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 Middle East news magazine The Tower reported in October that Erdogan recently repealed a ban on religious headscarves in civil service jobs, a rule a former Prime Minister implemented to separate church and state, and the country’s vice president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.”
Women for Women’s Human Rights – NEW WAYS was founded in 1993 “to promote women’s human rights and to support the active and broad participation of women as free individuals and equal citizens in the establishment and maintenance of a democratic and peaceful order at national, regional and international levels.” It was formed to address basic human rights violations that women experience in the workplace and at home. In Turkey, women are deprived of schooling and face forced marriage, prohibition from work, domestic violence, and honor crimes and killings.
As part of WWHR-New Way’s first field research as an official NGO in 1993, researchers
discovered that women in Turkey’s most populated cities are “unaware of the rights granted to them by the law.” Furthermore, according to its website, this research verified that “…women’s lives in Turkey are shaped by patriarchal practices, traditions and customs that govern all social zones, rather than the legal rights obtained on paper. Additionally, the patriarchal practices did not take into consideration the needs and the expectations of women, including sexual and reproductive rights.” With this knowledge, WWHR – New Way has called for the eradication of gender roles in Turkish society with activism, advocacy, and lobbying. The NGO’s efforts have been imperative for accomplishing various legal reforms in Turkey, networking in Muslim societies, and promotion of women’s equal human rights at the United Nations level. The NGO has worked with the Economic & Social Council of the UN, which provides consultation on difficult affairs.
The NGO developed the Human Rights Education Program for Women (HREP) to inform and cultivate Turkish women’s knowledge of their human rights. Since its implementation in 1995, the nation-wide outreach has reached more than 7,500 women in 42 Turkish provinces. But the outreach extends much further – participants have become a resource for equality and advocacy in their community so that other women can develop – and hone – necessary skills to improve their confidence when handling personal adversities on a daily basis. Together, women from all parts of Turkey have become active agents in advocacy efforts for social reform on the national and international level. Lastly, HREP has initiated and is coordinating “The Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR)”, the first active solidarity network in Muslim societies for the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and human rights.
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.
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.
However, Western culture has greatly influenced popular music in Turkey. There are several songs on iTunes Turkey Top 100 songs (updated hourly) that are also popular in the United States. Besides their cultural music, Turkish people have been downloading songs such as The Monster by Eminem (feat. Rihanna) and Talk Dirty by Jason Derulo (feat. 2 Chainz). The third most downloaded song is from one of Turkey’s pop artists, Erdem Kinay.
Popular Turkish movies reflect the people and culture of Turkey. Similar to Americans, Turkish people go to movie theaters in their leisure time. Here is a link to a blog by an American student studying abroad in Turkey. In one post he wrote about the distinctions between the process of going to a movie in Turkey compared to America. Although the process is similar in some ways, which suggests the West’s cultural influence, he says the movie-going experience was much more enjoyable in Turkey.
According to Today’s Zaman, “Turkish films are very dramatic — the plot nearly always includes gun chases and romance. They always have a sad ending.” The columnist also provides a descriptive list of leisure time activities in Turkey, and specific cultural names for traditions and items associated with popular activities.
Wikipedia‘s list of movies filmed in Turkey is actually surprising. A few films on the list have received exceptional reviews and remain popular in the United States. For example, two James Bond movies – The World is Not Enough and Skyfall – were filmed in Turkey, as well as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Hitman.