Turkey’s women rise as Civil Law in danger in its 96th year

Newly established Republic of Turkey issued a new civil law in 1926, marking the importance of the gender equality in the modern republic. In its 96th year, the civil code is under threat, women associations shout, stating that the basic women rights such as heritage or divorse is to be changed by political aspirations. (Photo: We will stop femicide initiative)

Prof. Dr Yeşim Arat, in an article in which she discusses women’s rights in Turkey, defines the Civil Code announced on February 17 1926 as “revolutionary” according to the conditions of that time.

“Although it contained the patriarchal biases like a declaration of men to be the heads of their families, the Civil Code was revolutionary. Under the new law, women would have the opportunity to relate to the state as citizens even though biases against them did exist.” With these words, Arat emphasizes that the introduction of such a law, only three years after the foundation of the Republic, at a time when the legal framework of a country was redefined, and its basic principles were determined, shows that equality between men and women is important for the newly born state of Turkey.

Nation-State demanded gender equality

“Since the founding of the Republic in 1923, women have always been at the center stage of politics because of their indispensable role in the path of modern Turkey, even if they were not active representatives in high numbers. First, the legal framework was redefined to articulate the changing aspirations of the new nation-state” says Arat.

Among these requests was a Civil Code that would replace Islamic law and take the Swiss law as a model. Polygamy was abolished, women were able to have equal rights with men in divorce, inheritance, and custody over children equal to those of their husbands. “It was a blow to the Islamist opposition which prescribed dependent roles for women.”

In 1934, less than ten years later, suffrage was granted to women. The existence of women was recognized not only in the private realm but also in the political realm. “Suffrage reinforced the civil code in extending women’s relationship to the state as citizens.” says Arat. “For a state which aimed to transform the traditionally autocratic polity, this was an important move in providing a participatory structure.”

Women’s organizations on the alert for the Civil Code

Today, on the 96th anniversary of the adoption of the Civil Code, the family model based on equality and solidarity between spouses is in danger of being destroyed. While a murder of a woman is on the agenda of the country every day, due to the needs of the political agenda, it moves away from international agreements that will protect women and vulnerable groups against violence. It is clear that these political needs also want to move away from other articles of the Civil Code that ensure equality between men and women.

Turkey’s women are on the alert in all these developments. Women’s organizations are determined not to give up the age-old struggle for equality between women and men.

Speaking to Yetkin Report, Representative of the We Will Stop Femicide Platform Gülsüm Kav explained the importance of preserving the Civil Code, which enables women to gain their rights while they struggle to survive in Turkey:

“The fact that our Civil Code brought equal citizenship rights in marriage, divorce and inheritance 96 years ago was groundbreaking. In fact, this was a requirement of democracy and law. In the following years, women had to deal with traditional, feudal relics, and the women’s struggle had very important gains as a result. As a matter of fact, the Civil Code was further strengthened in 2002 and the family law section was reorganized. The family model based on the principle of equality was replaced instead of the family model based on the head of the family. The requirement for the consent of the spouse to participate in the working life was removed, and the necessary fair regulations regarding equal distribution of property and alimony were added to the law. However, while further regulations are needed regarding the necessity for women to have reproductive rights, we see that in the current period, the rights we gained almost 100 years ago are being tried to be taken back.”

Discourses leading to the disregard of the Civil Code

Nazan Moroğlu, Coordinator of the Union of Istanbul Women Organizations, called on everyone who defends the secular Republic, especially women, to stand up for the Civil Code. She drew attention to the fact that the Civil Code is the symbol of secular law, the discourses that cause the Civil Code to be ignored today, and the changes that are intended or made in the laws. She stated that with the amendment made in the Population Services Law on October 17, 2017, granting “official marriage authority” to muftis led to the disregard of the legal unity. Beside, she underlined the abolition of the provision of alimony on the grounds of “saving the man’s life from being mortgaged” was brought to the agenda again, and this wrong should be reversed.

Like Nazan Moroğlu, Gülsüm Kav thinks that while a femicide is on the agenda of the country almost every day, the authorization of mufti offices to marry, which is incompatible with the law, can be associated with the loss of a young girl named Sıla Şentürk, which hurts all of us, and that this authority facilitates early marriages. She draws attention to the fact that most of the femicides occur during the divorce period, that women in Turkey risk death to get a divorce, but it is not right to bring up the processes that make divorce difficult, such as mediation.

Members of the Women’s Platform for Equality (EŞİK) are also concerned that the constitutional principle of secularism is in danger along with the Civil Code. EŞİK members pointed out that the ideological attacks against gender equality, which started in 2010 with the rhetoric “men and women are not equal”, continued with the desire to ban abortion in 2012, and turned into a government program with the “Parliamentary Divorce Investigation Commission Report” in 2016, today completely target the Civil Code.

Equality rights in danger

They think that the gains made by the Civil Code are a whole; an attack on a part of this whole actually targets the whole, not just alimony but women’s right to work without permission, their right to determine their place of residence without permission, their right to choose family housing together are in danger. They share their concerns that rights that ensure equality before the law, such as equality in inheritance, property, sharing of marital property, managing a marital union, adoption, custody or guardianship, are in danger.

In the 96th anniversary of the adoption of the Civil Code, the common message of women’s organizations is that it is much more important today to protect the Civil Code, which ensures women’s attainment of their rights.

That the Civil Law shows the civilization level of that society, that they will continue to fight not only for women but for the future of the whole society, that they will not give up secularism for life, freedom and equality, that they will defend the Civil Law that guarantees the principle of secularism in private life, that if the Civil Law is in danger, everyone will be in danger, they sound.


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