Empowerment of women is urgently needed in Turkey

Empowerment of women is urgently needed in Turkey

Without even mentioning a parliamentary vote the night before that approved giving authority to local muftis to conduct official marriages, Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya said on Oct. 19 in a meeting in Istanbul that the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) had “upgraded the status of women” in Turkish society and would never let it deteriorate.

The vote has worked as another divisive factor in Turkey’s polarized politics. The AK Parti has claimed that conservative, rural people still preferred Muslim religious ceremonies over secular marriages authorized by elected mayors (or village headmen), complaining that traditional religious marriages do not give any legal rights to the bride and her possible children. It therefore suggests that if religious officials (not random imams) are authorized to perform official marriages, these complaints could be addressed.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have objected to the move, saying it would be yet another blow to the secular system in Turkey and would also legalize underage marriages.

Women’s associations reflect the political divisions. Some, like the Turkish Federation of Women Associations (TKDF), say it is a move to restrict the rights of women. But others, like the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), claim it would enhance the rights of women by empowering those living in rather underdeveloped parts of the country.

The Istanbul conference where Kaya delivered her speech was titled “The Role of Women in Sustainable Development Goals.” It was organized by the Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation (TÜRKONFED) in cooperation with U.N. WOMEN and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Turkey.

Tarkan Kadooğlu, the head of TÜRKONFED, had minutes before said in his speech that despite an increase in women participation in the workforce, Turkey is still among the worst performers in the OECD. Almost half of the women in the workforce are currently working unregistered, without any social security, Kadooğlu said. He particularly pointed to the agricultural and small-size businesses where uneducated women are not very aware of their rights and not able to defend their rights for social reasons. Kadooğlu stressed the importance of the education of girls.

Kaya, on the other hand, admitted that the completion of the 12-year obligatory education (primary and secondary) for female students remained a big problem, despite the fact that an increasing number of girls are going to school. She said the main reason for this was underage marriages, especially among families in rural areas who – against the law - forcefully marry their daughters off before the age of 18, mostly through religious marriages conducted by random imams. This almost always puts an end to girls’ education life.

The minister also gave figures on the increasing rate of women participating in parliament. But she did not mention the known fact that the number of women in the upper echelons of the government is steadily decreasing.

The empowerment of women is an urgent need in Turkish society, not only in politics but in leading positions in industry and the government. The sustainability chain starts right from sustainable and good quality education, in order to achieve a better and healthier enhancement.

Murat Yetkin, hdn, Opinion