"On a private level, the main problem is the patriarchal ideology, domestic violence, and unequal division of labor."

Posted in Broader Middle East | 25-Jul-06 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Yildiz Ecevit: "But in small towns, women have very little, if any, opportunities"

Exclusive interview with Ms. Yildiz Ecevit

WSN: Professor Ecevit, please brief me about your work in the Middle East Technical University.

Yildiz Ecevit: I am a professor in the sociology department at METN, teaching gender studies. This is a graduate program; now we are doing gender and women studies, and the program exists in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

I am also doing research, writing and volunteering in civil society organizations, the majority of them being women NGOs.

WSN: What kind of difficulties do women encounter in the rural and urban areas of Turkey, as far as you are aware of?

Yildiz Ecevit: There are many difficulties women have. If you take them one by one, in terms of gender, education and employment -- the number of women in the labor market is very low - only about 21% -, violence, and the extremely low political participation.

We can call these areas problems, but within this framework, you can find many nuances -- depending on social status, education level, geographic area, etc.

For example, the literacy rate is higher in western regions, and lower in eastern regions. In terms of employment, women in urban areas have more opportunities to work, in industry, the service market, academics, etc.

But in small towns, women have very little, if any, opportunities. We can also look at this issue from a public/private stance. On a private level, the main problem is patriarchal ideology, domestic violence, and unequal division of labor.

On the public level, there are difficulties in employment, political participation and violence. Violence toward women is present at both the private and public level; we find it at home, and in the workplace as sexual harassment. Of course, this most of time remains hidden, and we do not know how widespread sexual harassment actually is. I’d say that the most popular problem in Turkey is violence, in various forms. In the 1980s, the women's movements began in Turkey. This movement is engaged in combating violence and supporting women rights. Many NGOs are also working to empower women and encourage them to seek positions in public offices, in the political and administrative arenas.

WSN: What is keeping women in their homes? The traditions, male dominance, lack of education?

Yildiz Ecevit: I think that it's all of the above. The education level is low, some women in villages are illiterate, they do not have skills, and they do not have training opportunities to get some skills in order to finally obtain a job. So, it is a complex problem.

And as you said, we have the traditions. Families are conservative, with patriarchal mentality. Some men think that they should keep their wives at home and be the sole provider for the entire family.

On the other hand, the domestic area is entirely the responsibility of women, so they have to look after children, the elderly and do all kinds of domestic chores, without getting paid. Many times, women do all of this without receiving the respect they deserve for their daily work.

We should not look at this situation from one angle only, saying that women cannot work outside their homes because they are part of a conservative family or their husbands do not give them permission. While these are all real problems, my opinion is that if there is development, and available jobs, gradually women will take part in the labor market. The patriarchal ideology will weaken as women begin to look more for a better economic and social status. The permission problem is up to a certain point a pseudo problem that surely can be surpassed. For me, the major issue in the urban area is the lack of jobs. In the past, women found jobs in the industry sector (textile and others), but industry is not that developed anymore. There are fewer factories now than there were 20 or 30 years ago. However, the service sector is growing, but of course, here you need some skills; so we are taken back to square one, namely education.

Also, rural productivity has decreased, especially in sectors such as tobacco and hazelnut. Now, in rural areas women and men are facing the same problems in terms of unemployment. This is why we are confronted with quite a massive migration from rural to urban areas.

So, the majority of women in rural and urban areas are unpaid workers. You may relate this issue very well to women's rights, as they do not have any economic independence, they are dependant on their husband's or father's incomes, and that is why they are subordinate, living at home, working at home, prisoners in their homes.

WSN: You were talking about violence, and in this context, I'd like to know if you still have honor crimes in Turkey?

Yildiz Ecevit: This is a widespread phenomenon. These crimes happen everywhere in the country. This again is a major problem in Turkey.

WSN: Why is this happening?

Yildiz Ecevit: It’s under this umbrella of patriarchal ideology, which covers many things, this included. Women, the relegation of women with honor, this idea is very important and charging it is the belief in many families that honor is directly related with virginity.

Family honor is in this context women's honor, and women's honor is virginity for girls.

WSN: This particular understanding of honor applies to married women too?

Yildiz Ecevit: If a married woman engages in let’s say, illegal relations, outside the marriage with other men, this again involves the concept of honor. It is very difficult to deal with this type of behavior. For example, the penal code recently changed so that it makes it more difficult for young boys below 18 to commit the honor crimes and remain unpunished, as was the case before.

But, this change has taken a turn that I did not expect. What happens now is that women who have been accused of this type of conduct by their families feel obliged by the other women in their families to attempt suicide, in order to save the honor of the family. This is very strange. As a sociologist, I did not think that a change in the penal code would lead to such consequences. It has the effect that the problem virtually remains the same.

WSN: What is the root cause? Is it Islam, or something else?

Yildiz Ecevit: Islam is not the only reason; it’s about the attitudes and behavior influenced by traditions and Islam. It is a sociological phenomenon that cannot be explained by just one reason.

NGOs are fighting it, teaching, giving voice to human rights. The media is also doing something in this respect. This problem is not as big as in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but big enough to concern us all.

Neither women nor men should be killed for establishing a link, a relationship outside their marriage, or before it.

Some women fear to speak out for their rights; others do not even know what their rights are. As far as I can see it, for the time being in Turkey the most important thing is to teach women their rights, with courses, training, discuss it in public, not only between women rights advocates, but also at the state level.

WSN: Professor Ecevit, I appreciate your input on these very complex women's issues. Thank you.