The state of Turkey is a key component in world relations by being a member of the United Nations and an ally to the United States. Turkey has been involved in the Turkey and Iranian Nuclear Crisis, Arab Spring, and the War on Terror. With these major occurrences, the role of women in Turkey has evolved through the centuries, politically and culturally. Turkey’s involvement with the United States, along with other United Nation members, has aided women to gain power through political and discrimination movements, along with straying from the discriminative traditions for women. Before the formation of the Republic of Turkey, The Sultanate of Women was a 130 year period, during the 16th and 17th centuries, when the women of harem had major political influence of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the time the women were put into power because the Emperors were either minors, incompetent to rule, or simply had great respect for their mothers (The Sultanate of Women, n.d.). As the women began to rule, such radical distinction was not easily accepted and quickly began facing opposition from the public. Where their male predecessors had won favor with the public through military conquest and charisma, female leaders had to rely on royal ceremonies and the construction of monuments and public works (Peirce, 1988).
With the decline of the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century, educated women within the elite class started organizing reforms in hopes of improving women’s conditions and demanding fair rights, later being known as feminists. They fought to increase women’s access to education and paid work, to abolish polygamy, and the Islamic veil (Women in Turkey, n.d.). All the reforms and actions dedicated to the advancement of women led to the Ottoman Welfare Organization of Women, in 1908. Writer’s and politicians joined the movement to criticize the low social status of Turkish women. The organization later became partially involved in the Young Turks Movement which was a driving force in the founding of the Turkish Republic. The women’s revolution accomplished by the young Turkish Republic was in fact the result of these 50 years of activism by Ottoman women (The Women’s Movement…, n.d.).
In 1923, the Turkish Republic was founded and the feminist movements shifted towards the Kemalist modernization efforts, separating the new state of Turkey from old traditions of the Ottoman Empire. By straying from old traditions, polygamy was banned, divorce and inheritance rights were made equal and gave women full poitical rights, to vote and be elected by 1934 (Cevap, Hakları, n.d.). Even with the great strides the modernization movements and feminists were establishing, there was still a large divide of social discrimination from the formal rights created by laws in Turkey.
After the Turkish Coup D’état of 1980, women from all classes began meeting in reading groups to discuss female empowerment literature. These groups sparked major interest and turned into women awareness- raising groups that critiqued the traditional standard in family life that was forced upon women. In 1987 feminists organized the first public protest against male violence. It was followed by campaigns fighting against sexual harassment, “purple needle”, and campaigns seeking the right of self-determination over the female body. These campaigns arose due to women’s wish to reject the traditional patriarchal code of ethics, honor, and religion which left men to decide the fate of the female body (Feminist Movements in Turkey, n.d.).
The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979. The CEDAW serves as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination (CEDAW, n.d.). By fault, Turkey had to comply with this convention due to membership of the United Nations and allow women in the legal system, protection of women in workforce and public, along with eliminating negative acts against women.
In 1985, the Fifth Five Year Development Plan was reestablished in Turkey but for the first time women’s issues were recognized as an independent political and planning problem. To fix the apparent dilemmas against women, the General Directorate for the Status and Problems of Women was established in 1990. 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 (Women in Turkey, n.d.).
Due to the Turkish Reform of Civil and Criminal Law of 2002, the rights of man and woman have become equal. Before this, crimes against women were seen as a family honor instead of an individual right, which caused many issue that have now been fixed because of the reform. Other women improvements that came from the reform were, family courts were created, labor laws were instituted to prohibit sexism, and programs were created to educate against domestic violence and to improve access to education for girls (Binder& Richman, n.d.).
Even with the great advancements over time with women in Turkey, there is still room for improvement and social equality. Domestic violence is still a major and according to a 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 (Bailey-Hoover, Watson, & Comert, 2011). The reforms that had taken place aided an overall atmosphere against discrimination and violence but it is difficult to enforce rules in each individual home due to women being fearful of the consequences if they were to speak out, even with the laws.
In total, Turkey has gone through major advancements from the beginning of the Republic to present day. The Sultanate of Women, Decline of Ottoman Empire, and the Ottoman Welfare Organization of Women were all major contributors to the Republic of Turkey and the formation of laws, by separating the Ottoman Empire traditions out of the newly formed. When the Republic was founded, it became a secular state along with granting political rights to women by 1934. After the Turkish Coup D’état of 1980, women furthered their development in the country by creating awareness-raising groups and became more confident to participate and create protests. The Fifth Five Year Development Plan, The General Directorate for the Status and Problems of Women, and the Turkish Reform of Civil and Criminal Law have aided in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women over the recent years. However, there is still discrimination in the workplace with inequality and family life with violence. Overall, Turkey has had major progression since 1920 but there is still room for growth for women.