Tag Archives: Human Rights

Social Justice for Turkish Women

by Jessica Stone

Turkey is making strides to be a modern country, but its treatment of women is still far behind the times. Largely because of the prevalence of strict religious fundamentalism, women who have been raped are often blamed as much as, if not more than, the perpetrator of their rape. The Guardian columnist Elif Shafak describes the society in Turkey as viewing unmarried non-virginal women negatively, which means rape victims are shamed and said to have lost their honor. For this reason, Shafak writes that neither Turkish domestic abuse victims who want to leave their spouse nor Turkish rape victims have few options for legal recourse:

“For women in Turkey who are victims of domestic or sexual violence, there are few doors to knock on. There are few women’s shelters, and too often society tends to judge the victim, not the perpetrator. Every year women are killed or forced to commit suicide in the name of honour. In a context as unfair as this, we need politicians who are sensitive to women’s problems and dedicated to solving them. However, unlike other areas of life in Turkey, local and national politics remains stubbornly patriarchal.”

The issue of arranged marriages also raises some women’s rights concerns. The Jerusalem Post cited a U.N. statistic showing that 3.6 million girls under 18 are married in Turkey. same article also quoted Nezihe Bilhan, the president of the Turkish Association of University Women, as saying, “Early marriage is a major human rights violation because you take away her right to be educated. When you take her right to be educated then you take her future. She cannot have a future if she is not educated.”

Some of the concerns about women’s rights have to do with worries that Turkish Prime

Erdogan's government has been criticized for its views toward women. Source: The Guardian
Erdogan’s government has been criticized for its views toward women. Source: The Guardian

Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is catering to religious fundamental groups that don’t support many women’s rights.   Middle East news magazine The Tower reported in October that Erdogan recently repealed a ban on religious headscarves in civil service jobs, a rule a former Prime Minister implemented to separate church and state, and the country’s vice president publicly criticized a TV anchor for not dressing modestly enough.

These actions suggest the country’s elected officials believe women should dress, act, and behave under extremely strict religious guidelines. Part of the reason for that could be a lack of women in the Turkish government. E.U. Neighborhood Policy Commissioner Stefan Fule said that only 1 percent of the municipalities in Turkey have a female mayor, according to the United Press International.  Fule also said part of the problem was Turkish society’s attitudes toward gender:

“We are all aware that progress on women’s rights also depends on a change in mentality and perceptions on gender,” Fule said. “Such change cannot take place overnight, neither in Turkey nor anywhere else.”

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Gezi Park Protests Raise Human Rights Concern from UN Officials

Turkish protesters fight to preserve the Takism Gezi Park in Istanbul.  Source: Google Images.
Turkish protesters fight to preserve Gezi Park in Istanbul. Source: Google Images.

by Jessica Stone

In June, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the Turkish government and Turkish citizens to take immediate action to ease social and political tensions caused by Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul.  According to a BBC News article, the protests started out as a small group demonstration, consisting of a few city planners and environmentalists hoping to preserve the aesthetic environment of the park, since the property may be used for urban development.

This BBC article examines how the new development, a shopping center, would affect Taksim Square and Gezi Park.

The current area around Gezi Park.  Source: BBC News.
The current area around Gezi Park and Taksim Square. Source: BBC News.Building plans for a new mall on Gezi Park's property.  Source: BBC News. Proposed building plans for a new mall on Gezi Park’s property. Source: BBC News.

But the protests soon attracted “a diverse array of people disenchanted by the government’s Muslim conservatism, its free-market policies, or both.”  The protests turned into violent riots that raised considerable concern about the Turkish police’s “excessive use of force against peaceful groups of protesters.”   Demonstrators alleged that police fired tear gas canisters,  pepper spray, and rubber bullets at them from close range or into closed spaces, and sexually abused and beat protesters.  Human Rights Watchdog Amnesty International provided a comprehensive report of Gezi Park human rights violations.

Pillay told Turkish officials that such allegations of human rights violations need to be “promptly, effectively, credibly and transparently investigated.”  Pillay said Turkish officials they must seize the opportunity to resolve “some remaining systemic problems in the country’s approach to the rule of law” to punish those who perpetrated the excessive violence, adding, “the government must also provide adequate reparation to victims of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations by security forces.”

One of the most compelling videos from the protests comes from the the VICE blogging network:

For more information on Turkey’s human rights violations, this CNN article provides more in-depth coverage of various accounts and includes Turkish authorities’ response to the allegations.  Also, Hürriyet Daily News provided a detailed timeline of the protests.

Typified by Oppression, Women in Iran Fight for Essential Rights

By Connor J. Wangler
womenrights
Source: TheGuardian.com

As in many countries where Islamic Sharia Law reigns supreme, the rights of women are often starkly different compared to those typified within Western culture. Iran is perhaps one of the most oppressive governments when it comes to women’s and girls’ rights as it is one of the most adherent law systems when it comes to Islamic law.

One area that seems to be a beacon of hope for women in the Islamic Republic, however, is in women’s education. According to Nayereh Tohidi, more than half of the university students in Iran are female, making up at least 70% of those studying engineering and science. Some fundamental conservatives in Iran argue that this will lead to a disparity in education and economic imbalances between men and women. This view hasn’t stopped several universities from encouraging the education of women by creating Women’s Studies programs that go up to the Masters Degree level.

Here is an interesting piece by FreeMiddleEast regarding what they call Iran’s “Gender Apartheid.”

Despite this prospect of advancement in education, women still suffer greatly in their inequality with men when it comes it several areas. One of these areas is female participation in sports. The “Bad Hijab” law, outlawing the exposure of any part of the body other than hands and face, has made it very difficult for Iranian women to participate in the full range of sports. This often leads Iran’s international representation in sporting events, such as the Olympics, to be dominated by men.

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Source: Change for Equality

Even the fight for women’s rights is vilified by conservatives within the country as anti-Islamic and, therefore, morally reprehensible. The “One Million Signatures” campaign is an effort to end discrimination of women in Iranian laws by collecting one million petition signatures. One such law the campaign focuses on is one that gives greater value to male legal testimony over the testimonies of females. The female leaders of this campaign, unfortunately, have been attacked and, often, arrested. Several leaders of the campaign were arrested for allegedly contributing to banned websites.