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Baba, let me go to school
1 Aug 2010
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"There are so many women that cannot read and write but thirty-five percent of women academics are in the universities. Thirty-five percent, this is a very high percent because in Germany, it’s nine percent. Yes, but if you go upward in departments, for example, to look at the deans and directors, there are many men. There is a glass ceiling. Women can go to a place but not up."

Nazan Moruglu. Director of the Turkish Association of University and lecturer in the law school at Yeditepe University. Interviewed August 2010.

Baba, let me go to school

In my country, I have been an activist for twenty years and more. I am working as a lawyer and also as a lecturer in the University. When I became a member of the Turkish jurist women’s association, I began to see that I have to work for women’s rights.

Until that time, I was active only in commercial law. My husband and I, we were working for commercial issues, but I saw there were so many women’s rights issues.

I decided to do my post-graduate study in women’s human rights. Women’s Studies were really new in Turkey at that time. The department was established in 1990’s, and I began my post-graduate in 1992.

I became the first women’s rights researcher for law and legal issues in Turkey. It makes me proud, and it gives me so many responsibilities. Therefore, I write books. I make brochures for the city and for all of Turkey.

Then, I began to be active in the associations. When I was on the board of the jurist women’s association, we conducted research in the rural parts and cities. Women there, they have so many questions. They don’t know their legal rights. As a lawyer, I was informing them of their rights.

I am also the founder of the women’s rights commission in the Istanbul bar association. There, we advise women. We help them to reach their rights in legal issues.

You know, the Turkish republic was founded in 1923. Until that time there was an Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman Empire was ruled by Islamic rules. After the Turkish Republic was established, a secular system was founded in our country. Many reforms were made. Only some of them helped women’s rights.

For example, we have a civil code. In 1926, the civil code was adopted by the Parliament. Before then, a man could marry four women according to Islamic rule. After that, only one man and one woman could marry. The rules are now according to the secular system, and we have taken the Swiss civil code and translated it to Turkish civil code. 

However, at that time in every country, there was a patriarchal mindset. The rules are written in patriarchy. For example, this civil code in Switzerland was adopted in 1906, and it was written in the family law that the husband is the boss of the family. We took their civil code from 1906, so we also have those patriarchal rules. Only, we adopted it in the 1920’s, even though Switzerland changed their civil code in 1918. The rules changed with the time, but we took the old rules.

The women’s groups have been very active because we want to change these rules. We said, “Men and women have equal rights. Husband and wife have equal rights. We want change.”

I was the coordinator for that movement, and we worked so hard. We made campaigns, we collected signatures everywhere—one hundred thousand signatures. We wrote to the Parliament, “We want to change this civil code. We want to have equal rights in the family, woman and husband, and also property between the spouses. We want such a system that equal sharing is written in the article.” We were successful and we have changed these rules, but we had to wait until 2002. It’s very new. We had to work for many years.

Apart from the civil code, legally, Turkey is at the forefront. In the law, all women in Turkey have equal rights. For example, in 1934, the right to be elected to Parliament and the right to vote was given to Turkish women. The first election after this right was granted, in 1935, eighteen women were elected to the Parliament. At that time, in 1935, the Turkish republic was the best for the equal rights to women in the world. In France, the same rights were given in 1945 and in Switzerland in 1971. So, we were at the forefront.

In the constitution, in civil code, family law, and family code, everywhere, all women in Turkey have equal rights. To get a job, they also equal rights, legally. Only, in reality, they cannot use these equal rights. From legislation to everyday rights, it’s not easy in Turkey. Practicing these rights is very difficult. 

For example, violence against women is everywhere. Most Turkish women are not working outside the home. They are only in the home with the children and the husband. Although they know their rights, they can’t use them.

We want these women to use their rights. Therefore, we make seminars for them. This is the most difficult thing: To take women outside the home so they gain something economically for themselves.

There are many women’s associations and women’s lawyers who volunteer to go to rural parts and tell women their legal rights. In some meetings, we speak with men as well. In workplaces, for example, we have meetings with both men and women. It’s good that women’s know their rights, but it’s also good when men know that there are women’s rights.

Education, I think, is the biggest challenge. In our country, unfortunately, nineteen percent of women are illiterate, especially in rural parts and small towns. When I say nineteen percent, there’s a background you have to know. In 1928, we changed the alphabet in Turkey. Until 1928, everyone wrote in Arabic letters but afterward, they all used lettered words. At that time, families didn’t send their daughters to schools. After 1928, there are many schools opened and women and men went together. Girls and boys now are going to school together. Therefore, it's mainly the elderly women who make up the nineteen percent, who don’t know how to write and to read this new alphabet. It comes from there.

It’s also a contradiction. There are so many women that cannot read and write but thirty-five percent of women academics are in the universities. Thirty-five percent, this is a very high percentage. In Germany, it’s only nine percent. Yet, if you go look at the deans and directors of departments in our universities, there are many men. There is a glass ceiling. Women can go to a place but not up.

The first obstacle I see is education. Once a woman is educated, she can find opportunities to go into the workplace. There are so many campaigns in rural parts of Turkey. “Baba, Father, let me go to school” for the girl child. There are many campaigns. Donors also give some money to the family, to the mother, for example, so they can send their daughters to school more and more.

Yet, today in our Parliament, there are only nine percent women parliamentarians. This is very low. Therefore, the women cannot make their voices heard. There, we have no forward steps.

There are thirty thousand lawyers in Istanbul bar association, and one third of them are women lawyers. I believe it will become equal, though, because if you see the profile of young lawyers, they are half-and-half men and women. Lawyers thirty years of age and below are half and half. The older generation is one third.

I think when women and men are equal, by rights but also when they use also their rights for education, for the political system, everywhere, democracy will be established in our country. Therefore, that gives me energy, educating people about equal rights. It helps. Then, I have more energy to work.  

You know, Turkey is a candidate member to the European Union. We have a women’s initiative to the European Union. We go to Brussels. We relate how Turkish women’s rights are. We are forty members and we are all business women. We are lobbying. We lobby twice a year. 

In the European Union, there is democracy, women’s rights, human rights. Therefore, we want to be going in that direction. Politically, the European Union doesn’t want an Islamic country. Therefore they say, “Ok, you can come up to a point but not in.” In reality, they don’t want us.

While in Turkey we have separation between religion and state, a foreigner looks and thinks that ninety-five percent of the population is Muslim. They think that Turkey is an Islamic country but no. To know how it really is, one must come to Turkey.

The problem is, if we say, “No” to the European Union, to modernization, our country can be changed to a more conservative Islamic side. Turkey can turn her face to the other side. Therefore, we want to join now, for equal rights. 

Community Justice Activism Advocacy
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