Population of women: 37,688,700/75,705,100
Life expectancy of women (at birth): 75
School life expectancy for women: 11
Women's adult literacy: 81%
Unemployment of women: 9.4%
Women engaged in economic activity: 24%
Source: U.N. Statistics Division,
Social Indicators, updated June 2011
Last updated January 2011
Contributed by Katie Meline
Due in large part to the efforts of an energetic and well-organized women’s human rights movement, Turkey has made significant strides in addressing violence against women, chiefly through the modernization of its laws to provide greater protection. NGOs have praised the government’s willingness to take action, observing that “women, who during the 1980s organized in protest actions against the state, have in more recent times begun to seek dialogue and cooperation with the state” (Icon Institute Public Sector, Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies, and BNB Consulting, National Research on Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey, 2009).
Yet, despite positive developments in the legal framework, domestic violence, sexual assault, honor killings, and trafficking persist in Turkey. Constitutional amendments and updated legal codes have paved the way, but a major investment of effort and resources is needed to translate aspirations into concrete change. As recently observed by two women’s rights activists, “While it is disconcerting that the gap between the laws on paper and implementation remains vast, it should also be taken into consideration that all these reforms happened within a ten-year time frame, and there is yet time and room for more effective implementation. However, an institutionalized political will, and a coordinated comprehensive policy that includes all ministries with specific targets to eliminate violence against women within a defined time frame are essential to this process” (Ilkkaracan and Amado, Good Practices in Legislation on Violence against Women in Turkey and Problems of Implementation, EGM/GPLVAW/2008/EP.13, 2008).
In 2001, the Turkish Civil Code was updated to put women on equal footing in the family. Article 41 of the Constitution was revised to note that the family in Turkish society is “based on equality between spouses.” The new code also granted women equal rights to property acquired during marriage, which, according to Women for Women’s Human Rights (hereinafter, WWHR), “[assigned] an economic value to women’s hitherto invisible labor for the well-being of the family household” (WWHR, Turkish Civil and Penal Code Reforms from a Gender Perspective: The Success of Two Nationwide Campaigns, 2005).
Other advances included eliminating the differentiation in property rights between children born out-of-wedlock versus those born to a married couple and raising the legal minimum age of marriage to 18 for both men and women (age 17 with parental consent). In cases of forced marriage, women were granted the right to apply for an annulment within the first 5 years of marriage.
Further advances came in 2004 when Parliament passed a new Penal Code containing more than thirty amendments. Among these was an update to Article 10 of the Constitution that 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” (for more on the constitutional changes, see Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault sections below).
The reform of the Turkish Penal Code in 2004 was achieved as result of a concerted campaign by women’s civil society organizations. The new Penal Code represents an important step forward in “ensuring that domestic violence is no longer viewed as an acceptable, ‘ordinary’ phenomenon but rather as a ‘crime’” (Icon Institute Public Sector, Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies, and BNB Consulting, National Research on Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey, 2009). This rejection of domestic violence as the status quo was affirmed in June 2009 when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey had failed to fulfill its obligation to protect Nahide Opuz and her mother from brutal domestic violence inflicted by Opuz’s husband. The judgment represented the first time the Court had spelled out a state’s obligations in regard to domestic violence, stressing that such violence is not a private matter but instead an issue that requires state intervention (International Centre for the Protection of Human Rights, European Court finds Turkey in violation of obligations to protect women from domestic violence, 2008).
In August 2012, Turkey adopted a new domestic violence law, Law No. 6248, the Law to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women. In cooperation with the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, this new law seeks to protect women, children, and family members of victims of domestic violence and to provide services such as shelters, financial aid, and psychological and legal guidance services. The law calls for the establishment of Violence Prevention and Monitoring Centers to act as shelters for victims, to design and implement programs on violence prevention, and to collect and analyze data on preventive cautionary imprisonment and sentences. Police officers are now authorized to enforce protection as soon as the victim needs it without enduring lengthy court processes. Additionally those who violate a protection order will automatically spend three days in prison. It also extends protection from “spouse” to any people who are considered as a family member whether they live or do not live in the same house.
In August 2012,
The reform of Turkish Penal Code in 2004 was achieved as result of a concerted campaign by women’s civil society organizations. Aimed at holistic reform, the campaign succeeded in redefining sexual crimes as crimes committed against individuals rather than crimes against society, family, or public morality. WWHR noted that in the penal code “all references to vague patriarchal constructs such as chastity, morality, shame, public customs, or decency have been eliminated and definitions of such crimes against women brought in line with global human rights norms” (WWHR, Turkish Civil and Penal Code Reforms from a Gender Perspective: The Success of Two Nationwide Campaigns, 2005). It also provided a synopsis of other noteworthy changes aimed at addressing violence against women:
The new code, which states in the first article that the aim of the law is to “protect the rights and freedoms of individuals,” brings progressive definitions and higher sentences for sexual crimes; criminalizes marital rape; brings measures to prevent sentence reductions granted to perpetrators of honor killings; eliminates previously existing discrimination against non-virgin and unmarried women; criminalizes sexual harassment at the workplace and considers sexual assaults by security forces to be aggravated offences. Provisions regulating the sexual abuse of children have been amended to explicitly define sexual abuse and remove the notion of “consent of the child.” Provisions legitimizing rape and abduction in cases which the perpetrator marries the victim have been abolished; the article granting sentence reduction to mothers killing the newborn children born out of wedlock is removed; and the article regulating “indecent behaviour” has been amended to include only sexual intercourse in public and exhibitionism.
Honor killings were addressed in two ways in the Penal Code reform of 2004. First, Article 29 on “unjust provocation” was modified to limit its scope to “unlawful acts” and render it inapplicable to honor killings; previously, the provision had been used to rationalize shorter sentences on the grounds that the violation of a man’s honor was justification of murder. Second, article 82 on aggravated homicide was updated to include a clause that referred to honor killings, albeit as “homicides by motivation of custom.” The use of the term “custom killings” has raised concerns among women’s NGOs, which argue that using the term will “provide a legal loophole that limits the scope of the article to only a certain type of honor killing, such as family assembly verdicts, or as if it only exists in certain regions where certain customs prevail” (Executive Committee for NGO Forum on CEDAW – Turkey, Shadow NGO Report on Turkey’s Sixth Periodic Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, July 2010). The CEDAW committee echoes NGOs’ concerns over the term “custom killing,” concluding that the language might lead to “less vigorous prosecution and less severe sentences” (U.N. General Assembly – Human Right Council, Compilation prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15(b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1: Turkey, A/HRC/WG.6/8/TUR/2, 19 February 2010).
The updated Penal Code of 2004 criminalizes sexual harassment, which is defined as “any act of harassment with sexual intent” (Article 105 of Penal Code). A guilty verdict in a sexual harassment case can carry a sentence of three months to two years in prison; if the harassment is deemed to have occurred “by undue influence based on hierarchy or public office or by using the advantage of working in the same place with the victim,” the length of punishment can be increased by half.
All forms of human trafficking are outlawed by Article 80 of the Turkish Penal Code, which reads as follows:
Article 80-(1) Persons who provide, kidnap or shelter or transfer a person (s) from one place to another unlawfully and by force, threat or violence or misconduct of power or by executing acts of enticement or taking advantage of control power on helpless persons in order to force them to work or serve for others or to send them away where he is treated almost like a slave, are sentenced to imprisonment from eight years to twelve years and punished with punitive fine up to ten thousand days.
(2) In case of execution of acts which constitute offense in the definition of first subsection, the consent of the victim is considered void.
(3) In case of kidnapping, providing, sheltering or transfer of a person(s) who is under the age of eighteen, the offender is subject to the punishments indicated in the first subsection even if he did not execute the acts causing offense.
(4) Security precautions are applied for the legal entities committing such offenses.
In a recent report, the US State Department deemed Turkey’s penalties for involvement in trafficking as “sufficiently stringent and commensurate with prescribed penalties for other grave crimes, such as sexual assault” (U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2009 Human Rights Report: Turkey, 11 March 2010).
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