Since the establishment
of the Turkish
Republic in the 1920s, women
have had equal status with men in
Turkish society, at least in
But during the Ottoman
Empire, Turkish society was ruled by shari'a (Islamic religious
law) and a body of medieval social
custom for 500 years, and significant cultural
change does not come overnight.
The status of women in Turkey is different from
what it is in your home country. Not "better," not "worse," but different. In
some ways, women may seem subservient
to men; but Turkey had a female
supreme court justice long before
the USA did, and Turkey has had a female
head of government, something the
USA, for all its success in women's
liberation, has not yet had.
Men's and women's roles were clearly
defined in traditional Turkish
society and each gender was more
or less sovereign within its appropriate
realm. The husband-father was
head of the household, but the wife-mother was
in charge of the house and family.
Men went out of the house to deal
with the world of business, government
and military; women stayed close
to home and tended the crops, the
animals and the household.
The ranking, behavior and appropriate
attitude for each family member
was clearly defined: imperious mother-in-law,
submissive youngest child, etc. (It
was the same even in the sultan's
palace: although the sultan was the
monarch, it was his mother, the Valide
Sultan, who decided which harem girls
he would sleep with, and when!)
reforms hoped to blast these
centuries-old traditions to smithereens,
and to liberate women completely so
they could participate in every aspect
of society equally with men.
veil was outlawed; civil marriage
and divorce were established; Turkish
women obtained the right to vote
(long before women in Switzerland
had that right), to hold political
office, and to bequeath and to inherit
wealth in their own right.
Though these reforms were dramatically
society does not change easily or quickly,
and even Atatürk's bold, foresightful
measures could not change everyone's
thinking all at once.
Arranged marriages are still
common in the countryside and among
the more traditional, religious families,
although in the cities modern ideas
of girl-boy courtship, love and marriage
are not uncommon. Female virginity upon
marriage is valued (and often expected),
though it is not universal anymore.
In Turkey, as in most societies—even
the ones thought to be most liberal
in their attitudes toward women—you'll
find a range of attitudes toward
In contrast to Atatürk's efforts to include women in all roles in Turkish society, the current Islamist government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) advocates a conservative role for women with statements that a woman's role is that of mother and homemaker.
If you, a foreign female visitor, observe
Turkish cultural norms (ie,
behave as a Turkish woman would behave),
will be treated with politeness and
Whether you do this or not,
you will probably be in far less physical
danger in Turkey than you'd be in many
more "liberal" countries.
—by Tom Brosnahan