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article imageNew Turkish laws target women Special

By Lonna Lisa Williams     Sep 4, 2013 in World
Istanbul - Recent laws by the Turkish Prime Minister promote Islamist ideals that limit secular democracy and negatively affect women in Turkey.
Women in Turkey face big challenges. For hundreds of years they have struggled in a patriarchal Islamic society that makes them cover their bodies in veils, marry very young to older men they barely know, have many children and stay home without access to education or good jobs, endure religiously approved beatings from their husbands, and even face death by their own male family members if they behave in ways that bring "dishonor."
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern, secular democracy of Turkey, recognized this problem. He modernized and secularized the formerly entirely Islamic education system. He encouraged women to get a university education next to men and to wear the clothes they wanted (with or without head scarves). He provided more civilian and government jobs for women, and sought to protect them against violence.
Now Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan is seeking to return women to their centuries-old struggles by encouraging them to wear head scarves, leave school early, marry, stay home, and have many children with restricted access to abortions. He recently passed new education laws that mandate Islamic studies in public schools, allow parents to take their children out of school early to marry or work in the fields, and even segregate male and female university students by requiring them to ride different buses and eat at separate cafeterias, as Sol newspaper reported is happening in Trabzone, a city on Turkey's Black Sea where Erdogan has family ties.
Erdogan's newest ploy is to restrict access to secular public schools so that parents have no choice but to send their children to Islamic schools that require girls to wear head scarves. This exposes Erdogan's plan to eradicate secular democracy from Turkey and raise a new generation of Islamists. Erdogan also has shifted government funding from secular schools to religious schools and even builds mosques on university campuses.
On August 6, Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar explained the ruling Ak Party's views on the matter.
"This is a Muslim country," he said. "Ninety-nine per cent of the population is Muslim. We have a structure [i.e. Turkish society] that comes from history. Due to Turkey's geographical placement, we don't have inventors. Therefore, we need to put our focus in raising strong, well-educated and mid-level technical workers."
This kind of retro thinking has enraged secularists.
"Erdogan wants us to go back a thousand years. Are we merely a nation that is good at raising sheep, keeping women out of public life, and not questioning anything?" one Turkish man inquired.
"I don't want my tax money building a mosque at a public university. They're building one at Akdeniz (Mediterranean) University right now, yet you can't find even one Christian club there. Erdogan acts as if the only history of Turkey is Ottoman. He forgets that we also have a long Christian and even Jewish heritage, and that some Turks actually don't follow Islam," a Turkish business owner pointed out.
"I don't want my daughter to be forced to study the Koran 40% of the time she sits at high school," another business owner stated. "And I certainly won't force her to wear a head scarf!"
"I want to study the subjects I'm interested in, like science," a teenage girl remarked. "I also want freedom to dress how I like, not bound by a veil."
"I just don't see the appeal of a woman all covered in a black veil with only her eyes showing," an American man living in Istanbul observed.
"Turkey discourages diversity," an American woman artist in Istanbul stated. "The current government wants everyone to believe the same thing and dress the same way, without questioning."
As an American English teacher and journalist living in Turkey for the past 2 1/2 years, I have personally observed how women can be treated. I have seen a man hit his wife while 2 police officers watched and made jokes about it. I have heard women screaming in my neighborhood while no one helped them, considering it a "family" or "mental" problem. I worked with a young woman whose brothers scarred her face because she was dressing in a Western style and dating men. She desperately wanted to get out of her repressive home, and although she had a low-paying job as a janitor, she believed that marrying a wealthy man would provide an escape.
Here in Turkey, rape is common, and Turkish men often view a woman who is dressed in what they consider an immodest or Western manner—as a prostitute and a target. I'm middle-aged and dress conservatively, but I'm also tall and blonde, and several times Turkish men have tried to "hire" me. One even tried to kidnap me in his motorcycle, and I had to brandish my pepper spray. My first week in Turkey, a man followed me into the women's restroom and attacked me. I pushed him away, screaming, and escaped. American tourist Sarai Sierra was not so fortunate; a Turkish man brutally beat her to death in Istanbul.
In southern Turkey, one woman who was raped (and became pregnant) made headlines by cutting off the head of her rapist. In Turkey, nearly half of all woman have suffered sexual violence. Turks have, indeed, voiced outcries at this violence and have protested against Egyptian laws drafted under ousted Islamist President Morsi that allowed fourteen-year-old girls to marry and Muslim men to have sex with their dead wives (within 6 hours after their death). Some Islamist clerics even condone rape of non-Sunni Muslims (such as Muslims from other sects and Christians) in Syria.
My English students have told me stories about teenage girls from Eastern Turkey who ran away from their families to Istanbul, risking life on the streets rather than being forced into marriage with an older man their parents picked for them. Some students told me about Honor Killings, when women who engaged in premarital sex, became pregnant, or ran away were tracked down by their own male family members.
Amnesty International revealed that one-third of Turkish men believe it is acceptable to hit or beat a woman.
"Violence against women is increasing in Turkey," Amnesty International reported. "There are not enough women's shelters."
"A woman should be free to have her hair blow in the wind," an older Turkish man told me. "Hair is beautiful, and Turkish men should respect a woman's right to dress as she wants. She should also be free to get a modern education and a good-paying job. I'd like to see more women in our government. Turkish laws must protect women, and violators must be prosecuted."
The famous  woman in red  being assaulted by policemen with pepper spray at Gezi Park
The famous "woman in red" being assaulted by policemen with pepper spray at Gezi Park
The Telegraph
A woman veiled in black stands next to her husband in Istanbul
A woman veiled in black stands next to her husband in Istanbul
File photo: Female Turkish university students relax together  enjoying freedom to dress as they wan...
File photo: Female Turkish university students relax together, enjoying freedom to dress as they want
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan seeks to establish Islamic law in Turkey  as he sponsors projects lik...
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan seeks to establish Islamic law in Turkey, as he sponsors projects like this new, multi-million-dollar mosque in Istanbul that rises near exclusive residence towers
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