In Turkey, Civil Victory Is Only Part of Women's Battle ; Turkey's Government This Week Is Expected to Change Civil Codes to Recognize Women as Men's Equals

Article excerpt

Ayfar Yuceer would never tie the knot with someone who didn't respect her as an equal. But, she says, it's nice to know that her convictions will soon have the force of law behind them.

More than 75 years after Turkey became a secular state, the government is quietly adjusting its civil code to recognize men and women as legal equals. In changes likely to be accepted this week, the code will no longer designate men as the heads of household or leave women with next to nothing in divorce settlements.

While women have long had the right to vote, and Turkey is one of the only Muslim states to have had a female prime minister, these adjustments have been a long time coming, women's rights groups say. its civil code, passed in 1926 by Turkey's infant Republican government, contained a number of important advances for women. They were granted equal rights to divorce, equal authority over their children, and equal access to education. But in the three-quarters of a century since, Turkey's laws have stood still on women's equality.

Many of the new changes are uncontroversial. A few merely bring the law into line with current practice. One article, which requires women to seek their husbands' permission to work, already was struck down in 1994 by the constitutional court.

But women's rights groups say that other changes, particularly those related to the division of property in divorce, will have a concrete impact on the daily lives of Turkish women. Under the current law, when a Turkish couple divorces, a woman is entitled only to that property held in her name. The proposed changes would grant women half of all property acquired by the couple during their marriage.

"Since women are mainly working in the home, after a divorce they are left impoverished and with the responsibility of caring for their children," says Ela Anil, an activist with Turkish Women for Women's Human Rights.

While the changes in the civil code are part of the country's bid to enter the European Union, women's rights activists also hope they will serve as a model to other Muslim countries. …


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