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The Right of Women, Gender Equality and Struggle with Violence Against Women

Turkey’s commitment to women’s rights dates back to her foundation when the founder and the leader of the modern Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk launched intensive reforms in order for providing the women with equal rights and opportunities. These reforms mark the first steps in the revolutionary path towards the transformation of the status of women in Turkey.

The 1980s have witnessed strengthening of the women’s movement both at the international level and in Turkey itself, leading to an increase in the public awareness of women’s rights. As a result, starting from the latter half of the 1990s, the relevant national legislation has been undergoing a process of review and important steps have been taken towards the establishment of gender equality through various legal amendments.

In this context, the Law on the Protection of the Family (No. 4230), which entered into force in 1998, is of special significance. The Law allows women and children who have been subjected to domestic violence to lodge personal complaints. The Law also provides for the enforcement of precautionary measures initiated by the Attorney General to ensure the protection of the victims.

Further legislation concerning women’s rights has also resulted from the ongoing harmonization efforts with the European Union acquis. The constitutional amendments that were approved by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 3 October 2001 and entered into force on October 17, 2001 contain clauses which reinforce the concept of gender equality within the family, e.g. a new formulation of Article 41 of the Turkish Constitution, which now states that “the family is the foundation of Turkish society and is based on equality between the spouses”.

From a historical point of view, Turkey constitutes an exemplary country with regard to gender equality and in providing rights to women in the social and political life. Women in Turkey have been granted the right to vote and to stand for elections earlier than many other countries.

Turkey is one of the pioneering countries in providing rights to women in political life. Currently, there are 48 women parliamentarians in the Turkish Parliament. Furthermore, there is a growing interest among women to participate actively in political life.

The New Civil Code, which entered into force on January 1, 2002, complements the foregoing constitutional amendments and fortifies the position of women both within the family and within society as a whole. The Code abolishes the supremacy of men in marriage and thus establishes the full equality of men and women within the family.

A major legal act has been dealt to honour crimes with the new Turkish Penal Code which entered into force on 1 June 2005. The de facto reduction of sentences in the case of “honour killings” was abolished with the new Code.

Special training programs are being carried out for security forces, health care personnel and other public servants who deal with women subjected to violence.

The Directorate General on the Status of Women and the Directorate General of Social Services and Child Protection Agency also undertake training programs on the human rights of women in collaboration with non-governmental organizations.

Moreover, non-governmental organizations, as part of their mandate to eliminate violence against women, conduct researches, gather data on violence and develop problem solving strategies to respond to physical, psychological, social, financial and legal problems arising from violence.

With the constitutional amendments which were adopted by the Parliament on 7 May 2004 and entered into force on 22 May 2004, article 10 of the Constitution entitled “Equality before the law” was amended. The phrase “Men and women shall have equal rights. The State has the duty to ensure that this equality is put into practice” was added to the article. With this amendment, gender equality is further reinforced.

In accordance with the Law on Municipalities (Law No.5215, adopted on 9 July 2004), municipalities with a population of more than 50.000 inhabitants shall establish shelters for women.

Under Law No.5223, adopted on 14 July 2004, amending the Law on Civil Servants, and the Communique published in the Official Gazette on 26 August 2004, the period of maternity leave has been extended from 9 weeks to 16 weeks.

The Law on the organization and duties of the Directorate General on the Status of Women, which was established in 1990, was adopted by the Parliament on 6 November 2004.

In addition to the amendments made to national legislation within the framework of women’s rights, women issues and gender equality, the Turkish Government also takes important steps in the international fora. Turkey is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since 1985, as well as to its Optional Protocol since 2002.

With the amendment to the Article 10 of the Constitution on May 17, 2004, supremacy was given to international conventions concerning basic rights and freedoms, including the CEDAW, over all national laws. This amendment placed CEDAW above all other legal arrangements which may be in conflict with its provisions. In accordance with this amendment, existing laws will have to be interpreted in the light of CEDAW provisions and principles.

As an embodiment of the importance attached to struggling with violence against women, Turkey co-sponsored the draft resolution entitled “Working towards the Elimination of Crmies Committed in the Name of Honor” with the UK. The said draft resolution was adopted on December 2004 during the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly.

Moreover, Turkey has served as a host country to various initiatives such as the conference held on December 14 – 15, 2006 in the context of EUROMED and Ministerial Conference of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) on women’s issues held on November 21 – 22, 2006.

Turkey pursues an exemplary effort in issues related with women at domestic and international level. Our efforts in this regard will continue.