Turkey has made improvements in women's rights, but women still
need better enforcement of laws and more representation in the
labor force, politics and other key areas, according to the European
commission is tracking Turkey's progress in reaching certain benchmarks
to join the European Union. The country began membership talks
in 2005, and negotiations are expected to last about 10 to 15
The commission's latest annual report,
released Nov. 5, said "progress on reforms was limited in
2008," though Turkey has "improved its ability to take
on the obligations of membership."
In response, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement: "Membership
to the EU is a strategic aim of our country. ... We are fully
determined to implement the political and economic criteria that
will allow our people to attain the highest standards in all fields."
Regarding women's rights, Turkey's main problem areas include
violence against women, such as so-called honor killings; the
illiteracy rate, which is about one-third among women; the low
level of participation of women in Parliament and local governmental
offices; and discrimination in entering the labor force, said
Didem Bulutlar Ulusoy, political officer-legal issues for the
Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey.
The Prime Ministry's Human Rights Directorate reported that the
number of honor killings committed in Turkey rose to 220 in 2007.
Most occurred in major cities, which illustrates the need to increase
efforts to raise awareness on women's rights among urban migrants,
the progress report said.
So-called honor killings are those perpetrated by a family member,
typically against female relatives who are thought to have brought
dishonor on the family for behavior such as adultery or being
the victim of rape.
In 2005, Turkey implemented several changes to its penal code
to criminalize marital rape and strengthen sentences for those
convicted of honor killings. Previously, judges would reduce sentences
for honor killings because of "provocation," but now
the crime is punishable by life imprisonment.
who commit honor killings, especially in the eastern and southeastern
parts of Turkey, believe they are doing so for religious reasons,
according to Ayse Sucu, president of the Women's Religious Affairs
Directorate and the head of women's programs at the Turkish Religious
Affairs Foundation. "The many misinterpretations of that
traditional religion is a big problem for us," she said.
Turkey has undertaken a project called Hadith, which involves
about 20 universities, to collect and classify the sayings of
the Islamic prophet Muhammad. One of the project's possible byproducts
is a clarification of misperceptions about women based in religion.
Sucu said although she is not involved in the project, she is
looking forward to its results.
An underlying cause of violence against women, including honor
killings, is a lack of education, Sucu explained. The Religious
Affairs Foundation offers education courses and teaches women
basic skills such as literacy to help make them more self-sufficient,
Turkey's government has started to air television commercials
aimed at educating viewers about domestic violence.
And municipal women's centers are working to raise public awareness
about domestic violence, along with offering education courses
and a network of support for women, according to Yurdusev Ozsokmenler,
mayor of Baglar municipality in the Diyarbakir region of southeastern
Turkey. "We are trying to make the problem more visible,"
she said. "If you put the problem on the table, you can make
solutions for it."
Another law enacted in 2005 requires municipalities with populations
of 50,000 or more to provide women's shelters, but Ulusoy said
not all have done so.
According to the progress report, nongovernmental organizations
are having trouble assessing the impact of the public-awareness
campaigns, and Turkey lacks a national database on the causes
and numbers of domestic violence cases. Turkey is working with
the EU on a gender-equality project that would create such a database,
"You cannot develop policies on issues that lack relevant
data," she added.
report also cited a "low" level -- about 25 percent
-- of women in the labor force. Sucu agreed that women in Turkey
are underrepresented in different fields and tend not to hold
high-level executive positions, but she said the exception is
in the field of education, where many women hold top university
Some signs of success in Turkey include a shrinking gender gap
in primary education, which decreased to 2.3 percent, the progress
report said. Turkey teamed up with the U.N. Children's Fund, known
as UNICEF, to pay families to send their children to school. The
program has improved attendance of both boys and girls.
In addition, the report said cooperation among public institutions
to combat domestic violence and honor killings has improved, and
30,000 law enforcement officers have received new training with
another 10,000 planned by the end of 2008. Gender sensitivity
programs also have been established for health workers.
The key is to view the problems in terms of human rights, not
just women's rights, and the situation will improve, Sucu said.