‘More progress needed on women’s rights’

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.11, No.34, 29.9.05
Publication Date 29/09/2005
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By Martin Banks

Date: 29/09/05

Progress on Turkey's EU accession talks is seen as vital if there is to be an improvement in women's rights in the country.

That is the message from a group of Turkish mayors who say that while women's rights have changed for the better in recent years, there is still room for major improvement.

Of the 3,000 mayors in Turkey only 18 are women and 15 of them were in Brussels recently (31 August) to attend a conference at the European Parliament. The aim was to demonstrate the contribution women can make to the political and economic development of the country and to highlight some of the problems that women there still face.

Their spokesperson, Songül Erol Abdil, mayor for the municipality of Tunceli, said:

"Women have to overcome great difficulties in order to do what I have done and build a career in local administration.

"It is very important for our country's democratic health that women get more involved in the decision-making process."

Turkish women do enjoy more freedoms than those in many other Muslim states. The nation even had a female prime minister, Tansu Ciller, in 1993-95. But this is the exception to the rule, in a country where, at 4.6%, the representation of women in parliament, although higher than in many Middle Eastern nations, is among the lowest in the world. Only 24 of the Turkish parliament's 550 MPs are women.

Abdil believes a sign that Turkey may eventually join the EU will speed up the process. "Real progress in the accession negotiations would encourage more women to get engaged and help break down some of the barriers which currently prevent women from doing so."

For many years, Turkish women have had access to education, the right to divorce and the right to vote. They became the legal equals of men on 1 January 2002 when they were granted the right to an equal say in decisions relating to children and the home. They were also allowed to take jobs without obtaining the consent of their husbands. But reality needs to catch up with the law - the female employment rate is the worst in Europe and one in every eight girls is out of school.

Recent studies show how far Turkey still has to go in terms of gender equality. A report last year by Amnesty International painted a bleak picture. It estimated that at least one-third of Turkish women are victims of domestic violence in which they are "hit, raped and, in some cases, killed or forced to commit suicide". According to Amnesty International, some 40 women are thought to have been murdered in so-called honour killings by their families in 2004.

A World Economic Forum (WEF) survey in May said the country was in the bottom ten states world-wide for its record on equality of the sexes. The WEF ranked nations on five criteria, including equal pay and access to jobs. Other factors were representation of women in decision-making structures, equal access to education and access to reproductive healthcare. Of 58 nations surveyed, only Egypt was deemed to have a worse record than Turkey.

Yildiz Tokman, who works for a non-governmental organisation in Ankara and was in Brussels with the mayors, said the change was likely to take time. "Nothing is going to change overnight but getting more women in elected office would be a start," she said.

Former journalist Yurdusev ...zsökmenler was elected mayor for Baglar municipality in south-west Turkey in the country's 2004 municipal elections.

She said she sought election because she wanted to help tackle some of the many problems Turkish women faced in society.

"You have to remember that Turkey is still a developing country and that it is women who suffer the highest rates of unemployment and the poorest education," she said.

Mukaddes Kubilay has been mayor of Dogubeyazit for seven years and said she found it "very difficult" to make any impact at first.

"I consider my first big success to be changing the image of women in the local area where I live. Seeing that a woman can successfully run a big local administration like mine has, I believe, encouraged more women to become engaged in the local decision-making process than was previously the case," she said.

She added that there were encouraging signs that progress was being made across the country.

In the wake of the EU member states' decision to start accession negotiations with Turkey, feminist groups successfully campaigned for changes to the civil code. "Yes, women in Turkey do enjoy more legal rights than in the past but, in practical terms, they still lag a long way behind men in so many ways," said Tokman.

Analysis feature looking at women's rights in Turkey. A World Economic Forum (WEF) survey in May 2005 said the country was in the bottom ten states world-wide for its record on equality of the sexes. The WEF ranked nations on five criteria, including equal pay and access to jobs.

Source Link http://www.european-voice.com/
Related Links
World Economic Forum: Publications: Global Competitiveness Reports: Women's Empowerment: Measuring the Global Gender Gap, May 2005 http://www.weforum.org/pdf/Global_Competitiveness_Reports/Reports/gender_gap.pdf

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