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Women in Turkey

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Women in Turkey

Women in Turkey
Latife Uşşaki (Atatürk's wife) in 1923
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.366 (2012)
Rank 68th
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 20 (2010)
Women in parliament 14.2% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 26.7% (2010)
Women in labour force 28.1% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value 0.6081 (2013)
Rank 120th out of 136

The role of women in contemporary Turkey is defined by an ongoing gender equality struggle, contributing elements of which include predicate conditions for EU membership candidacy, prevalent political tides that favour restrictive patriarchal models, and woman's rights activism. Legislation has been introduced by the Islamic-oriented AK Party which includes outlawing marital rape[2] and relaxing of restrictions which banned the wearing of the headscarf.[3] Women in Turkey continue to be a victim of rape and honor killings; furthermore researches by scholars[4][5] and government agencies[6] indicate widespread domestic violence in Turkish population.

Women in Turkey also face significant disparities in employment, and, in some regions, education. The participation of Turkish women in the labor force is less than half of that of the European Union average and while several campaigns have been successfully undertaken to promote female literacy, there is still a gender gap in secondary education and an increasing gender gap in higher education. There is also widespread occurrence of childhood marriages in Turkey, the practice being especially widespread in the eastern and central parts of the country.


Safiye Ali, the first Turkish female doctor.
Feriha Tevfik, 1929
First ever Miss Turkey, 1929
Hatı Çırpan, 1935
One of the first female muhtars and MPs of Turkey
Çağla Kubat, 2006
Turkish model and windsurfer
Güler Sabancı, 2008
Turkish industrialist
Sertab Erener, 2004
Turkish singer and the winner of Eurovision Song Contest 2003
Janet Akyüz Mattei, 2009
Muazzez İlmiye Çığ, 2009

In the course of the 16th and 17th centuries during the Sultanate of Women, women of the Imperial Harem had extraordinary influence on politics of Ottoman Empire. Many of the Sultans during this time were minors and it was their mothers, like Kösem Sultan, or sometimes daughters of the sultan as Mihrimah Sultan, leaders of the Harem, who effectively ruled the Empire. Most of these women were of slave origin. The period started in 1520 during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent until 1656, the reign of Mehmed IV.

During the Young Turks Movement. Writers and politicians such as Fatma Aliye Topuz, Nezihe Muhiddin and Halide Edip Adıvar also joined the movement.[8] In her novels, Halide Edip Adıvar criticised the low social status of Turkish women and what she saw as the lack of interest of most women in changing their situation.

After the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the feminist movement gradually became part of the [8]

The acceptance of women's issues as an independent political and planning problem was discussed for the first time in the Fifth Five Year Development Plan (1985–1990), and "the General Directorate for the Status and Problems of Women" was established as a national mechanism in 1990. The General Directorate, which was connected to the Prime Ministry in 1991, has been carrying out its activities under the responsibility of a State Ministry. It conducts a large variety of activities with the objective of protecting women's rights, of strengthening the position of women in social, economic, cultural and political life, and of providing the equal utilization of rights, opportunities and capacities. Since the 1990s, feminist discourse has become institutionalized, with the foundation of women's studies centers and university programs at universities such as Marmara University or as Istanbul University.[8] In 1993, Tansu Çiller became the first female Prime Minister of Turkey.

In 2002 the Turkish government reformed Turkish criminal and civil law, and since then, the rights of women and men during marriage, divorce, and any subsequent property rights have all been equalized.[8] A criminal law has been established that deals with the female sexuality as a matter of individual rights, rather than as a matter of family honor. Additions to the Turkish constitution oblige the state to use all the necessary means to promote the equality of the sexes. Family courts were also created, labour laws were instituted to prohibit sexism, and programs were created to educate against domestic violence and to improve access to education for girls.[8]

Legal rights

Turkey is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women since 1985, as well as to its Optional Protocol since 2002.[10]

Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution bans any discrimination, state or private, on the grounds of sex. It is the first country which had a woman as the President of its Constitutional Court, Tülay Tuğcu. In addition, Turkish Council of State, the supreme court for administrative cases, also has a woman judge Sumru Çörtoğlu as its President.

The article 41 of the Turkish Constitution was revised to read that the family is "based on equality between spouses".[11] The new code also granted women equal rights to property acquired during marriage, which was supposedly meant to give economic value to women’s labor within the family household.[11]

The minimum age for marriage was also raised to 18 (17 with parental consent).[11] In cases of forced marriage, women have right to ask an annulment within the first 5 years of marriage.[11] In 2004, an update to article 10 of the constitution placed the responsibility for establishing gender equality on the state: "men and women have equal rights. The state shall have the obligation to ensure that this equality exists in practice".[11]

In 2005, the Turkish penal code was changed to criminalize marital rape and harshen the sentences for those convicted of honor killings, which previously carried reduced sentenced because of "provocation".[2] The Human Rights Directorate reported that the number of honor killings committed in Turkey rose to 220 in 2007, with most of the killings occurring in major cities.[2]

The Islamic headscarf, worn by more than 20% of Turkish women,[12] is banned to women working in public offices, including school teachers and university academic personnel, during the practice of their functions. Girl students in primary and secondary education also are not allowed to use headscarf, except in optional religion classes.



The [13]

Second wave feminism reached Turkey in the 1980s, bringing up issues common to the movement which had emerged in the West in the 1960s, such as the elimination of violence against women, the oppression experienced in the family and the challenge against virginity tests, then a common practice for women who were about to get married or who had been subjected to sexual assault.[13]

The rise of a global civil society and the internationalization of women’s organizations and the [13]

Political representation

In 1930s for the first time Turkish women entered politics. The first elected female mayor was Sadiye Hanım (1930). In the elections held on 8 February 1935 18 women entered the parliament. One of them, Hatı Çırpan was a muhtar (village head) of a village prior to entrance to parliament. The first female city mayor was Müfide İlhan in 1950. Although representation of women in political and decision making bodies is relatively low, Tansu Çiller has been Prime Minister between 1993 and 1996. The number of women in the Turkish parliament has increased to 14.3% after the Turkish general election, 2011 (79 individuals in the parliament), most of them are affiliated with the Justice and Development Party.[14] In 1975 the percentage was 10.9 and in 2006 it was 16.3.[15] Only 5.58 percent of mayors are women and in the whole of Turkey there is one governor (among 81) and 14 local governors.[9]

Crime against women

The murders of women in Turkey increased from 66 in 2002 to 953 in the first seven months of 2009.[16] In the [18]

Domestic violence

According to report by the Turkish government dating from 2009, 42% of the surveyed women said they had been physically or sexually abused by their husband or partner.[19] Almost half of them never speaking to anyone about this, and only 8% approach government institutions for support.[20] When they do approach them, police and gendarmerie sometimes prefer to attempt to “reconcile” the families rather than protecting them.[20] While the rates of violence are particularly high among poor, rural women, one third of the women in the highest economic brackets have also been subject to domestic violence.[20]

According to a United Nations report published in July 2011, 39% of women in Turkey had suffered physical violence at some time in their lives, compared with 22% in the United States.[16] Even though every municipality with more than 50,000 inhabitants is required by law to have at least one women’s shelter, there are just 79 in the whole country.[16]


According to a study, some commonly-expressed views on rape were given to individuals from various professions, who were asked to agree or disagree; results recorded that 33% of the police officers agreed that "some women deserve rape", 66% of police officers, as well as nearly 50% of other professional groups except the psychologists about 18% and 27% of psychiatrists, suggested that "the physical appearance and behaviors of women tempt men to rape."[21]

In 2013, The Guardian reported on claims by activists for the Kurdish separatist group the PKK of widespread sexual abuse of prisoners allegedly used to suppress dissent.[22]

Human trafficking

In 2008, critics have pointed out that Turkey has become a major market for foreign women who are coaxed and forcibly brought to the country by international mafia to work as sex slaves, especially in big and touristic cities.[23][24][25]


While still trailing male literacy rates, female literacy rates in Turkey have grown substantially to above 90% in 2012.[26] Illiteracy is particularly prevalent among rural women, who are often not sent to school as girls.[26] Half of girls aged between 15 and 19 are neither in the education system nor in the workforce.[27] The government and various other foundations are engaged in education campaigns in Southeastern Anatolia to improve the rate of literacy and education levels of women.[28] In 2008, 4 million women were illiterate, as opposed to 990 thousand men.[29] A 2008 poll by the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey showed that almost half of urban Turkish women believe economic independence for women is unnecessary reflecting, in the view of psychologist Leyla Navaro, a heritage of patriarchy.[30]

In the 2012-2013, the schooling ratio of girls (at 99.61%[31] as of 2014 according to the Turkish Statistical Institute) exceeded that of the boys for the first time in Turkish history. The gender gap in secondary education (5.3% lower than boys) remained, albeit at much lower levels in comparison to the 2002-2003 educational year (25.8%). However, the gender gap in higher education increased between 2002 and 2012 to 9.5%.[32] Significant regional differences still persist, with only 15.9% of girls attending secondary school in the Muş Province as of 2010, as opposed to 82.4% in the Bilecik Province, the province with the highest percentage.[33] In 2009, the provinces with the lowest schooling ratios for girls were Bitlis, Van and Hakkari, all in southeastern Turkey, while those with the highest ratios were Ankara, İzmir and Mersin, all in western Turkey. Dropout rates for girls at primary level are higher than boys, especially concentrating at the fifth and sixth years.[29]


The participation rate of Turkish women in the work force is 28%, less than half the European Union average.[16] Out of 26 million employable women, only 5.9 million are in the labor force.[34] 23.4% of women have either been forced by men to quit their jobs or prevented from working.[35] The rate of women not covered by social security is 84% in the East and 87% in the Southeast.[27]

Women’s employment has decreased since 2000 and the participation of women in the workforce lags behind some Islamic countries as well as western countries.[27] One of the reasons for this is the increased migration of rural women, who would otherwise have been employed in the agriculture sector.[27] Compared to other Islamic countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, Turkey is the only one with a diminishing rate of women’s employment.[27]

According to a report by Catalyst, in 2008 both parents worked full-time in 11.6% of Turkish households, while in 3.3% one parent worked full-time and one part-time. Only one parent worked full-time in 68.9% of households.[36]

Family life

On average, 28% of Turkish women were married before the age of 18. Because of the large regional differences in the incidence of underage marriages, as many as 40~50% are married as minors in some areas, particularly in eastern and Central Anatolia.[37] A report by the Commission on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men states that childhood marriages are "widely accepted" by Turkish society.[37] A bride price is still paid in parts of Turkey.[37]


Do you cover when going outside?[38]
1999 2006
No, I do not 27.3% 36.5%
Yes, I wear a headscarf 53.4% 48.8%
Yes, I wear a turban 15.7% 11.4%
Yes, I wear a çarşaf 3.4% 1.1%
NI/NA 0.3% 2.2%

A 2006 survey by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation estimated the prevalence of hair covering among Turkish women at 60%[39] or about two-thirds of all Turkish women.[40] There are regional variations: in 2005, 30% of women in Istanbul covered their hair, while in central and eastern Turkey, women are rarely seen on the streets, and wear headscarves in public.[41]

The 2006 survey found that, compared to a previous study carried out in 1999, the number of women who employ headcoverings had increased in rural areas, but decreased in cities.[42] It also found that the Çarşaf was almost never worn by women in the 18–39 age group.[42]

From 1999 to 2006, women not wearing head coverings in the 25–39 age group rose from 28% to 41.5%, and in the 18–24 group increased from 40.5% to 50.7%.[42] The prevalence also differs by income: in 2006, 37.2% of women in the medium income group were uncovered, compared to 71.2% in the higher income group.[42]

The same survey asked single men whether they would want prospective wives to go covered: 56% responded no, 44% yes.[42] Only 1.1% of covered women said they cover because of their spouses, fiancees or family, yet 46% thought there would be objections if they went uncovered.[42]

On average, women who wear a headscarf are less tolerant towards gays, atheists, or ethnic minorities.[43]

Women's health

Since 1985, Turkish women have the right to freely exercise abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and the right to contraceptive medicine paid for by the Social Security. Modifications to the Civil Code in 1926 gave the right to women to initiate and obtain a divorce; a right that was only recognized in Malta (a EU country) in 2011. Turkish prime minister Erdoğan argued that women should have at least three children.[20]

No gender discrimination exists regarding the laws as well as their practice in the health sector in Turkey. On the other hand, prolific pregnancy and birth have a negative health impact on both the mother and the child. With the 1994 World Population and Development Conference, the Ministry of Health adopted a policy change which included the emotional, social and physical health of women and young girls with an integrated approach, rather than only reproductive health and family planning as it did in the past. Another initiative brought onto the agenda by the Ministry of Health after the Beijing Conference, is to ensure the participation of men in reproductive health and family planning.

Bibliography on feminism in Turkey

History of feminism in Turkey

Feminism during the Ottoman Empire

  • Berktay, Fatmagul. (2000). "Osmanlı'dan Cumhuriyet'e Feminizm". Tarihin Cinsiyeti, 2006, Istanbul: Metis Yayinlari. s. 88-111
  • Cakir, Serpil. (1996). Osmanli Kadin Hareketi. Istanbul, Metis Kadin Arastirmalari Dizisi, Metis Yayinlari.
  • Adivar, Halide Edip. (1913). "Yirminci Asırda Kadınlar" Mektep Müzesi Dergisi.
  • Karakisla, Yavuz Selim. (1999). "Osmanli Hanimlari ve Hizmetci Kadinlar", Toplumsal Tarih, Mart 1999, sayi 63, s. 15–24.
  • Melissa Bilal ve Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, Bir Adalet Feryadı: Osmanlı'dan Türkiye'ye Beş Ermeni Feminist Yazar, "Hayganuş Mark" (İstanbul: Aras Yayınları), s. 242–263.
  • Mojab, Shahrzad. (?). "Part 1: Historical Perspectives". Women of a Non-State Nation: The Kurds. Mazda Publication. s. 25–94.
  • Toprak, Zafer. (1992). "II. Mesrutiyet Doneminde Devlet, Aile ve Feminizm", Sosyo-Kulturel Degisme Icinde Turk Ailesi, cilt 1, Basbakanlik Aile Arastirma Kurumu Yayinlari, Ankara, s. 237.
  • Zihnioglu,Yaprak. (2003). Kadınsız İnkılap. Metis. (especially pp. 54–115, chap. 5–7.)
  • Safarian Alexander. (2007). On the History of Turkish Feminism, "Iran and the Caucasus", vol.11.1, Brill, Leiden - Boston, pp. 141–152.

The Republic and feminism

  • Arat, Zehra F. (1998). "Kemalizm ve Turk Kadini", (der) Ayse Berktay Hacimirzaoglu, 75 Yilda Kadin ve Erkekler. Istanbul: Turkiye Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfi Yayini, 51–58.
  • Berktay, Fatmagul. (1993). "Turkiye Solunun Kadina Bakisi: Degisen Bir Sey Var mi?" (der) Sirin Tekeli, 1980'ler Turkiye'sinde Kadin Bakis Acisindan Kadinlar. Istanbul: Iletisim Yayinlari.
  • Koçak, Mine. 80'li Yıllar Kadın Hareketi Link to the original document.
  • Pdf of book contents.
  • Tekeli, Sirin. (1998). Birinci ve İkinci Dalga Feminist Hareketlerin Karşılaştırılmalı İncelemesi Üzerine bir Deneme." 75 Yılda Kadınlar ve Erkekler, İş Bankası ve Tarih Vakfı Yayınları, s. 337–346.
  • Stella, Ovadia ve Gülnur Savran; Bozan & Ekin, & Ramazanoglu & Tuksal pieces in Özgürlüğü Ararken, Amargi, s. 37–57, 81–101, 203–221, s. 221–239 (roza ve jujin dergileri), 239–257.
  • Selections from Amargi no. 3, Projen Var Mı? (tarih??)

On women and gender

Islam, nationalism and the nation-state

  • Acikel, Fethi. (1996). "Kutsal Mazlumlugun Psikopatolojisi", Toplum ve Bilim. (70): 153–199.
  • Akin Feride. (1998). "Turban Sorunu: En Buyuk Dusman", Birikim dergisi 114.

Media and women

  • Aktanber, Ayse. (1993). "Turkiye'de Medya'da Kadin: Serbest, Musait Kadin veya Iyi Es, Fedakar Anne", (der) Sirin Tekeli, 1980'ler Turkiyesinde Kadin Bakis Acisindan Kadinlar. Istanbul: Iletisim Yayinlari.
  • Asuman, Süner. Hayalet Ev: Yeni Türk Sinemasında Aidiyet, Kimlik ve Bellek, "Vasfiye'nin Kız Kardeşleri" (İstanbul: Metis Yayınları), s. 291–305.

Women's bodies, sexuality, and violence

  • Ayse Gul Altınay and Yesim Arat, 2007. Türkiye'de Kadına Yonelik Siddet. [Click on for the original document: ]
  • Kadioglu Ayse (1998) "Cinselligin Inkari: Buyuk Toplumsal Projelerin Nesnesi Olarak Turk Kadinlari", 75 Yilda Kadinlar ve Erkekler, Tarih Vakfi Yurt Yayinlari.

Sexual division of labor

  • Hattatoglu-Ozbek Dilek. (2002). "Ev Eksenli Calisma Stratejileri" (der) Aynur Ilyasoglu, Necla Akgokce, Yerli Bir Feminizme Dogru. Istanbul: Sel Yayincilik.
  • Ozbay Ferhunde (1998) "Turkiye'de Aile ve Hane Yapisi: Dun, Bugun, Yarin", (der) Ayse Berktay Hacimirzaoglu, 75 Yilda Kadin ve Erkekler. Istanbul: Turkiye Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Tarih Vakfi Yayini.
  • (2002) "Evlerde El Kizlari: Cariyeler, Evlatliklar, Gelinler", (yay. Haz. Ayse Durakbasa) Tarih Yaziminda Sinif ve Cinsiyet. Istanbul: Iletisim Yayinlari.
  • Ozyegin Gul (2003) "Kapicilar, Gundelikciler ve Ev Sahipleri: Turk Kent Yasaminda Sorunlu Karsilasmalar", (der) Deniz Kandiyoti, Ayse Saktanber, Kultur Fragmanlari/ Turkiye'de Gundelik Hayat. Istanbul: Metis.
  • (2004) Baskalarinin Kiri/Kapicilar, Gundelikciler ve Kadinlik Halleri (Cev. Sugra Oncu) Istanbul: Iletisim Yayinlari.
  • Yasin, Yael Navaro. (2000). "Cumhuriyetin Ilk Yillarinda Ev Isinin Rasyonellesmesi", Toplum ve Bilim (84).
  • Sirman, Nukhet. (2002). "Kadinlarin Milliyeti", Modern Turkiye'de Siyasi Dusunce (Cilt 4), Istanbul: Iletisim Yayinlari.

Women and property rights

Women and work

  • Erdogan Necmi (2002) "Yok-Sanma: Yoksulluk, Maduniyet ve Fark Yaralari", (der) Necmi Erdogan, Yoksulluk Halleri. Istanbul: Demokrasi Kitapligi.
  • Savran Gulnur (2004) Beden, Emek, Tarih: Diyalektik Bir Feminizm Icin. Istanbul: Kanat Yayincilik.
  • Bora, Aksu (2005). Kadınların Sınıfı. İletişim. pp. 59–182 (the theoretical overview from pp. 21–59 is highly recommended by Ayse Parla for her gernder class in Sabanci)

Women and gender (overall)

  • Agduk-Gevrek, Meltem. (2000). "Cumhuriyet'in Asil Kizlarindan 90'larin Turk Kizlarina" Vatan, Millet, Kadinlar, Iletisim.
  • Alakom Rohat 1998. Araştırmalarda Fazla Adı Geçmeyen Bir Kuruluş: Kürt Kadınları Teali Cemati." Tarih Toplum 171 (March): 36–40.
  • Amargi. (2009). Kadinlar Arasinda: Deneyimlerimiz hangi kapilari aciyor: II. (der).
  • Amargi (Aralik 2008). Oda: Virginia Woolf'un odasindayiz: Deneyimlerimiz hangi kapilari aciyor –I.
  • Arat, Zehra. (1997). Kadinlarin Gundemi. (der). Istanbul, Say Yayinlari.
  • Arat, Zehra. (1996). Kadin Gerceklikleri. (der). Istanbul, Say Yayinlari.
  • Bora Aksu, Asena Gunal, and Gulnur Savran (tarih?), "Yuvarlak Masa." Birikim.
  • Edip Halide (1987) Zeyno. Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi.
  • Gürbilek Nurdan. (2004). "Kadınsılaşma Endişesi: Efemine Erkekler, Hadım Oğullar, Kadın-Adamlar," In Kör Ayna, Kayıp Şark. Metis.
  • Mutluer, Nil (2008) (der). Cinsiyet Halleri: Turkiye'de toplumsal cinsiyetin kesisim sinirlari. Istanbul, Varlik Yayinlari.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies. (Data as of January 1995.)

  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c In Turkey, Degrees of Change in Women's Rights – 6 November 2008 | Online NewsHour | PBS
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ ; this document is in Turkish, use a translator such as Google, if you cannot read Turkish.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i
  9. ^ a b Questions and Answers on Women's Right Turkish, prepared by the Human Rights Agenda Association; accessed on 14 October 2009
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d e Stop Violence Against Women website
  12. ^ BBC NEWS | Europe | Women condemn Turkey constitution
  13. ^ a b c
  14. ^
  15. ^ UN Joint Program for the Development of Women and Children's Rights, Turkish: Türkiye'de Kadın Olmak; accessed on 14 October 2009
  16. ^ a b c d
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Marchers demand better protection for women in Turkey - CNN
  20. ^ a b c d Women in Turkey: The Numbers Are Stacked Against Them | Human Rights Now - Amnesty International USA Blog
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery - Turkey
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ a b Literature Rates in Turkey - UNESCO
  27. ^ a b c d e Inequalities run deep in Turkey and women suffer the most - Hurriyet Daily News
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ Turkey needs more women in business - Hurriyet Daily News
  35. ^ Murder a fact of life for women in Turkey - Hurriyet Daily News
  36. ^
  37. ^ a b c
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ a b c d e f
  43. ^ Çarkoğlu and Toprak, 2007, p. 53.

External links

  • Kadının İnsan Hakları — Women for Women's Human Rights (English website)
  • KAGIDER — Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey
  • KA.DER - Kadın Adayları Destekleme Derneği — Association for the Support of Women Candidates (English website)
  • Uçan Süpürge - Kadın Haber Sitesi — Flying Broom - Women News Site (English website)
  • Foundation for the Support of Women’s Work
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