Of human and women's rights in Turkey

Of human and women's rights in Turkey

In a country like Turkey where the agenda is overwhelmingly hectic because of unending warlike situations in Syria, Libya or elsewhere, it’s very hard to find time to tackle existing social problems stemming from democratic and economic deficiencies.

Yesterday’s International Women’s Day has, therefore, constituted a very good opportunity to put all these social problems under the scope and to re-energize the society in their demands for a better life.

Hundreds of thousands of women hit the streets on March 8 across the country and spoke up about problems they have long been facing at home, at work, at school or in public life.

One common argument frequently made by civil society activists and experts is that women’s rights in Turkey are in decline in the last period.

Among multiple reasons, they cite the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) decision to shift the focus from the protection of the women to the protection of the family.

In 2011, AKP Chairman and then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had announced the establishment of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies replacing a state ministry responsible for women and family.

Erdoğan had explained this shift as the AKP is a “democratic conservative” party with a strong devotion to the protection of the family as he once said a woman who has not become a mother is a half-woman.

For many sociologists, the protection of the family through a conservative approach results in the deterioration of the status of the women both in the family and in the public. One consequence of this is increased violence against women as traditional trends override legal safeguards.

It would be unfair to single out Turkey when it comes to violence against women. The UN statistics illustrate a very grave situation on violence committed against the women with calls to all the countries to adequately fight with it. The Istanbul Convention is a product of this global call and it’s very important that it has been opened to signature in Istanbul.

Although Turkey has become one of the first countries’ that signed and ratified the convention, there are strong signs that the government is working to undergo changes on the convention with believes that its implementation disrupts the family structure.

It would not be a promising move for women’s rights in Turkey. Awareness of women’s rights is not limited to the educated and urbanized segments of the society but even conservative groups are loudly resisting against any restrictive trend on their independence and security.

Women’s participation in working life and schooling rate is also making vital problems to be addressed. OECD figures show around 33 percent of the women in Turkey are actively working. A developing nation must provide necessary conditions for at least 50 percent of women’s participation in the production processes.

Around 90 percent of the girls start an education life in Turkey but those who graduate from a high-school or a higher education institution are below fifty percent, according to the education workers’ union.

All these display a structural and political problem concerning social gender equality, a concept that must be upheld for resolving existing challenges. Describing the women’s role solely within the boundaries of motherhood and family would lead to an unbalanced society in deep economic and social problems.

That’s why women’s rights should be seen as human rights and vice versa. Democratic principles are for everyone and should be applied under no circumstance. Two interviews with two women I came across on March 8 do tell a lot about it.

These women are Özge Terkoğlu, the wife of journalist Barış Terkoğlu and Aysel Pehlivan, the wife of journalist and editor-in-chief of the online newspaper, the Oda TV. Both Barış Terkoğlu and Barış Pehlivan, as well as Hülya Kılınç, a journalist for the Oda TV, have been arrested for posting a story that has disclosed the identity of an intelligence officer who was killed in Libya.

As a matter of fact, the identity of this officer has been surfaced by a member of the parliament as well as by some other media outlets before the Oda TV reported on it. Journalists Murat Ağırel, Aydın Keser were later been detained on the same grounds.

Özge Terkoğlu and Aysel Pehlivan recall that both journalists were imprisoned in 2011 as a result of a plot by FETÖ and the fact that they are again behind bars show that not much change in Turkey concerning human rights and freedoms.

It’s our sincere hope that things will start to change for the good on both human and women’s rights in Turkey.