One of the linchpins of a democratic order based on the principle of the rule of law is individuals’ and social groups’ critical perception and internalization of their rights and their capability to exercise these rights both in their own lives, and with the aim of promoting social change for the realization of these rights for all.
Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways forms pressure groups and organizes advocacy campaigns on national and international levels for legal reforms and implementation of laws that will further women’s human rights. Undertaking advocacy efforts to influence national and international decision making mechanisms, that is to say devising our own alternatives and advocating for them beyond only voicing our protest and assuming a reactionary position, is one of the important working methods we employ toward the establishment and maintaining of a non-discriminatory legal framework that safeguards women’s human rights on the national and international levels. WWHR-New Ways pursues these efforts by directly getting in contact with and targeting decision making mechanisms and individuals, influencing public opinion through the press, radio and television stations, creating pressure groups and organizing advocacy campaigns together with other organizations, while also supporting and disseminating its demands through publications, brochures, discussions and research.
International documents, conventions and agreements Turkey is party to, and achievements in other countries are among significant reference points for our work in this program area. The importance of introducing measurable criteria to obligations governments in Turkey are bound to by international law in terms of time and fulfillment becomes evident in advocacy efforts. WWHR-New Ways is committed to monitoring and following up on these obligations and their implementation.
Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways has initiated and co-coordinated numerous milestone advocacy campaigns across Turkey including the 1998 campaign for the protection order against domestic violence (law number 4320 on the protection of the family), 2000-2001 Campaign for the Reform of the Civil Code (TMK), 2001 Campaign for the Ratification of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, and 2002-2004 Campaign for the Reform of the Penal Code (TCK) from a Gender Perspective. Among these, the Penal Code (TCK) Campaign is of great importance as it resulted in the adoption of over 30 amendments we proposed to ensure gender equality and legal recognition and protection of sexual and bodily rights of women and children in the Penal Code.
a. Reform of the Turkish Civil Code (TMK)
The new Turkish Civil Code number 4721, which abolished the supremacy of men in marriage, was approved by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) on November 22, 2001. Thereby, the efforts dating back to 1951 to amend the Civil Code finally bore fruit and the Civil Code number 743 dated 1926 was changed 75 years later. The women’s movement worked very intensely for the amendment of this law through 2000-2001. The activities carried out by 126 women’s groups in all regions of Turkey through meetings, press and fax campaigns, statements, declarations, Parliament visits, one-on-one contacts yielded its result in the new Civil Code that introduced fundamental changes to women’s legal status within the family (albeit with certain shortcomings).
The new Civil Code adopts a new approach regarding the family and the woman’s role in the family. The previous code of 1926, adopted from the Swiss Civil Code of the time, had defined the rights and responsibilities of women in the family in favor of the husband and reduced women to a legally subordinate position in the family. The new Civil Code defines the family as a partnership based on the equality between women and men. Equality among spouses in the family is accorded constitutional guarantee through the phrase “The family is (…) based on the equality between the spouses” added to article 41 of the Constitution. This understanding is also reflected in the language of the law where the concepts of “wife” and “husband” have been replaced with the concept of “spouse”. Language of the law has also been simplified to a great extent becoming accessible to all. Some amendments reflecting the new approach of the law can be enumerated as follows:
The “husband” is no longer the head of the family; spouses are equal partners, jointly running the matrimonial union with equal decision-making powers;
Spouses have equal rights over the family abode;
Spouses have equal rights over property acquired during marriage;
Spouses have equal representative powers;
The concept of “illegitimate children,” which was used for children born out of wedlock, has been abolished; the custody of children born outside marriage belongs to their mothers.
b. Reform of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK)
The New Turkish Penal Code was adopted by the parliament on September 26, 2004. Owing to the Campaign for the Reform of the Penal Code (TCK) from a Gender Perspective carried out by the women’s movement through 2002-2004 the new code includes more than 30 amendments of utmost importance for ensuring gender equality and the legal recognition and protection of women’s and children’s sexual and bodily rights. From the outset of the campaign, women’s groups demanded a holistic reform to change the philosophy and principles of the penal code in order to safeguard women’s human rights, and bodily and sexual rights and freedoms.
The new Turkish Penal Code, which states in its 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. The new penal code criminalizes marital rape; brings measures to prevent sentence reductions granted to perpetrators of honor killings; eliminates all references to patriarchal and discriminatory expressions like propriety, customs, chastity, honor, morality, shame or indecent behavior; does not discriminate between “married – single” and “virgin – non-virgin” women; abolishes provisions granting sentence reductions in rape and abduction cases; criminalizes sexual harassment at the workplace, and considers sexual assault by security forces as aggravated offences.
Immediately after the reform of the Turkish Civil Code in 2001, Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways initiated and coordinated a Working Group on the Reform of the Penal Code from a Gender Perspective. The working group included NGO representatives, jurists from bar associations and academicians from all regions of Turkey. The group worked for one year to analyze both the Turkish Penal Code in effect and the Penal Code Draft Law, and developed concrete demands. The analysis and recommendations of the group, including more than 30 amendments as word-by-word formulated new articles, were published as a report and disseminated to all MPs, NGOs and members of the press. Subsequently, a nationwide public campaign was launched at the beginning of 2003 for the establishment of gender equality in the Turkish Penal Code. The Women’s Platform on the Turkish Penal Code established with the participation of 30 organizations from all across Turkey continued its national and local advocacy and lobbying efforts for two years. In scope of the campaign a collection of our demands were published as a booklet; various meetings and press conferences were organized; individual interviews continued to be held with MPs in the Parliament, and the work of the TCK Sub-Commission and Justice Commission were closely monitored and our demands were communicated. The campaign was publicized by constantly informing the members of the press regarding our activities. It was supported with fax and telephone campaigns targeting the Parliament. Alongside these efforts, marches and demonstrations with broad participation were held in different cities of Turkey throughout the campaign.
This extensive campaign coordinated by WWHR– New Ways for three years completely transformed the viewpoint of the penal code: the perspective of the old code, which considered women’s bodies and sexuality to belong to the men, family and society was replaced by one that safeguards women’s sexual and bodily freedoms and recognizes women’s ownership of their own bodies. A great majority of the women’s demands were accepted as a result of the Campaign for the Reform of the Penal Code from a Gender Perspective.
REMAINING DEMANDS AND FURTHER NECESSARY AMENDMENTS TO THE NEW TURKISH PENAL CODE
Despite the overall success of the Campaign for the Reform of the Penal Code from a Gender Perspective, some of our demands have not been accepted, which contradicts the new Penal Code’s egalitarian philosophy that safeguards rights and freedoms. In order to completely eradicate all provisions that legitimize women’s human rights violations, the following amendments have to be made to the new Penal Code:
“Honor killings” have to be explicitly defined as aggravated homicide to include all murders committed in the name of honor, not just those in the name of “customary law”,
Discrimination based on sexual orientation has to be explicitly banned and criminalized,
The article penalizing consensual sexual relations of youth aged 15 – 18 upon the complaint of third parties should be removed,
The practice of virginity testing has to be explicitly banned and criminalized under all circumstances,
The “Obscenity” article should be amended to clearly define the acts of “obscenity” in order not to constitute a threat to freedom of expression, and legitimize invasion of privacy and discrimination based on sexual orientation,
The legal abortion period has to be extended to 12 weeks.
c. Anti-Violence Act
The Constitution safeguards the individuals’ right to life and bodily integrity. The violation of bodily integrity can be defined as every form of behavior that infringes upon our autonomy and right to make decisions concerning our own bodies, ranging from the restriction of our right to travel to violence. According to this definition, all forms of violence against women are the violation of a constitutional right and the women’s human rights. The state has a fundamental responsibility not only for its criminalization, but also for the prevention of violence before it occurs and bringing an end to the ongoing violence.
For most women subject to domestic violence, the only way to escape the violence is to leave their home. However, for various reasons this may not be possible for many women. In some cases women do not want to leave their home despite the violence. Therefore, the Law number 4320 on the Protection of the Family adopted in 1998, and also known as the protection order law, stated that the person who must leave the shared dwelling is the perpetrator of the violence. Both the experiences acquired through the implementation of this law and the increase and further visibility of violence against women over time demonstrated the need for a more comprehensive law.
The efforts launched in 2011 for a new anti-violence law continued for one year. 236 women’s organizations, including WWHR–New Ways, that constitute the End Violence Platform played an extremely active role in the making of the law. Shortcomings of the law no 4320 in effect, and the necessity to shape an anti-violence law primarily on the axis of equality were the two main issues prioritized by the women’s organizations in course of this work. During this process that continued through negotiations with the government and ministry officials on the “draft law of the women’s organizations”, demonstrations, campaign and press statements, the women’s organizations in Turkey demonstrated an example of exceptional solidarity.
Through the contributions and intense efforts of the End Violence Platform, supported by many other women’s platforms throughout this process, on March 8, 2012 a new law was adopted, which was an improved version of the law number 4320. The Law number 6284 on the Protection of the Family and Prevention of Violence against Women aims to protect the women and family members who are subject to violence or are under the risk of being subject to violence. This new law, although based on the Istanbul Convention, still has certain shortcomings in comparison to the Convention itself.
Definition of violence according to the Law number 6284 on the Protection of the Family and Prevention of Violence against Women: All acts that result in, or are likely to result in, physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to person, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, all forms of physical, sexual, psychological, verbal and economic attitudes and behaviors, whether occurring in social, in public or in private life.
Despite the fact that it does not entirely reflect the women’s demands and still contains certain shortcomings, the law number 6284 has been an important success in terms of advocacy.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Kinds of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) remains one of the most useful instruments at the UN level to promote women’s human rights in the national contexts. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the CEDAW in 1979, and it entered into force as a convention in 1981. The government of Turkey ratified CEDAW in 1985. The ratification of the convention makes it necessary for state parties to implement policies that prevent discrimination against women and to prepare and present a report to the CEDAW Committee on a regular basis for a review in terms of their advancement on national implementation of CEDAW. According to the Convention, state parties are committed to submit periodic national / official country reports, within the first year of their ratification of the convention and at least every four years subsequently, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.
It has become common practice that women’s organizations prepare the so-called “shadow” or “alternative” country reports for presentation to the CEDAW Committee since 1997. These shadow reports represent the civilian country perspective on the advancement of women’s human rights as foreseen by CEDAW, and as such serve as extremely valuable tools in making the UN review process much more transparent and participatory.
WWHR-New Ways has been participating in the CEDAW process since 1997 by drafting shadow reports; engaging in advocacy efforts targeting the government and the CEDAW Committee during the country reviews for the inclusion of women’s demands in the “Concluding Comments” (recommendations) drafted by the Committee upon the review, and advocating for the adoption of the recommendations on the national level. We participated in this process in the context of the third periodic review of the Turkey Country Report in 1997 in collaboration with the Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation and the Equality Watch Platform to coordinate, draft and submit the first NGO shadow report from Turkey. WWHR also presented the report during the CEDAW review at the UN to undertake advocacy efforts around the CEDAW process.
In 2004, WWHR-New Ways started the coordination and facilitation of an NGO Shadow Report to CEDAW for Turkey’s next periodic review of 2004-2005. We prepared and submitted a shadow report to the CEDAW Pre-Session in June 2004, endorsed by 26 members of the Women’s Platform on the Turkish Penal Code. The shadow report was updated for the January 2005 Session, in which members of the Platform participated to advocate for the inclusion of our demands together with the Executive Committee for NGO Forum on CEDAW – Turkey, which submitted another shadow report. The two coalitions joined forces to raise a very strong and determined voice representing the demands of the women’s movement in Turkey, which was reflected in the Committee’s Comments. Additionally, WWHR engaged in a major media and public outreach campaign during and after the review to raise awareness and bring the issue to the public agenda, and continued to sustain its national advocacy efforts to pressure the government to take necessary measures in line with the Concluding Comments, and in 2008 published a book on the CEDAW mechanism, shadow reporting and advocacy experiences in Turkey.
WWHR-New Ways has also played a key role in the 6th Periodic Review of Turkey by CEDAW in 2010. We coordinated the shadow reporting and advocacy process with the collaboration of the Women’s Platform on the Turkish Penal Code and the Executive Committee for NGO Forum on CEDAW – Turkey toward the objective of ensuring a strong representation of the women’s movement in Turkey. One of our members participated in the Pre-session held in July 2009 and presented the NGO Shadow Report, engaging in advocacy efforts for the inclusion of our demands in the questions to be posed by the Committee to the Government of Turkey. Please click here to read the Country Report Submitted by the Government of Turkey for the 2010 Periodic Review. Representatives of WWHR-New Ways, the Women’s Platform on the Turkish Penal Code and the Executive Committee for NGO Forum on CEDAW – Turkey participated in the official session in July 2010 as an NGO delegation, undertaking extensive advocacy efforts during the review. Please click here to read our 2010 Shadow Report. Following the Review, all these documents and a press briefing was sent to all relevant parties and stakeholders including NGOs, government officials, local groups and the media.
The Concluding Comments of the Committee addressed many of the points raised in our Shadow Report and called on the Government of Turkey to make the necessary reforms and implement the existent laws, policies and programs. The 2010 Concluding Comments of the CEDAW Committee on Turkey are available here.
As of the 6th Periodic Review of Turkey in 2010, a newly introduced practice by CEDAW, with the aim of transforming the mechanism into a more regular tool for the monitoring and advancement of women’s human rights -rather than an issue that comes up only every 4 years-, has been applied to Turkey. In its concluding comments, the CEDAW Committee has requested Turkey to submit a follow-up interim report on two issues raised in the comments, namely the headscarf ban and violence against women. As per this request, the Government has submitted an interim report in 2012. Please click here to read the interim report. WWHR-New Ways, the Women’s Platform on the Turkish Penal Code and the Executive Committee for NGO Forum on CEDAW – Turkey also submitted a Shadow Report for the follow-up process, available here. The Committee’s response to the follow-up interim report is available here.
As of 2014, it is time for Turkey’s 7th Periodic Review by the CEDAW Committee. The Shadow Reporting process was initiated by the Executive Committee for NGO Forum on CEDAW – Turkey and WWHR-New Ways is also participating in the coordination of the reporting and advocacy efforts. The Government of Turkey has also started the preparations for the official country report, however, the dates of the Review have not yet been announced.
e. Reconciliation of Work and Family Life
Reconciliation of work and family life is of utmost importance for women’s increased participation in the labor force, it is a precondition to enable women’s full use of their fundamental right and freedom to paid work, to financial and personal development, to a life free of discrimination; in short to it is essential for gender equality. Reconciliation of work and family life includes policies such as the right to paid leave provided for partners with children (maternal, paternal and parental leave), provision of flexible yet guaranteed employment regulations for people with household responsibilities; establishment and widespread provision of child care and preschool education and services for the care of the elderly and the disabled.
In 2008, as Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways, we launched an international comparative research to map out how the legal and institutional policies and mechanisms for work and family life reconciliation function in other countries and see which policies and mechanisms are more effective in enabling gender equality. In light of the findings, we wanted to open to discussion the feasibility of implementing different policies and mechanisms in Turkey. The first workshop of this research was held in July 2008 with the participation of researchers from South Korea, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Mexico and Turkey, where we discussed the policies and implementations in these countries and their effects on women. In the conference we co-organized with Women’s Labor and Employment Initiative (KEİG) Platform on May 27, 2009 hosted by İstanbul Technical University (İTÜ), the researchers presented their research findings that include the policies in their respective countries and the impacts of the policies. Policy makers, representatives of decision-making mechanisms, relevant public institutions and organizations, employer and non-governmental organizations, unions and researchers participated in this conference where we created an environment of discussion on the subject of the types of policies and practices that can be developed in Turkey in light of the international examples.
At the end of this process, all the case studies of the research and three chapters on Turkey were published as an edited volume in Turkish titled Towards Gender Equality in the Labor Market: Work-Family Life Reconciliation Policies in collaboration with İTÜ Women’s Studies Center in Science, Engineering and Technology (İTÜ BMTKAUM), constituting the first such comprehensive resource in Turkey.
We are continuing our local, national and international advocacy efforts for the reconciliation of work and family life through numerous different projects through various collaborations, trainings, campaigns, meetings and workshops, declarations and bulletins, primarily through HREP and Women’s Labor and Employment Initiative (KEİG) Platform, and the “More and Better Jobs for Women: Women’s Empowerment through Decent Work in Turkey” project which we are implementing in partnership with International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR).
a. HREP as an Advocacy Tool
The establishment and implementation of a nondiscriminatory, gender sensitive and holistic legal framework in Turkey and the world, that safeguards women’s human rights and complies with international human rights norms and standards is among the fundamental objectives of Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways. In fields of national and international advocacy and networking through which we work towards this goal, the Human Rights Education Program for Women (HREP), which we have been running successfully for two decades, plays a crucial part.
Through a holistic understanding of women’s human rights and a completely participatory approach and drawing from participants’ own experiences, HREP enables women to develop a critical awareness of laws, social norms and customary practices that shape their daily lives. Designed as an instrument to provide the necessary knowledge and skills for women to devise their own strategies as strong individuals both at the personal and social level, the program enables women to transform the awareness they have experienced and the knowledge they have accumulated on women’s human rights into action and organizing.
HREP has an extremely transformative effect on the participating women resulting from its comprehensive content, the questions it seeks answers to and the subjects it covers. In light of the concept of women’s human rights in Turkey and the world, HREP participants gain awareness on subjects such as feminism, organizing, communication, legal and economic rights, right to vote and stand for election, bodily and sexual rights, and become empowered women who voice their demands freely, struggle together against gender discrimination and participate in social and political life.
Conveying the things we learn from HREP participants— such as the problems experienced by local women, their demands, needs and experiences— to national and international levels is one of the most important elements nourishing and contributing to the realization of WWHR-New Ways’ main fields of activity.
Committed to monitoring the implementation of international conventions and documents for the establishment of gender equality and the advancement of women’s human rights that Turkey is party to, WWHR-New Ways continues to coordinate processes of shadow reporting, organize campaigns, meetings, congresses and conferences and its advocacy efforts with rights-based platforms and coalitions, and strives to translate this experience and the progressive impact of these processes to the local context and ensure it empowers women and women’s groups at the grassroots level. Meanwhile, WWHR’s expansive and ongoing experience through HREP and engagement with the HREP solidarity network not only grounds and guides these efforts, but also strengthens our contribution to these processes.
- Continuing its advocacy efforts with all its strength ever since its foundation in order to make all institutions and governments across the world and primarily in Turkey to take notice of and eliminate the discrimination women encounter in private and public spheres regarding their power of self-determination, human rights and bodily integrity, WWHR-New Ways is proud of HREP which is its greatest source of support in this struggle.