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
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 Middle East news magazine The Tower reported in October that Erdogan recently repealed a ban on religious headscarves in civil service jobs, a rule a former Prime Minister implemented to separate church and state, and the country’s vice president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.”