Turkey - women's status a decisive yardstick

Posted in Broader Middle East | 23-Jul-06 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

Turkish women wearing EU flag

The separation of state and religion in "Ataturk-Turkey" brings Turkey in a unique position in this part of the world. A modern and successful laicistic Turkey could become the blue-print for the neighbouring Islamic world. On the other hand, Turkey's strives for full EU-membership. In both aspects the status of women plays a significant role.

My interest was to bring forward a clearer image of the rights and the status women enjoy in Turkey, and also to find out more about the current modus vivendi between the elected Islamists and the secular democratic political system.

My Turkish journey began in Istanbul with a concert performed by the Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra held at Bogazici University's Albert Long Hall. The concert marked in grand style the opening of the Bogazici summer school that gathers together young men and women from all over Turkey and from abroad. It was the first time ever that I met with young Kazakhs and discussed their socio-political environment - which I confess I knew nothing about - and the role of Russia in the world. Students from Latvia, Russia and Turkey joined the discussion, drawing our attention to the EU and the much-debated subject of whether or not Turkey's place is in the European Union. Needless to say, we did not arrive at a common point of view, but we did learn a bit about each other's respective country, current issues and European foreign policy.

After a couple of hours of constructive debate, we had the opportunity to listen to the wonderful performance of the Tekfen Philharmonic Orchestra. It was intriguing that the orchestra in itself was as diverse as the participants. The main sponsor of the event, Tekfen intentionally gathered together famous national and international musicians for the evening. The concert praised diversity in both form and content. For two hours, nationality, political opinion, social status and future aims did not matter.

While in Turkey I had the opportunity to conduct the following interviews: With Ms. Deniz Saporta, the energetic spokeswoman of the Turkish Jewish community in Istanbul; with Aygen Aytac, Asli Sahin and Berna Bayazrt of the United Nations Development Program, who briefed me about the UNDP women projects in few of the urban and rural areas of Turkey; and with Professor Yildiz Ecevit, an outspoken advocate for women's rights.

The European Cultural Foundation (ECF) awarded me with a grant to pursue a journalistic project, focusing on the socio-cultural aspects of the complex Turkish society.