornication - rather than abolishing both articles for men as well as women - thus there is no consensus about this matter among the women's movement.

Religious and civil marriages

Religious marriage is not recognised by the state as a legal marriage. However, many couples, particularly in rural Turkey, have had only a religious marriage ceremony. The number of women who are in this situation can be inferred by the government practice of periodically announcing an 'amnesty' so that couples will come forward and register their children.


A woman must consent to be married and can apply for an annulment if she is forced into marriage. However, not many women have the opportunity to get their marriage annulled. Women in the south-eastern and eastern regions of Turkey in particular, because of the importance placed on virginity, would rarely consider annulment, because it would leave them with virtually no opportunity to remarry.


There are three different regimes of property: separation of goods, union of goods and aggregation of goods. If the parties have not concluded a prenuptial agreement determining the regime applicable to property acquired before, during and after marriage, they are considered to have accepted the separation of property regime (each party owns the goods and property that are registered in his/her name.) In practice, this regime works to the disadvantage of women. Even if the woman has money, she tends to follow the Turkish customs and does not object to her husband managing the couple's money, and accepts that goods and property bought with that money be registered in his name. Consequently, she does not have any claim on these goods or property in the event of separation or divorce.

Legally, a wife is entitled to whatever property she can prove to be hers. However, if her money or gold has been used for family expenses, it may be difficult to prove it was hers.


According to the law, men and women have equal rights in case of divorce. However, to prove abandonment, the complaining spouse must establish that a formal invitation back into the home has been offered. Women usually have no place to go but to their parents' home, and so can easily be found by their husbands, but men can more easily disappear, thus preventing the wife from divorcing him by formally establishing his refusal to return to the marriage.


Most men declare less than their actual income, so it is up to the woman to prove the amount of the husband's income for the purpose of determining maintenance. According to the law, the court should investigate the validity of the man's income declaration, but often do not.


A woman's marital status does not affect her right to inherit from a blood relative. There is no legal differentiation between men and women in matters of inheritance. In practice, however, particularly in rural areas, girl children are often forced to let their brothers own the land.

Custody and Guardianship

The courts consider the best interests of the child. In practice, women usually get custody of children. However, a woman may not be awarded custody if she is considered to be living a 'bad' life. During the marriage, parental authority is shared equally, but in the event of a dispute, the final word belongs to the father. The permission of the husband is needed if a woman wants to leave the country with her children.


1 Tim Kelsey, Dervish: The Invention of Modern Turkey, (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1996). An excellent reflection on the internal contradictions of modern Turkey. back

2 Tim Kelsey back

3 Tim Kelsey back

4 Turkey: Women in Development, a World Bank Country Study, (The World Bank, Washington, DC, 1993), p.88. back

5 Maureen Freely, "Women: True or false? " The Guardian Features Page, The Guardian, 23 July, 1996. back

6 Maureen Freely back

7 Maureen Freely back

8 James M. Dorsey, "The Captain Keeps It Secret," The Wall Street Journal Europe, 22 August, 1996. back

9 John Hooper, "Islam on Probation," The Guardian, 7 August, 1996. back

10 Hooper back

11 Hooper back

12 Chris Nutall, "Turkey condemned on rights," News in Brief, The Guardian, 2 October, 1996. back

13 Hooper, "Islam on Probation," The Guardian, 9 August, 1996. back

14 Hooper back

15 Hooper back

16 Ethan Bronner, "Trepidation in Turkey: Abuse allegations abound for nation in political tumult," The Boston Globe, 5 August, 1996. back

17 "Turkey's Islamist-Led Government Bows To Generals," Federal News Service - Mid-East Newswire, 9 August, 1996. back

18 A Matter of Power: State Control of Women's Virginity in Turkey, Women's Rights Project, Human Rights Watch, (Vol. 6, No. 7), June 1994. back

19 Human Rights Watch back

20 Human Rights Watch back

21 Nüket Sirman, "Turkish Feminism: A Short History" back

22 Nüket Sirman back

23 Cathy Benton, "Many Contradictions: Women and Islamists in Turkey," The Muslim World, (Vol. LXXXVI, No. 2), April 1996. back

24 Tim Kelsey, p. 187 back

25 Human Rights Watch back

26 Human Rights Watch back

27 The Women's Library and Information Centre was founded in 1990 on premises made available by the previous, secular city administration. It has a collection of several thousand books and a rare collection of women's magazines from the Ottoman era. For several years it served as a venue for conferences and exhibitions on women's subjects. [from an article by John Hooper, "Women fear repression by innuendo," The Guardian, 8 August, 1996.] back

28 Nukte Devrim-Bouvard, "Turkish Women and the Welfare Party: An Interview with Sirin Tekeli," Middle East Report, April - June 1996. back

29 Cathy Benton back

30 Cathy Benton back

31 Maureen Freely back

32 Sami Zubaida, "Turkish Islam and National Identity," Middle East Report, April-June 1996. back

33 Sami Zubaida back

34 WB, p. 66 back

35 WB back

36 WB, p. 70 back

37 WB, p. 72 back

38 WB, footnote 53/, p. 72 back

39 WB, p. 52 back

40 WB, p. 54 back

41 WB, p. 55 back

42 WB, p. 56 back

43 WB, p. 97 back

44 WB, p. 99 back

45 There is disagreement about this. One Turkish economist says that there has been a general decline in the number of unpaid family labourers, and that most are now employed in waged or salaried work. F. Yildiz Ecevit, "The Status and Changing Forms of Women's Labour in the Urban Economy," Women in Modern Turkish Society, ed. Sirin Tekeli, [Zed Books Ltd, London and New Jersey, 1995], pps. 81 - 88. Despite this disagreement, Ecevit confirms that between 1960 and 1985 women gained entry to only thirteen new jobs out of one hundred. back

46 WB, p. 97 back

47 WB back

48 WB, pps. 51-2 back





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