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Statement by Ipek Ilkkaracan
To the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women
On the Fourth and Fifth Periodic Report of the Government of Turkey
17 January 2005

This presentation is based on the Shadow Report for Turkey prepared by Women for Women’s Human Rights - New Ways and endorsed by the Turkish Penal Code Women’s Platform.

Thank you Madam Chair, and distinguished Members of the Committee. It is an honor to be here to present one of the two shadow reports on Turkey. As the two reports raise a number of overlapping issues of concern; my colleague presenting after me, and I, have divided the issues between us. My presentation is based on three areas of concern raised in the shadow report prepared by Women for Women’s Human Rights - New Ways and endorsed by the 27 NGO members of the Turkish Penal Code Women’s Platform.

The first area of concern relates to the new Turkish Penal Code, which has been accepted by the Parliament in September 2004. The code continues to sustain a number of grossly gender discriminatory provisions in violation of CEDAW Articles 2 and 15. The new Penal Code is to be enacted in April 2005, and as such the timing of Turkey’s review by the Committee is of critical importance.

  • One of the most problematic issues about the new Turkish Penal Code concerns its continued failure to criminalise “honor killings”. Despite our concerted lobbying efforts with the Parliament; the article has been revised making reference to “custom killings,” an exclusive term that does not appropriately define murders committed in the name of honor. Moreover, the justification of the same article opens the possibility for a sentence reduction in the case of “unjust provocation.” We believe the use of the term “custom killings” instead of “honor killings”; as well as the last-minute insertion of “unjust procovocation” in the justification, constitute a deliberate attempt to preserve this violent practice in Turkey.
  • The new Turkish Penal Code also fails to state that “virginity testing is banned”. The relevant article does not seek the consent of the woman as a necessary precondition for the conduct of a genital examination.
  • The new Turkish Penal Code penalises consensual sexual relations between young people of 15-18 years of age upon complaint. As the article fails to define the compliant, it leaves room for complaints from third parties such as families, and school administrators. This Article should be removed and instead a provision should be added to the Article overseeing “Sexual Abuse of Children”, penalising sexual relations of minors of 15-18 years of age only in the case of lacks of consent of the involved parties.
  • Finally, the new Turkish Penal Code Article on Discrimination, deliberately does not include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This leaves room to legitimise discrimination against lesbian and bisexual women and transgender people, who are already marginalised and face severe discrimination in society as it stands.

The second area of concern is in regards to the insufficient number of women’s shelters and counseling services. This was one of the most important issues taken up during Turkey’s 2nd and 3rd combined review by the Committee in 1997. There has been no increase in the number of women’s shelters since then. Yet a commendable development has been the establishment of Community Centers around the country, which function as counseling support centers for low-income women. Although few in number, the existing Women’s Shelters and Community Centers are the only mechanism in Turkey, for the provision of crucial public services towards eradication of violence against women and gender discriminatory practices.

Under the currently on-going Public Administration Reform Process, however, the Central Government is transferring all responsibility for these public institutions to local governments. This is an alarming development, as it is not clear at all whether local governments will continue to find the necessary funding to keep them open; and if they are kept open, the operational guidelines under which they are to be monitored remain ambiguous. Hence the current Public Administration Reform Law, is proceeding to make matters worse by dismantling an already functioning system without any plausible alternatives to take its place.

The final area of concern, entails the extremely low levels of women’s employment in Turkey. While this is one of the most striking areas of gender inequality, that has been emphasised in the CEDAW review of Turkey in 1997, the government demonstrates no political will to improve the situation. The few existing attempts are merely at skills training, based on the assumption that women’s low employment is a problem of lack of market skills. This is misleading, as a major source of the problem is women’s traditional responsibility in housework and childcare, as well as the social restrictions on their freedom of mobility. In order to meet the required implementation of CEDAW Article 11, there is urgent need for the Government to develop a coordinated and comprehensive long-term plan of action that addresses the multiple dimensions of women’s lack of employment. Such a plan should set a clear national target for increasing female employment to 60% by 2010 (in line with the EU 2010 Lisbon Criteria) and should include measures such as increasing the availability and affordability of childcare; promoting awareness raising campaigns for eradication of cultural restrictions on women’s employment; and removal of financial disincentives to the participation of women, notably in relation to social security and the gender pay gap.

Another source of women’s economic disempowerment concerns the enactment law of the new Civil Code regarding property regimes in marriage. The “Regime Regarding the Ownership of Acquired Property”, as the de facto property regime, does not apply retrospectively. This means an overwhelming majority of women are unable to benefit from the law. In line with CEDAW Articles 2 and 16; the Turkish Civil Code needs to be amended so as to enable the new property regime to be applicable to all marriages.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

This page was last updated on April 20, 2005

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