İZGİ GÜNGÖR ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News The Hürriyet human rights train tour reveals continuing challenges facing women across Turkey. The more that women try to gain and exercise their rights, the more conflict emerges between husbands and wives, with women facing increasing societal pressure
With a mission to raise women and children's awareness of their rights, the daily Hürriyet's human rights train, which is still touring the Eastern part of Anatolia, has visited most of the Aegean region within the last two weeks. As part of its 51-day trans-Anatolian voyage, the train has visited İzmir, İzmir's Selçuk district, Aydın, Denizli, Burdur, Isparta, Uşak, Manisa, Balıkesir and Bandırma in a bid to inform women of their rights.
The tour has revealed that no matter whether the train turns east or west, the situation for women's human rights is not that promising. Due to Western Turkey's relative prosperity and high level of education, people are considered to be more economically and socially privileged and thus should be more conscious about their rights.
Traditional customs dominate women's daily lives
However, discussions in the cities where Hürriyet train has stopped revealed that women living in western Turkey were not aware of their rights and that women's daily lives were being shaped by patriarchal customs and traditions. The train's mission is already challenging in a country like Turkey, which was recently declared by the European Court of Human Rights, as one of three countries, along with Russia and Romania, where human-rights violations are a serious concern. Out of 97,300 total cases in the hands of the European court, more than 11 percent were from Turkey.
The train tour implies that it remains a luxury to expect women to know about and realize their rights, given that traditional, patriarchal customs still dominate their daily lives across the country. It will also be a luxury to discuss women's rights, as women can't prioritize their human-rights hopes given the country's current social and economic circumstances.
Both women and children in western Turkey seem to make their voices heard in the household more boldly and seem to be better educated when compared to those who live in the East. Still, the traditionally patriarchal family structure and even external or societal pressures continue to influence women's lives. Many women seem to reduce the meaning of human rights to the freedom of thought and expression in the family, thereby ignoring their economic and working rights, or their sexual and reproductive rights.
A 35-year-old woman in Uşak, who wears headscarf, said during a brief interview that it is her desire to reveal her hair, which is also supported by her husband. "But it is the pressure of the outside, our relatives in particular, that prevents me from doing so," she said. She also complained about the gossip spread by her relatives and of the social pressure when she did so on special occasions.
'Husband has the final word'
Another meaningful and interesting story came from a local lady who wears a headscarf for political reasons in Isparta. She covered her head to suit her husband's wishes once they were married. She also said that her husband drank almost every night and that she felt happy to prepare a decent rakı sofrası, a traditional meal of small mezes, for him every night.
For Neşe Hacısalihoğlu, project coordinator of the End Domestic Violence campaign launched by daily Hürriyet, the picture in western Turkey was not so different from the country's overall performance in terms of women's rights.
"Women in western Turkey might be more educated and have greater knowledge about their rights, which makes them participate more fully in working life. But their participation in the workforce is likely to create conflict within the family and thus result in a drastic increase in the divorce rate," said Hacısalihoğlu, a member of the train's staff, who conducts seminars about domestic violence and women's rights at each stop.
"The more that these women try to gain and exercise their rights, the more conflict emerges between husband and wife. When a woman seeks her rights, she is sometimes blamed, punished or faced with prejudice by her family. Men still have the final word in women's rights. It is the husband, for instance, who influences their wives' choice of occupation."
'Traditional values should be questioned'
She said women weren't sufficiently aware of their rights and that domestic violence remains among the country's major problems, even in western Turkey. "But these types of events usually remain hidden with the rhetoric that 'whatever happens in family remains within family.' The lack of social mechanisms to protect women after facing domestic violence - and the socio-economic system itself - prevent many women from exercising their individual rights and veil the incidents of violence," she noted.
Hacısalihoğlu said that studies and efforts designed to raise awareness among women of their rights should be intensified. "I think it will be better to begin by questioning these traditional, deep-rooted, patriarchal social values," she said.