21 January 2005
Anti-Discrimination Committee Takes Up Situation of Women in Turkey
Expert Members Commend Countrys Commitment to Gender Equality
NEW YORK, 20 January (UN Headquarters) -- Turkeys implementation of landmark legislation, its withdrawal of reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its ratification of that instruments Optional Protocol reflected the countrys clear commitment to achieving genuine gender equality, expert members of the Conventions monitoring body said today, as they took up the situation of women in Turkey in two meetings.
The country ratified the Convention in 1985 and, following amendments to its Civil Code, withdrew its initial reservations to the Convention in 1999. In 2002, Turkey ratified the Optional Protocol, by which individuals or groups of individuals can petition the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Congratulating Turkey on the progress it had made in implementing the Conventions provisions, experts welcomed the great potential for change made possible by recent revisions of the countrys Constitution, including the amendment to its Article 10, by which the State was obligated to ensuring the practical right to equality. Also praiseworthy was the enactment of new legislation, including the law on the protection of the family, by which domestic violence had been legally defined for the first time, and the anticipated entry into force this year of the new Penal Code, which, for the first time, criminalized marital rape and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Describing the perception that Turkeys legal reforms were part of a strategy for European Union membership, several experts asked what the Government was doing to dispel that perception, particularly by putting the provisions of the new laws and amendments into practice. In that regard, experts encouraged the Government to use special temporary measures to accelerate de facto equality. In presenting the countrys position, one expert noted, the delegation had stressed the need for time to achieve cultural change. However, time sometimes needed help and, looking at Turkeys scale of progress, one could say that should it remain stable, it would take the country more than 200 years to achieve political parity, for example.
Experts expressed particular concern about the Governments ban on the wearing of head scarves in educational institutions. Noting that the ban could provide a formidable barrier to womens equal right to education due to religious practice, one expert urged the Government to consider repealing the ban. Several experts asked if the term custom killings, as contained in the new Penal Code, included the broader concept of honour killings. Experts also asked the Government to clarify the status of the discriminatory practice of virginity testing according to the provisions of the new Penal Code. The multiple forms of discrimination faced by the countrys national minorities, particularly Kurdish women, was also addressed.
Describing Turkeys very rapid transformation, Guldal Aksit, Minister of State in Charge of Women, said that the countrys determination to meet international standards on womens rights as enshrined in the Convention was reflected by the many revolutionary legal changes it had adopted. The Convention had been a powerful instrument in guiding Turkeys efforts to eliminate discrimination against women. While the country had made considerable progress in achieving legal gender equality, the challenge now would be to reflect that progress in terms of implementation. Given the countrys determination and the powerful support of academic and civil society organizations, it was to be hoped that Turkey would make even greater strides in the years ahead.
Responding to the question of the ban on head scarves, another member of Turkeys delegation stressed that as a secular and democratic State, Turkeys laws were based on its secular Constitution. Civil servants and students in public schools were, therefore, required to abide by the general rules of proper attire, which also underlined the neutral character of the Government. Two cases had been brought to court and rejected. Even the European Court of Human rights had rejected those cases as religious symbols contradicted the principles of secularism and democracy. While the problem did exist, it should be solved also by independent universities and not only by the Government.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 January, to take up the situation of women in Samoa.
Taking up the situation of the women in Turkey today, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it that countrys combined fourth and fifth periodic report (documents CEDAW/C/TUR/4-5 and Corr.1).
Following the ratification of the Convention in 1985, Turkey withdrew its initial reservations to the Convention in 1999 in light of the review and amendment of its Civil Code. The Optional Protocol was ratified on 30 July 2002.
The Government reports that the period since 1997, when it last presented its reports to the Committee, is marked by milestone legal reforms that eliminate fundamental discriminatory provisions against women, as well as other initiatives to expand the boundaries of womens equality. In 1997, compulsory basic education was increased from five to eight years; in 1998, the law on domestic violence (Protection of the Family Law) was adopted; in 2002, the new Civil Code was adopted; and many principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, including those on violence against women, poverty and economic exploitation, have been included in the programme of the new Government.
While there is much to celebrate, womens situation in Turkey is far from the desired levels in terms of basic development indicators, as well as womens participation in decision-making, the reports say. Progress has been overshadowed by increased trends in political conservatism and growing socio-economic disparities. On the home front, Turkish society confronted grave challenges. Terror, which started in the mid-eighties and escalated during the first half of the 1990s, finally became contained by the security forces by 1997. In 1999, Turkey was struck by a devastating earthquake, the effects of which are still felt today. Efforts to rebuild the ruins became constrained by the recent economic crisis, which drastically increased the proportion of the population who are below the poverty line.
Regarding the current situation, the Government reports that women are still grossly under-represented in the Parliament; violence against women is still a social ill; and allocation of resources is still gender biased. In particular, limited resources are available to the Directorate General for the Status and Problems of Women, which continues to function without an organizational law, pending its consideration by the Parliament. There is still much to be done in strengthening the national machinery for the advancement of women and in eliminating discrimination against women in both the public and private spheres of life.
Regarding the new Civil Code, the reports state that it reflects a new approach to the family and womens role within the family, targeting the most intimate level where gender discrimination is continually reproduced. The law establishes equality between the spouses in several ways: the concept of the male head of the conjugal union is replaced by equal partnership where the spouses have equal decision-making authority; spouses also have equal rights over the family domicile and representational powers. The concept of illegitimate children has been abolished and their custody given to the mother. The minimum age of marriage has been raised and equalized for both sexes. The most significant amendment under the new Civil Code is the Regime Regarding the Ownership of Acquired Property. Additionally, in October 2001, Article 41 of the Constitution was amended to define the family as an entity that is based on equality between the spouses.
To promote womens equal opportunity in the work place, a draft law has been prepared to regulate and equalize parental leave provisions in the existing social security systems, the reports state. The draft stipulates that the spouses may share a six-month unpaid leave after delivery or adoption. Adoption of paternity leave potentially challenges the conventional notion of parenthood and the idea that rearing of children is the natural domain of women.
One of the most controversial issues in Turkey in the past decade related to virginity tests, which are regarded as a gross violation of womens human rights and Article 17 of the Turkish Constitution. The latter states that, with the exception of medical requirements and circumstances delineated in legislation, no ones bodily integrity may be violated. According to the reports, various provisions in the law have been used in the past to justify enforced virginity testing. One such statute was the Awards and Discipline in the High School of the Ministry of Education, which came into effect on 31 January 1995. The statute stated that the proof of unchastity was a valid reason for expulsion from the formal educational system. Virginity testing was often the method by which the necessary evidence was produced. As a result of pressure from womens groups and public debate, the Ministry of Education has removed the reference to unchastity from the revised statute on 26 February 2002, thus, eliminating gross gender-based discrimination.
Prior to that, on 13 January 1999, the Ministry of Justice issued a statute banning the bodily examination of women for reasons of disciplinary punishment against their consent or in a manner which will hurt or torment them. The statute eliminated virginity testing by distinguishing it from the legally required vaginal or anal examinations under conditions of rape, sexual conduct with minors, and encouraging or acting as an intermediary for prostitution. In such circumstances, if deemed necessary, the judge may order vaginal or anal examinations without the consent of the woman, the report says. However, the judicial decree needs to be accompanied by written approval from the public prosecutor.
Regarding prostitution, the Government reports that sex work is legal in Turkey only if it is licensed. Forcing women into prostitution and inciting and instigating prostitution is illegal, and this is regulated by several articles of the Criminal Code. Women working in brothels are also covered by the social security system. Brothel owners are responsible for taking the necessary measures to prevent sexually transmitted diseases in accordance with the Public Health Law.
As a result of recent efforts to curtail human trafficking, including in women, there has been a noticeable decrease in the amount of transnational prostitution and an increase in the number of organized trafficking networks that are apprehended. For instance, between 1996 and 2002, a total of 23,422 foreign nationals who engaged in prostitution have been deported from Turkey, and in 2000 and 2001 the number of trafficking organizers apprehended was 850 and 1,155, respectively.
Introduction of Reports
GULDAL AKSIT, Minister of State in Charge of Women, introduced her countrys report. Other members of the delegation were: Baki Ilkin, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations; Leyla Coskun Cinar, Acting Director General, Directorate General of the Prime Ministry on the Status of Women; Mehlika Aytac, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Justice; Zehra Odyakmaz, Gazi University; Murat Yavuz Ates, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ahmet Sait Kurnaz, Ministry of the Interior; Sevinc Atabay, Ministry of National Education; Aysegul Yesildaglar, Ministry of Labour and Social Security; Sengul Altan Arslan, Acting Head of Department, Directorate General of the Prime Ministry on the Status of Women; Arzu Koseli, Ministry of Health; Serap Ercan, Expert, Directorate General of the Prime Ministry on the status of Women; Serhat Aksen, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations; and Meltem Aksen, Legal Expert.
Introducing the report, Ms. Aksit said Turkey was determined to meet the international standards on womens rights as enshrined in the Convention. The Convention had been a powerful instrument in guiding Turkeys efforts to eliminate discrimination against women. At the time of ratification in 1986, Turkey had made reservations to provisions of articles 15 and 16 of the Convention, as they had been incompatible with the provisions of the Turkish Civil Code dealing with family relations and marriage still in force at the time. In September 1999, Turkey had withdrawn all of its substantive reservations to the Convention. The Optional Protocol had entered into force in Turkey in January 2003.
Turkey was undergoing a very rapid transformation, she said. Some very important developments had taken place since the reports submission, especially in the legal field. Recent constitutional amendments reflected the most important change in policies towards women. By adopting a provision to Article 10 of the Constitution in May 2004, the State had been deemed responsible not only for ensuring non-discrimination between women and men, but also for taking necessary measures to provide equal rights and opportunities in practice. By adopting that revolutionary amendment, Turkey had taken its place among a small number of nations with similar constitutional provisions.
She said another notable development was the amendment to Article 90 of the Constitution, also in May 2004, giving supremacy to international conventions concerning basic rights and freedoms, including the Womens Convention, over all national laws. That amendment now placed the Convention above all other legal arrangements which be in conflict with its provisions. According to the constitutional amendment, existing laws would have to be interpreted in the light of Convention provision and principles.
In addition to those constitutional amendments, after two long years, two fundamental laws had been completely changed, she said. With the enactment of the 2001 Civil Code, the concept of husband as head of family had been abolished. To combat domestic violence, the Law on the Protection of the Family had been adopted in 1998. By enactment of that law, domestic violence had been defined legally for the first time.
Another important law that had undergone major change was the Turkish Penal Code, she said. Adopted in September 2004, the new Penal Code would enter into force in April 2005. The Code had introduced important new concepts and regulations. In the new Penal Code, the formerly existing legal distinction between women and girls had been abolished. While the old Penal Code considered many of the crimes committed against women as crimes against society, the new law gave priority to the protection of the individuals rights and freedoms. Sexual crimes were now defined as crimes committed against the individual rather than crimes against public decency. Also for the first time, marital rape and sexual harassment at the workplace were defined as crimes in penal legislation. The new Penal Code further reinforced the Governments determination to prevent honour crimes, providing punishment of the perpetrators of those crimes with heavy life sentences.
Despite important developments in the legal field, much ground remained to be covered regarding traditional values and customs, she said. In that regard, Turkey would implement a Mentality Transformation Project. The Government was also focusing efforts on the issue of violence against women. Within that framework, the Platform to Prevent Violence had been established with the participation of public institutions, parliaments, media and civil society. Aware of insufficient services for the victims, the Government had made various efforts to overcome the problem. The recently enacted Law on Municipalities stated that municipalities with more than 50,000 people were responsible for establishing shelters for women and children.
Regarding honour killings, she noted that Turkey, along with the United Kingdom, had tabled a resolution in the General Assembly Working towards the elimination of crimes committed against women in the name of honour. Being the main sponsor of such a sensitive and important resolution demonstrated Turkeys determination to improve womens status both in the family and in society.
While Turkey had made considerable progress in achieving gender equality in the legal domain, that progress was not enough. The most important target ahead was reflecting that progress in terms of implementation. While social change was difficult, Turkey was determined to be successful. Turkey had worked unceasingly for gender equality since the founding of the Republic. Given the countrys determination and the powerful support of academic and civil society organizations, there was every indication that Turkey would be in a position to share more significant developments in regard to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in its next report.
Experts Comments and Questions
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, an expert from Portugal, congratulated the delegation on progress achieved, particularly in legal reforms. However, it had been noted that total equality had not yet been achieved. She asked if the new penal law addressed the issue of honour killings. Regarding the new law on property, she wanted to know why millions of already married women were not covered. Why correct discrimination only for the future? She also inquired how many women were excluded from schools and employment because of a law banning head scarves, and whether that was not another form of repression.
GLENDA P. SIMMS, an expert from Jamaica, asked if penalizing sexual relations for persons between 15 and 18 years in the new penal law was a violation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Regarding the issue of virginity testing or genital examination, she wanted to know if any provision existed that such testing could only be done with the consent of the woman and if there was virginity testing for men.
HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, an expert from Germany, asked whether the amended Article 10 of the Constitution did not obstruct adoption of temporary special measures that could accelerate equality. She noted that the relevant text in the original amendment had not been adopted. Regarding the law on shelters for battered women in municipalities, she asked if a mechanism existed that oversaw the quantity and quality of such shelters. She wanted to know the increase in funding for the Directorate.
ANAMAH TAN, an expert from Singapore, said she was happy to hear that even before the new penal code had come into force, many local courts had already started to issue the heaviest sentences for perpetrators of honour killings. Still, it had been noted that much ground had to be covered in situations where traditional values continued to obstruct the new penal code. Could the Government consider to include honour killings in the provisions of the law regarding aggravated homicides? Regarding virginity testing, a discriminatory practice, she suggested that the new penal code would repeal that discriminatory law or amend it to require the patients informed consent before a judge or prosecutor. Unless consent was given, the person who sent the woman for testing or the examiners should be punished.
HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, said it was a joy to hear that such great improvement had taken place. In the area of domestic violence, she asked for clarification on the law on the protection of the family. That law should be intended to protect the human rights of the members of the family, not the family, as that gave the wrong signal. The law should include both former and present family members. On the same law, did the Government include incest, honour killing or rape among the members of the family?
The Government had admitted that there were not enough shelters for the victims of violence, and she commended the decision that municipalities be required to provide shelters in communities of more than 50,000 people. How would the Government monitor the municipalities in that regard? She also stressed the importance of training the police on the issue of domestic violence, as they were the first to interact with the victims of violence. What was the Governments plan for systematic police training?
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, also applauded the recent tremendous legal reforms. Regarding national machinery, she asked about the function of the new consultative council. She also asked about the anticipated function of advisory boards in the various government ministries, and urged the Government to collect information on the situation of various ethnic minorities.
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, congratulated the country for its many legal changes and improvements, the withdrawal of its reservations to the Convention and the ratification of the Optional Protocol. Posing several questions on the reports preparation, she asked who had approved the report and whether it been submitted to the Government for approval. Regarding the significantly improved legal system, did the Constitution or any other law contain a definition of discrimination as contained in the Convention?
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, said she appreciated the Governments efforts on violence against women. While decentralization in principle was an interesting policy, were there concrete measures regarding the widely varying financial situations of the local municipalities? On the issue of quotas, she noted womens 4.4 per cent representation in the Parliament. How did the Government plan to improve womens representation at all levels of political life? Did the Government have a plan to improve quotas? She also complimented the Government for its attentiveness to womens non-governmental organization s (NGOs). The Turkish Constitution did not represent Kurds as a special minority, which very frequently posed great difficulties for Kurdish people, especially women.
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, joined in congratulating the Government for the tremendous efforts in the area of law reform. There was, however, a perception that the exercise of legal reform was a strategy by the Government to join the European Union. What efforts were being made by the Government to do away with that perception and to reinforce the national machinery to improve implementation? What efforts were being made to sensitize women on the enactment of the new laws? To what extent did rural women have access to justice? Did the country have a legal aid system? Was the judiciary being adequately trained in the provisions of the Convention?
Regarding the ban on the wearing of head scarves, she urged the Government to reconsider, as the ban precluded the right to equal access to employment and education due to religious practice. In that regard, she asked for statistics on the number of women precluded from the work or education due to the ban.
Several experts from the Turkish delegation addressed the questions posed. Regarding the matter of honour killings, a delegate emphasized that penalties for honour killings or custom killings were the most severe the law permitted. The leniency provided for in the former legal framework had been eliminated. Honour killings had been included in the new penal law, and the issue was a priority for the Government. Although the new penal law was not in force, the courts were already implementing it. Two cases had come before the court, and the guilty had received the highest possible penalty.
As for the matter of acquired property, a delegate said that after the law had become effective in 2002, all married people had one year to declare their properties so that the new law could be applied to them. All married women had the right to benefit from the new law. However, marriage was a social contract based on the free will of two parties who accepted each others wealth situation.
Regarding the ban on head scarves, it was stressed that Turkey was a secular and democratic State, and laws were based on the secular Constitution. Civil servants and students in public schools, therefore, had to abide with the general rules of proper attire, which also underlined the neutral character of the Government. Two cases had been brought to court and had been rejected. Even the European Human rights Court had rejected the cases, as religious symbols contradicted principles of secularism and democracy. Indeed, some girls had suffered from the ban. The problem did exist, but it should be solved also by independent universities and not only by the Government.
Addressing another question, a delegate said that the penal code regarding sexual relations for youths between 15 and 18 years of age was meant to protect them. Especially in Europe, there had been more and more cases of early pregnancy. The implementation had to be monitored very closely, however, and there might be a need to amend the provision.
Addressing the matter of the amended Article 10 of the Constitution, a delegate said that that article implied not only that discrimination was not accepted, but that the Government had to ensure that there was no discrimination. She stressed that it was a revolutionary amendment; such a provision did not exist in many countries. Article 90 of the Constitution stated that in the event that there was a contradiction between national and international law, the international law prevailed, including the application of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Taking the two articles together, they explicitly favoured equality between women and men.
The shelters for battered women established by the Government were limited in number. Although, municipalities had been given a role under the law in administering a centre, the central Government still had a big role to play in monitoring. Standards for financing were being developed by the central Government, but municipalities had the right to contract their own people to perform social services. They were also authorized to cooperate with NGOs for programme development and fund-raising.
Responding to questions on shelters for the victims of violence, a country representative said the authority for opening a womans shelter rested with the Social Services Department. While the municipalities were legally obligated to open shelters, that did not abolish the authority of the central Government to open shelters, but rather broadened the spectrum of social services. Municipalities would be monitored on the provision of legally obligatory services.
On the question of virginity testing, another member of the delegation noted that the new articles of the penal code specified a one- to three-year prison term for people who conducted such testing without the order of a judge or prosecutor. That applied to both women and men. There had to be a reason for a judge or prosecutor to order such a test. Virginity testing could only be done with an order by a judge or prosecutor. That was clear in the penal code. The new penal code ensured that, without an order from a judge or prosecutor, no person could administer virginity or genitalia testing.
On the issue of custom killings and whether they would be called custom or honour killings, there was consensus that the Turkish penal law gave the same penalty to both of these killings. Whether it was an honour or custom killing, the issue was that a woman had been killed. That would be reflected in the penal code.
Another member of the delegation noted that there had been much discussion on the issue of custom or honour killings. It continued to be a problem in every country of the world. Whatever it was called, there was a belief in honour. Honour killings took place because of customs. Turkey had given the highest possible penalty, life in prison, as the penalty for these killings. Turkey had made great effort in ensuring that the killings were prevented by imposing the highest penalty. The situation would not be changed with a magic wand, but with time and education. Turkey had made great efforts in that regard. She believed such killings would eventually be abolished forever.
Also addressing virginity testing, Ms. AKSIT noted that a mother and father could not take their daughter to a hospital to be tested. In such cases, both parent and doctor would be penalized. If a crime had been conducted and could only be understood by conducting a virginity test, the judge or prosecutor had to order such a test.
On the issue of domestic violence, another member of the delegation said it was an issue that the Government had taken to heart. Surveys on the issue would be repeated. Educational programmes for the police were also being conducted.
Turkeys report had been prepared by academicians, NGOs, and other public institutions, another country representative said. It had also been opened to discussion. After views on the draft report had been collected, it had been approved by the Ministry. Regarding the issue of minority groups, she said that Kurds were not recognized as a minority, but enjoyed the same rights and benefits as all other citizens.
Mr. KURNAZ noted that all educational institutions had included basic human rights courses in their curricula. There were also special training programmes on how the victims of violence should be handled. Those programmes were conducted by experts in the field. The Ministry of the Interior, in order to eliminate problems in implementing the law on the protection of the family, had circulated publications regarding problems encountered by victims in reporting violence.
Ms. AYTAC said the law provided for the enforcement of precautionary measures to ensure the protection of victims. Police, as well as judicial authorities, were trained in the matter.
The Directorate was a new entity that would help in formulating strategies regarding womens issues, she said. Members included representatives from all governmental institutions dealing with womens issues, NGOs and academia. The name implied that it was an advisory council.
The national Parliament did not have a special body to consider the reports, but an informal commission existed, and, in due course, Parliament would establish a formal commission regarding equality of men and women. Out of 550 members of Parliament, only 24 were women, she said, which constituted 4.4 per cent. It should be taken into consideration, however, that one could participate in politics at different levels, such as the local levels or in the machinery of political parties. She ensured the Committee that Parliament would take the necessary measures to ensure that participation of women in the political process was encouraged. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had been translated and was available in Turkish.
Experts Questions and Remarks
KRISZTINA MORVAI, an expert from Hungary, asked what the meaning was of: a statement made in the report that collecting data on ethnic origin was seen as discrimination; that the term minority women could not be accepted; and that Turkey saw that issue as the situation of women in underdeveloped regions of Turkey. After all, she said, women faced multiple discrimination because of gender, age, disability and ethnic origin.
Regarding Kurdish minority women, she asked what had happened to the perpetrators of gender-based violence against them. On the matter of head scarves, she asked what the aim of the ban was, and if that measure was proportional to the consequence of banning many girls from education.
TIZIANA MAIOLO, an expert from Italy, asked questions about stereotyping gender in the media. Noting that there were many Kurdish women who were literate but did not speak Turkish, she asked how the Government was addressing that problem.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, an expert from Ghana, said she would also like to see measures that addressed the problem of Kurdish women who did not speak Turkish. She also noted that full equality could not be achieved by laws alone without taking steps against persistent cultural practices and stereotypes. In some regions of Turkey, there were still cultural practices that impacted negatively on womens rights. What specific measures had the Government taken to eliminate those cultural practices?
CEES FLINTERMAN, an expert from the Netherlands, asked if Article 10 of the Constitution could be interpreted as allowing for temporary special measures to accelerate equality as provided for in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. He also asked if it had been made clear that custom killings, the term used in the new penal code, included honour killings. He had been informed that custom killings was a narrower term. Was it correct that a person accused of honour killings could still invoke the unjust provocation clause that could reduce his sentence?
NAELA GABR, an expert from Egypt, asked why it had taken so long to promulgate a law relating to a national mechanism concerning issues relating to the rights of women. She was unsatisfied with the delegations answers regarding the Directorate, noting that there were no provisions for local units. How did the Government deal with NGOs at the local and regional levels? As the report had mentioned the status of women in underdeveloped regions, she asked where those regions were and how the Government dealt with that issue.
HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, an expert from Benin, noting that the law only spoke of a genital examination, and that the explanation by the delegation referred to vaginal and anal examination and, therefore, constituted no gender discrimination, said since only women had a vagina, the law was still discriminatory. In practice, did the virginity test without consent become an offence punishable under the criminal code? What was the status of an honour crime as a specific offence?
SALMA KHAN, an expert from Bangladesh, asked whether custom-based killing and honour killing were defined in the same manner and were considered the same thing. She also asked if genital examination and virginity test had the same legal connotations. Many women, especially in the rural areas, wore head scarves. How did the Government intend to ensure that those women would get public education? How did the ban on head scarves and the issue of secularism relate to Article 40 of the Constitution that dealt with violations of rights? Why was the wearing of head scarves seen as a religious symbol?
BAKI ILKIN (Turkey) addressed the issue of Kurds in Turkey, noting that Turkey never had consensus based on ethnic background. When talking about Turkish citizens of Kurdish origin, there was no clear-cut number. There were more people of Bosnian descent in Turkey than in Bosnia proper. Turkey was composed of 30 different ethnic groups. It was impossible to say who was a majority or minority. To the best of his knowledge, there was no definition in international law of what a minority was. It was open to interpretation.
The south-eastern part of the country needed further development, and the climate there was difficult, he said. People living in the south-east, irrespective of their ethnic background, did not have the same opportunities as those living in the western part of the country. Development problems in the south-east did not only affect the Kurds.
He said a good portion of citizens of Kurdish origin lived in the south-east, as did Turkish citizens of Turkish origin. Some of the citizens of both Kurdish and Turkish origin in the south-east had difficulty in reading and writing, let alone speaking the same language. Courses were being set to train people to speak in Kurdish. He asked the Committee to see Turkey not as fragmented, but as one nation, which was flourishing on the basis of ethnic diversity.
Ms. AKSIT elaborated on the scarf issue. She had not said that scarves were illegal. On the contrary, scarves were commonly used in the daily course of life. In universities, however, certain problems related to the wearing of headscarves. Some female students were having difficulties attending university because of those limitations. The so-called illegal aspect of wearing scarves referred to the general legal framework of proper attire. Because of the independent nature of universities, universities had authority in that regard.
She also noted that she had not defined Kurds as a minority. On the contrary, she had said that they were not a minority, but were citizens of Turkey.
Regarding customs and traditions, change could not happen overnight, she said. She believed that change would happen slowly. It was clear that as educational levels increased, the negative implications of customs and traditions decreased. Young people did not see custom or honour killings in a positive light. Regarding whether they were the same thing according to the terms of the penal code, most customs involved honour. Behind an honour killing, was a custom. They were regarded as the same concept. While the penal code had not been implemented yet, judges were interpreting it from that perspective. As implementation gained ground, it would be seen in more concrete terms.
According to the Article 10 of the Constitution, men and women had equal rights, she said. The Government had the responsibility of ensuring that they enjoyed equality. How that responsibility would be practised in real life depended on the Government. The penal code had already been adopted, and would enter into effect in 2005.
Regarding virginity tests, article 235 of the penal code was clear, she said. Those who performed or helped to conduct a virginity test would be imprisoned between three months to one year. The individual who sent any person for a test unlawfully would receive that sentence. Women wearing headscarves did have access to health care. The issue related only to universities.
Experts Comments and Questions
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, an expert from France, noted the significant progress made by Turkey in the area of legislation. For example, women there had acquired the right to vote as early as the 1920s. However, their current situation attested to a low level of representation both in Parliament and locally. The absence of women was not due to their lack of interest in public life, but to existing stereotypes. Were quotas to be adopted, their level of representation could improve significantly.
ZIAOQIAO ZOU, an expert from China, joined other members of the Committee who had congratulated the Government, especially as far as withdrawal of reservations was concerned. It was clear from todays presentation that Turkey was determined to realize womens equality. While agreeing with the Minister that womens participation in political life could not be measured by the number of women senators alone, she noted that Turkey was a big country, and womens participation was a good indicator. What were the main obstacles preventing womens participation in political life and what special measures were needed to advance it? Had any specific measures been adopted to promote their overall participation in political and public life?
DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, an expert from Croatia, said that article 7 of the Convention required States parties to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination in political and public life. Currently, the percentage of women in public and political life was so low that it was a visible sign of discrimination in that field. What appropriate measures did the Government envision to eliminate both direct and indirect discrimination in that regard? Noting that Turkey had 12 female ambassadors, she inquired about the number of male ambassadors.
Ms. AKSIT said that the achievement of a higher level of womens participation was a priority for her. Indeed, Turkey had introduced many provisions giving rights to women before other countries in the region. Unfortunately, that progress could not be sustained, and womens participation in Parliament today amounted to some 4.4 per cent. However, the number of women in Parliament was not the main measure of womens participation. The countrys political parties were determined to encourage womens participation and were introducing measures towards that end. Implementing quotas was an easy way to improve the situation, and such measures could be introduced in the future, should Parliament deem it necessary.
Still, the political arena was dominated by men around the world, she continued. It took time to overcome problems and allow women to participate effectively in the political process. With time, the situation would change. Article 10 of Turkeys Constitution stipulated clearly that the Government had a responsibility to ensure gender equality. Specific actions in that regard were at the discretion of the Government. In politics, it was important to determine what women wanted, as well as the nature of the cultural environment. If there was equality in terms of opportunities, women would be at least as successful as men. The Government was ready to listen to the opinions of all concerned parties, including non-governmental organizations and international bodies.
Regarding the number of female ambassadors, Mr. ATES said that women comprised 10 per cent of the total number. However, to become an ambassador, seniority was required. Certainly in the near future, the number would be much higher because in the past 10 years the percentage of women among people entering career diplomatic service had been as high as 38 per cent.
Ms. YESILDAGLAR, addressing the question on temporary special measures and quotas, said that, in practice, there were examples of such measures for women. For instance, under a project by the employment office, women had been selected as one of the three target groups to promote participation in the labour market. Some positive discrimination measures in favour of women existed in the country. Indirectly affecting women were national regulations establishing objective criteria for the promotion of government employees to lower- and middle-level management. In 2004, a circular had been issued addressing advertisements where men were overtly preferred.
Ms. ODYAKMAZ said that women and men had equal rights under the Constitution, the Constitutional Court had a right to interpret the law and decide in favour of positive discrimination on the basis of legal amendments. If an amendment introducing quotas for women were made in electoral law, and a complaint were brought against positive discriminating measures, the courts could interpret the law in favour of such positive discrimination.
Experts Questions and Comments
Ms. GABR, expert from Egypt, said womens access to education was a fundamental premise for the full enjoyment of basic human rights. How would compulsory education goals affect all women? How exactly was the ban on headscarves affecting young girls? Did the ban apply to elementary education or just to universities? She also asked for information on distance learning. Was that method being used as an alternative to private schools? Were there private universities where women could wear headscarves?
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, noted that the literacy rate in Turkey was quite high. One out of five women was illiterate. While efforts had been made to fight illiteracy, more than a million children, mainly girls, were under-schooled or not schooled at all. What measures would be taken to deal with that situation? Were there campaigns to ensure that girls did not drop out of school? Regarding the debate on minorities, there were groups whose mother tongue was not Turkish, especially in rural areas. What was being done to include them in schools? Regarding dress codes, a delicate issue, boys and men also had to comply with certain rules. Did the code have the same effect on boys as it did on girls?
VICTORIA POPESCU, an expert from Romania, noted that substantive progress had been made, especially regarding legal reform. However, there were still serious discrepancies between girls and boys regarding access to various forms of education. She also noted the high illiteracy rate among girls. Many girls did not attend school at all. Which measures had the Government taken to ensure implementation of the law on compulsory primary education? Girls mostly enrolled in humanities courses, not technical studies. What measures had the Government taken to encourage girls in early marriages and pregnant girls to continue or return to school?
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, asked for clarification on the new Penal Code regarding honour crimes.
Ms. SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, asked that the next report contain figures on school attendance rates, not only according to urban and rural areas but also by region. She expressed surprise to learn that a lack of interest in school and prohibition by parents were among the reasons for children not attending school. She also asked for information on childcare facilities.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, an expert from Cuba, asked if any studies had been carried out regarding womens income, both in terms of paid and unpaid work. What was the percentage of womens income in relation to social security? She also asked if a study had been carried out on the real impact of the headscarf ban on the number of pupils in school.
Ms. AKSIT said that boys and girls had always had equal opportunity in terms of education. Overall, the education level of girls was lower than that of boys, mainly due to economic and cultural factors. In lower-income families, parents opted to send their boys to school rather than their girls. To address that situation, the Government had provided monetary incentives for families who sent their daughters to school. The Government was also designing measures to address the traditional reasons for girls lower attendance levels. The Government was committed to expanding those programmes. In all regions of Turkey, even in urban areas, there was a difference between the level of school attendance for girls and boys.
Another member of the delegation noted that in 2002-2003, the Government had provided free textbooks for students, and in 2003-2004, the Ministry of Education had provided literacy courses. Some 61 per cent of the people attending those classes had been women. She was aware that womens participation in the labour force was very low. Female employment was not always visible, as women often worked in the unregistered workforce or followed flexible patterns. Until the recent amendment, flexible patterns had been excluded from the scope of the Labour Code.
She said that integration into the European labour strategy would also improve the situation. One of the main pillars of that strategy was gender equality. Turkey had developed a comprehensive report on its labour situation and extensive analysis had been carried out on the reasons for womens lower employment rates.
On rural women, she said the nature of agricultural work was very traditional in Turkey. Farms were usually family enterprises and it was difficult to incorporate family enterprises into the labour market. They were, however, thinking of adopting other forms of protection, for example, health insurance for all. Regarding crèches, enterprises of a certain size had the obligation to open childcare facilities.
Regarding health care, Ms. KOSELI said that emphasis was placed on efforts to reduce infant mortality rates, including through neonatal care. If a workplace had more than 150 women employees, it must establish a kindergarten and a breastfeeding room.
On the percentage of women benefiting from social security services, another member of the delegation said that all registered employees received them. There was actually some positive discrimination in favour of women. Self-employed women involved in agriculture had recently been included and the condition that they had to be the head of a family to receive benefits had been removed. Women were increasingly moving into the service sector and the number of self-employed women had increased dramatically.
Country representatives also explained that girls under 18 who had left school as a result of early pregnancy or marriage were allowed to attend classes. If a family did not let children attend school, it had to pay fines because primary education was compulsory. All schools tied to the Ministry of Education had a dress code for both boys and girls. There were no such rules in universities.
Regarding honour killings, delegation members said their number had dropped. Perpetrators of honour crimes did not enjoy the provision of the provocation, under which leniency was granted to people who committed crimes in the heat of anger or sadness caused by great provocation.
Experts Comments and Questions
MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, spoke about the economic rights of women in relation to the five-year development plans adopted in Turkey. The country had encountered serious economic difficulties and natural disasters. Stereotypical views and cultural practices were also an impediment. Although progress had been achieved, economic equality had not yet been achieved, and women were routinely segregated in low-paying jobs with few possibilities for promotion. That was in stark contradiction to the obligation of the State to ensure equality in all fields, including economic rights. What was the Government planning to do to overcome the impact of the economic crisis on women and to integrate them into the macroeconomic network?
Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA, an expert from Portugal, asked if Turkey had identified the impediments imposed by customs in relation to women who wanted to work. According to the information provided by NGOs, about 55 per cent of adult women still requested permission from their husbands to go out of the house. That percentage was higher after dark. A large number of women working in small enterprises could not take advantage of the provisions governing the establishment of kindergartens.
She also asked for information regarding the Governments efforts to establish vocational training. Was the Government planning to introduce a plan of action to address issues related to womens employment in a holistic manner? The delegation had invoked the issue of the time needed to achieve cultural change. While agreeing that time was needed, she said that sometimes time needed help. Looking at Turkeys scale of progress, one could say that should it remain stable, it would take more than over 200 years for the country to achieve political parity, for example.
Ms. SCHOPP-SCHILLING, an expert from Germany, inquired about the percentage of children covered by child care. Referring to a new law under which self-employed agricultural workers were to be included in the social security system, she asked about the definition of self-employed agricultural workers. How high were the payments to be made? Did those women have to make a double payment, since there was no contribution from the employer? It had also been reported that needy domestic helpers could now get State pensions. Did that refer only to single women? Would a married woman get an independent pension? How was neediness defined?
Ms. PATTEN, an expert from Mauritius, asked what was being done to increase the number of women elected to trade unions positions. What had the Ministry of Labour done to eliminate potential segregation and promote the number of women in managerial and decision-making positions? More information should also be provided regarding efforts to encourage non-traditional jobs and improve self-reliance among women, especially within minority groups. What measures were in place to ensure equal access of women to training in the workplace and provide training to women re-entering the labour market?
ROSARIO MANALO, Chairperson of the Committee and an expert from the Philippines, focused on the issue of minorities, noting that there were marginalized women, including those of Kurdish origin, who suffered multiple discrimination. Could the delegation explain the political vision of the State regarding those marginalized women? Applying to become a member of the European Union, Turkey had to meet certain requirements in respect of democracy, human rights and good governance. The country needed to meet those requirements with respect to minorities, including Kurdish women. Turkeys political vision should be coupled with measures to bring those women into the mainstream of life and to respect their human rights.
Ms. MORVAI, an expert from Hungary, said that with prostitution legalized in Turkey, it was important to confront men about the double standards they upheld. On the one hand, there was an obsession with virginity and the honour of women, while, on the other, there was legalized prostitution and the use of womens bodies as objects. How could such a double standard survive? Were there any programmes in place to enlighten men about the intolerable nature of such a double standard?
She added that according to the report, brothel owners had to take measures to prevent sexually transmitted diseases in accordance with the Public Health Law. However, such provisions represented discrimination, for when two people were engaged in prostitution, both could transmit diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Why was it that with two people involved, only one was subjected to medical examinations. Why were the clients not examined, as well?
Responding to questions about women in the labour force, one delegation member admitted that Turkey was not happy with their low employment rate and was trying to deal with it. Business relationships -- from the beginning to the end of a labour contract -- were protected by the Labour Code, and the same text stated that a lower wage could not be determined on the basis of sex. While there were problems in practice, women were legally protected. However, monitoring the situation in the unregistered labour market was difficult. According to labour statistics, out of 3 million men in the private sector, 43 per cent belonged to unions, whereas 44 per cent of women belonged to unions. The problem started in the managerial positions of trade unions.
In legal terms, women were able to choose their professions freely and did not need their husbands permission, Ms. AKSIT added. Again, there were problems in pratice. The Government was trying to help women get jobs without disrupting their domestic duties. It was also trying to organize technical training programmes for women. The Government would do everything in its power to help women in the work force.
On the question of prostitutions, another member of the delegation noted that prostitutes working in brothels underwent regular medical checks, and those with sexually transmitted disease had their licenses revoked.
Concerning minorities, Mr. ILKIN reiterated that the reforms enacted by the Government had received the Committees approval and praise throughout the day. Regarding marginalization, he believed todays meeting was being marginalized by one Committee member.
Experts Questions and Comments
Ms. TAN, expert from Singapore, applauded the law on the protection of the family, which, for the first time, defined domestic violence in legal terms. As the law had been in place for six years, how many complaints had been received and how many protection orders made? How many perpetrators had been convicted and how many shelters did the Government plan to establish? Was there a description of the requirements for the shelters? Regarding perpetrators, would there be rehabilitation programmes for them? She asked if the law applied to former spouses, who were sometimes violent.
Ms. COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that among the many social institutions known to man, marriage was one in which womens human rights were consistently violated, either by law or in practice. Under the Civil Code, the marriage age had been raised to 17 for both sexes. While civil marriage was the only recognized form, a sizeable number of marriages were conducted under traditional customary rites. In parts of Turkey, girls as young as 13 years were forced to marry men 20 to 30 years older. She had also been told of incidents in which women were forced to marry the brothers of their deceased husbands. The passage of laws alone would not achieve equality, and the Government should take urgent steps to address such practices that were in contradiction of the law.
Ms. DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, said she was impressed by Article 10 of the Constitution, which placed the obligation on the State to ensure the practical right to equality. The prohibition of discrimination had also been extended to business. What further steps were being planned if women were to benefit from the law? While the prohibition of discrimination had been extended to businesses, what about other non-State institutions, such as non-governmental organizations, and individuals? She suggested the adoption of a gender-equality law that would require the establishment of an ombudswoman to ensure the States compliance with the law.
Ms. GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said that while impressed by the countrys legislative achievements, she had concerns regarding a 30-day waiting period for women following a divorce or the death of a spouse. The delegation had presented enough information on the state of legislative reform in the area of family law, but it was the real-life situation that would be a barometer of the impact of those laws. The persistence of patriarchal values had been recognized in the report and now it was important to see the change in practices such as early and forced marriages or polygamy.
Regarding the law on violence, members of the delegation said that no clear numbers had been compiled on its implementation, but steps were being taken to collect the data. All government offices had been notified of the law and asked to record the number of women who had become victims of domestic violence. Work had also started on measures to prevent violence. With participation by the media, awareness-raising campaigns had been launched, including through mosques during Friday prayers.
In the near future, a subcommission on violence was expected to present the results of its work, on the basis of which a relevant programme would be elaborated, a delegation member said. There were shelters for victims of violence and the new Municipality Law encouraged local governments to participate in that project. In addition, a rehabilitation programme for perpetrators was needed. The Government had initiated social and psychological programmes in prisons, as well as training programmes for police and health-care workers.
A country representative said that, under Turkish law, only civil marriage was recognized and polygamy was absolutely illegal. A draft law had been prepared for the establishment of an ombudsman institution.
On compulsory education, a delegation member said that its provisions extended until the age of 15. Students could attend school until the age of 17 and, after that, open primary and secondary education was available. Efforts were being made to educate women about their rights. Numerous community and educational centres provided vocational and other kinds of training.
Ms. GASPARD, expert from France, said that by ratifying the Convention, Turkey had made a statement on nationality, but the country report said that the law on nationality must be revised. Would the revision align the law with the Convention? Did women who sought asylum have a right to stay in the country, or was that right linked to their husbands?
In that connection, a member of the delegation responded by saying that the law of nationality had been amended in 2002 and discrimination had been removed. Article 66 of the Constitution had also been amended.
Ms. MANALO, Committee Chairperson and expert from the Philippines, said she could not comprehend a reply by a member of the delegation who had accused an expert of marginalizing the discussion in the Committee. Such a personal attack had no place in a civilized debate. She would regretfully attribute that such reaction to the country representatives inability to answer her questions properly.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, todays Acting Chairperson and expert from Algeria, thanked the members of the Committee and country representatives for their participation. The common concern of the experts and the Government was to ensure implementation of the Convention. It was important to increase womens participation and visibility in Turkey and it was to be hoped that one day, that country of 68 million people would have equal numbers of male and female representatives in its Parliament, for example.
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