|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Committee on Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
937th & 938th Meetings (AM & PM)
Appearing before Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee, Turkish Delegation Reports
Dynamic Changes, Rapid Developments in Human Rights, Women’s Participation
Experts Question Absence of National Human Rights Body, Early Marriages,
Continuation of Honour Killings, Impact of Headscarf Ban on School Dropout Rates
With amendments to the country’s Constitution, the enactment of a new Penal Code and the creation of the Committee on the Equal Rights and Opportunities within the Turkish Grand Assembly, Turkey had worked consistently over the last decade to improve the status of women, the Turkish delegation told the forty-sixth session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today.
Presenting Turkey’s sixth periodic report, Selma Aliye Kavaf, Minister in Charge of Women and Family Affairs, said the Turkish Committee was created in 2009 to protect women’s rights, while the Constitutional Amendment Package, recently adopted by Parliament and set for approval in a September 2010 referendum, helped to improve gender equality. The Committee, which monitors State parties’ compliance with the Women’s Convention, learned that Turkey’s federal efforts to boost the status of women included the Ninth Development Plan, which enveloped the Gender Equality National Action Plan and covered the period 2007-2013.
Efforts to create a Board on Equality and the Prevention of Discrimination were also moving ahead as a draft law prepared on the matter would meet the need to enact a comprehensive law against discrimination in line with international standards. The law aimed to assure protection of the rights of persons to equal and non-discriminatory treatment, as well as the compliance of the executive, legislative and judicial bodies. Concepts such as direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and hate speech were in the draft.
The country’s delegation also reported improvements in infant and maternal mortality rates in keeping with the Millennium Development Goals. The Government had created youth health-care centres to help lower the rate of teenage pregnancies and improve rural women’s access to health-care services. It had emergency ambulances that included two planes and 25 helicopters, there were three times as many health clinics serving remote areas, and mobile health-care units also addressed the health needs in rural areas.
While acknowledging Turkey’s progress since submission of its last report in 2004, several among the 23 experts who serve in their personal capacity on the Committee, were concerned with the absence of a national human rights institution and had questions about the country’s efforts to combat violence, address the continuation of the so-called honour killings, early marriages and suicides.
Experts questioned whether there was a comprehensive law on violence in the Government’s new action plan. Regarding the progress made on honour killings or killings based on the “code of custom”, they wanted to know if sentences would be reduced if the victim had committed a reprehensible act and whether there were enough family courts. Experts also inquired about girls’ right to education and women’s right to employment following the Government’s decision to ban the wearing of headscarves in school and in public service sectors. One expert, in particular, asked whether the ban had exacerbated the dropout rates of girls in the sixth and seventh grades and at the university level.
In the course of today’s meeting, Committee Chairperson Naela Gabr, expert from Egypt, announced that she was leaving the session to return to her country and that Committee Vice-Chairperson, Silvia Pimentel, expert from Brazil, would assume the responsibility.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 22 July, to consider the combined initial, second and third periodic reports of Papua New Guinea.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met today to consider the sixth periodic report of Turkey (document CEDAW/C/TUR/6).
The delegation was led by Selma Aliye Kavaf, Turkey’s Minister of State for Women and Family Issues, and included: Güldal Akşit, Head of the Parliamentary Commission on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men; Leyla Coşkun, Director General, Directorate General for the Status of Women; İsmail Barış, Director General, Social Services and Child Protection General Directorate; Ambassador Birnur Fertekligil, Director General for Multilateral Political Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mehmet Ali Özkan, Turkey’s Labour Institution, Deputy Director General; Sengül Altan Arslan, Head of Section, Directorate General for the Status of Women; and Fatma Karakoc, Head of Section, Directorate General for the Status of Women.
Also in attendance were Rukiye Gül, Head of Section, Ministry of Health; Niyazi Kaya, Head of Branch, Ministry of Education; Servet Kaya, Judge Rapporteur, Ministry of Justice; Muharrem Ahmet Korkmaz, Advisor to the Minister; Osman Bekar, Press Advisor; Sinan Aksu, Chief of the Cabinet; Ibrahim Erbaba, Chief Constable, Security Directorate General, Ministry of Internal Affairs; and Halidun Ercan, Expert, Ministry of Labour and Social Security.
And, from the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations: Ertuğrul Apakan, Permanent Representative; Fazlı Çorman, Deputy Permanent Representative; Burcu Keriman Erdoğdu, Counsellor; Özgü Karaca, Assistant expert, Directorate General for the Status of Women; and Müge Toker, Assistant expert, Directorate General for the Status of Women.
Also participating in the delegation were Ceylan Gürman and Can Şimşek, Interpreters; and Murat Çelik, Security.
Introducing the sixth periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Ms. Kavaf, Minister in Charge of Women and Family Affairs, said Turkey had become a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1986 and a party to the Convention’s Optional Protocol in 2003. The present report had been prepared with the participation of public agencies and institutions, academics and professional organizations, with a view to incorporate all developments in the area of women’s rights in Turkey.
She said that amendments made in 2004 to the Turkish Constitution had introduced gender equality as an integral part of equality before the law and had obliged the State to put gender equality into practice. The amendment made to the Constitution’s article 90 helped to ensure that the “definition of discrimination against women”, covered in article 1 of the Women’s Convention, had the force of law in Turkey’s domestic law. The regulations regarding discrimination were also included in the Labour Code, Turkish Penal Code and other relevant laws. In addition, a draft law would help with the creation of the “Board on Equality and the Prevention of Discrimination” while meeting the need for a new and comprehensive law against discrimination, in line with international standards.
The Constitutional Amendment Package, recently adopted by the Parliament, included significant amendments in terms of gender equality, she noted. It would come into force pending its acceptance in a September 2010 referendum and would incorporate article 4 of the Women’s Convention, on temporary special measures, into Turkish legislation. Temporary special measures already were in use in areas such as education, employment and combating poverty. With the changes in Turkey’s Constitution and basic laws, the Government was working to strengthen the legal structure for upholding gender mainstreaming. She pointed to the recent amendments in the Law on the Protection of Family in 2007 and a draft law, sent last month to the National Assembly, which amended Article 104 of the Turkish Penal Code on “acts of sexual intercourse with minors”.
She said that Turkey had worked towards strengthening its institutional infrastructure to support gender equality, and in 2009, it had created the Committee on the Equal Rights and Opportunities within the Turkish Grand Assembly. That committee, supported by non-governmental organizations through advocacy activities, aimed to improve and protect women’s rights, monitor domestic and international developments and inform the Assembly about developments in gender equality. The Committee’s chair was a member of the delegation and had presented the country’s last periodic report.
Turkey had a Ninth Development Plan, she said. The Gender Equality National Action Plan, which covered the period 2007-2013 and assigned responsibility to all stakeholders, was implemented in accordance with the goals and objectives of the Ninth Development Plan, under the coordination of the General Directorate on the Status of Women.
Turning to education, she said the elimination of gender inequalities in education was among the country’s national priorities and within the framework of both Plans. Since the presentation of Turkey’s previous periodic report in 2005, the gender gap, particularly in primary education, had nearly closed. The illiteracy rate for adult women had dropped from 19.7 per cent in 2005 to 13.8 per cent, according to the 2009 Address-Based Population Registration System. In line with the Women’s Convention’s article 10, which mandates that stereotypes relating to the roles of women and men should be eliminated from all levels of education, Turkey was working to eliminate sexist components from educational materials.
Regarding employment, the percentage of working women had increased to 29 per cent in 2009, up from the 23.3 per cent figure cited in the previous report, she said. That had been the result of women’s increased participation in education and of measures taken by public institutions and organizations. Also, the Women Employment National Monitoring and Coordination Board had been created to develop a strategy to increase women’s employment rate. She also cited progress in women’s participation in the country’s political and public decision-making mechanisms, such as a greater number of women candidates nominated for Parliament in 2007, as compared to the 2002 election.
Violence against women was the largest obstacle keeping women from achieving their potential, and the Women’s Committee’s General Recommendations adopted in previous years remained a priority issue for Turkey, she said. The country’s 1998 Law on the Protection of Family was the country’s main legal instrument to eliminate domestic violence, and the New Turkish Penal Code, effective in 2005, addressed the issue of violence against women in its entirety. The Code’s most significant regulation was the consideration of sex crimes as “crimes against persons” instead of “crimes against society”. Another significant regulation referred to the punishment of so-called honour killings with aggravated life imprisonment. While the Code was criticized for not covering an “in the name of honour” statement, it had an “in the name of custom” phrase in the article, which also covered the concept.
In addition to the Gender Equality National Action Plan, she said that the 2007-2010 Combating Domestic Violence against Women National Action Plan was in place and defined goals and strategies for combating domestic violence against women. Preparations for a new action plan would be completed this year and the plan’s implementation would begin by 2011. The awareness of public officials was being raised through seminars and training sessions. Some 40,400 law enforcement officers and 58,600 health officials had already been trained, and judges, prosecutors and other officials in family courts had also undergone training. The number of shelters in Turkey had increased to 57, up from 49 at the time of the last periodic report. Work conducted by the Turkish Ministry of Interior Affairs for eight additional shelters had reached its final stage.
She said that progress also had been made in the health field. The maternal mortality rate had been reduced to 18.6 out of every 100,000 live births, down from 28.5 in 2005, according to the 2005 National Study on Maternal Mortality. The 2008 Study on Turkish Demography and Health showed that the rate of pregnant women with prenatal care had increased to 92 per cent, the rate of births in hospitals had reached 90 per cent and the rate of women receiving postnatal care had increased to 84.5 per cent. The country had adopted the “Sexual Health and Reproductive Health National Strategies Action Plan” to address inequalities in reproductive health among regions, and between rural and urban areas. Women who were victims of violence received free health services both in primary care and emergency services.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, inquired about the absence of the definition of discrimination in the legislation. The principle was included in the country’s Constitution and amendments, but a specific definition in regard to women would be important to include in the legislation itself. He asked if protections from discrimination in the context of sexual orientation and gender identity would be included in future legislation.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, congratulated the delegation for the establishment of the Committee on the Equal Rights and Opportunities. Would the Women’s Committee’s observations be passed on to that body? Concerning the Convention’s Optional Protocol, how was it being promoted, how was information about it being disseminated?
NICOLE AMELINE, expert from France, said she appreciated the presence of a representative from Parliament. She stressed that all sources and areas of discrimination must be defined. She asked if there would be a comprehensive law on violence in the Government’s new action plan. Regarding the progress made on honour killings or killings based on the Code of custom, would sentences be reduced if the victim had committed a reprehensible act? And, were there enough family courts? Did all women, especially women of vulnerable populations, such as women with disabilities and ethnic and religious minorities, have access to those courts, and what measures were in place to facilitate that access?
VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, noted that Turkey had no national human rights institution, in compliance with the Paris Principle, but that the Parliament had been in debate on the matter since 2008s. What timeframe was in place for its finalization? To what extent could the Women’s Convention be invoked in a court? Turning to the amendment to the Civil Code on marital property, she noted that that progressive provision could not be applied to women married prior to 2002. What corrections had been attempted, and what was their current status?
Regarding temporary special measures, she asked what the necessary conditions for those to be taken were, and whether any had been put into practice. Those measures offered women an important instrument, and she requested examples of concrete actions taken, such as quotas, benchmarks, hirings and promotions, which benefited women, and in particular, women of vulnerable populations.
Ms. AMELINE, expert from France, asked how the budget was allocated for equality issues, and how budgetary allocations were fitted into local issues.
The delegate from the Justice Ministry said, regarding the definition of discrimination, that all international agreements had the force of law in Turkey’s legislation. In cases of conflict between domestic and international convention, the international convention would prevail. Thus, the Women’s Convention was part of Turkey’s domestic law and courts used the Convention in their judgements.
As part of the 2005 Penal Code, the delegate said that special provisions covered both custom and honour killings. There were severe sanctions in the legal system and lifelong sentences were given to perpetrators of those crimes. Reductions of sentences could occur in cases where the victim had committed a reprehensible act, but unfair provocation could not be used to reduce sentences, and the Supreme Court had made clear decisions on that matter.
The delegate emphasized that everyone was secured by the Constitution. An individual whose rights had been violated could go to the Constitutional Court. The delegate also noted that the European Human Rights Convention was the basis for all such rights and that a review of new legislation would be finalized after September.
Article 10 of Turkey’s Constitution stated that everyone in the country was equal and could not be discriminated against on the basis of any religion, ethnicity, gender or race, to name a few. The concept of “etcetera” ensured that the scope was broad. In the Ministry of the Interior, a draft document on equality and anti-discrimination included gender. No data was available about the family court; it would be disseminated at a later date.
Responding to questions about the dissemination of information about and awareness of the Optional Protocol, a delegate stated that publications had been distributed to Ministries, public agencies, and judicial centres. Training protocols for religious officers and civil servants had also been distributed to promote the Women’s Convention.
Gender Budgeting was a new concept in Turkey, the delegation acknowledged. International and domestic experts had been engaged to implement a gender sensitive budgeting team and, in the coming years, it would become integrated and more widely known.
Temporary special measures had been implemented to improve schooling for girls, the Committee heard. Cash transfers also went directly to mothers to send their girls to schools. And, there was also a public entity that developed small- and medium-sized businesses. It prioritized female entrepreneurs.
Significant steps had been taken to provide services and support to ethnic minorities, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, the experts were told. State support programmes funded homecare for those individuals, and the State funded their use of private centres, when necessary. There were also bussing services for youngsters with disabilities to facilitate educational access. Regarding employment for persons with disabilities, special programmes were aimed to assist them in that process.
The Chair of the Equal Rights and Opportunities Committee responded to questions about the work of that committee, which was a legislative body, but one which had also developed international and domestic seminars and conferences and was raising awareness in society. The committee worked as a “bridge” to society and focused on urgent issues.
The delegate said that in terms of combating violence against women, reports were sent to all relevant actors to expand information, awareness, and actions to be taken by the State. “CEDAW was like the women’s constitution” and the committee would be closely following up on actions taken.
Another delegate, responding to access to the judicial system for women who did not speak Turkish, said that the process was implemented smoothly for any woman who made a legal request. If the woman had difficulty speaking Turkish, she was provided with a translator. If she could not afford lawyers, free legal aid was provided.
Turkey was working hard to comply with the European Union standards and the European Union Human Rights Commission was critical to it. Turkey was making changes to comply with its tenets. It was improving women’s employment and the access of girls to sustainable education. Improved maternal care and access to women’s health-care services was also evident in the country report.
The delegate said that protocols were legal contracts between the Ministries and non-governmental organizations. Parties to the protocols had official responsibilities, but there were no legal sanctions.
A delegate stated that in the Family Law there was “instant” protection in case of acts of violence against women, and a by-law ensured that the law was enforced more effectively.
Another delegate said that in line with the Paris Principles, at the provincial and sub-provincial levels in Turkey, there were human rights boards that followed human rights-related matters.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
VIOLET TSISIGA AWORI, expert from Kenya, said stereotypical attitudes contributed to violence and certain traditional practices, such as early and forced marriages and custom killings. While noting the changes that Turkey had made in its Penal Code, she said that in the past five years, 800 women were murdered every year. She wanted information about the impact of the country’s reform measures and how existing mechanisms were monitored.
NAELA MOHAMED GABR, expert from Egypt, noted how Turkey tried to respect human rights and implement the Women’s Convention, and demonstrate that Islamic sharia law respected human and women’s rights. However, she was concerned about the stereotypes of women that manifested themselves in violence against women. How did Turkey preserve its culture, yet deal with the stereotypes that needed to be changed? What was the role of the mass media, of religious ideas?
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, also focused on stereotypes, noted the country’s measures regarding the schools, family and the media, and asked what steps had been taken to change the mentality of teachers. Was there any monitoring to measure the new programmes in education? Regarding the family and crimes of honour, what measures had been implemented to gauge the results of changes in the laws?
Ms. ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, wanted clarification on what measures the State was taking to ensure that police were enforcing laws against domestic violence and that general passivity by the judicial system was being changed.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, asked the delegation to detail its major achievements in implementing the National Action Plan up to 2009. What budgetary resources had been committed under the National Action Plan? How many new shelters had been created since the last report? She was concerned about the high rate of suicides among women and what the Government was doing to deal with that issue.
SAISUREE CHUTIKUL, expert from Thailand, asked if there were sufficient human, financial and technical resources to carry out the National Action Plan. Other groups had said that the shelters for victims of trafficking were not adequate because of a lack of finances. Were the same shelters being used by victims of violence and victims of trafficking? Could the Turkish Government give financial help to non-governmental organizations running shelters for trafficking victims? Noting that sex work was not recognized as a crime in Turkey, she asked how Turkey handled the worst forms of child labour, such as child prostitution.
A delegate said Turkey had a legal infrastructure in place to provide gender equality. Changing ideas was more challenging. Turkey had many training programmes aimed at media organizations and at students studying media in universities. It worked with public institutions to change attitudes and the State channel to organize short films.
The delegate said that the National Action Plan had short-, medium- and long-term targets. All public ministries worked together to combat violence against women. It now had 57 shelters in Turkey and plans to construct eight additional ones. The Prime Minister’s circular was a guideline for all agencies on combating violence, and all agencies reported quarterly on their activities. Those reports went to the Prime Minister. Regarding the suicide cases, the data showed that the deaths had been the result of health problems, commercial failures, family issues and educational failures. Those suicides placed under the “unknown cases” category were reviewed by prosecutors and the judiciary.
Regarding the role of religious leaders in combating violence, the delegate said there was no interference with the way women preferred to dress. There was a pilot training programme, launched in Ankara, for religious leaders to help them deal with women reporting domestic violence.
Another delegate said that the Ministry of Justice prepared statistics on honour killings every year. The Penal Code had special provisions on suicide and people who instigated the suicide received aggravated sentences. In suspicious cases, the prosecutors took special steps.
Family court justices had received training in violence against women, the delegate said. The Penal Code had special arrangements for minors and any case that involved the prostitution or abuse of children, which were major offences.
Regarding the educational materials, another delegate said there were guidelines for teachers on how to interact with children to reduce stereotypes. About 1,500 teachers had been trained under a special programme.
Turning to the training of police, the delegate said all the centres across the country were connected through an Internet system, and information on domestic violence was recorded in a database. That practice enabled domestic violence to be monitored across the country. An established form of training was used in the seminars and conferences to train police. Thirty-three master trainers were receiving training over an eight-month period, which would be completed in 2011.
Because trafficking was considered to be part of organized crime, the numbers of traffickers were larger than the victims. Shelter services for the victims were available, and a by-law had been enacted to ensure their funding. Turkey had signed transnational agreements and bilateral protocols with the countries of origin of the victims. The victims were returned to their countries of origin, their safe return ensured, in line with the relevant treaties and agreements.
A delegate from the Ministry of Health, responding to question about early marriages, said that early marriages were an important indicator of the status of women. The human right of sexual reproductive health was based on the outcomes of the Cairo Conference and the Beijing Women’s Conference. The Health Ministry devised programmes for youngsters, which incorporated those principles. There had been a reduction in marriage of adolescent girls, and women generally were marrying later. To prevent adolescent marriages, the Health Ministry also worked with the “man side”, by conducting training for the Turkish armed forces, indeed, all young men, on sexual and reproductive health.
Another delegate spoke about a verdict of the European Union Court of Human Rights and the measures being taken to combat domestic violence. Based on that verdict, a study of 10 months had been done with authorities from all public agencies to identify the system’s shortcomings. In terms of enforcement of the legislation, a report had been prepared and its findings would be shared next week with all relevant actors, including non-governmental organizations and public agencies. That would ensure that Turkey would not be subjected to such verdicts again.
On the matter of the combating of all forms of discrimination and the protection of human rights, another delegate said that the Reform Monitoring Group was following up on all matters identified in the European Union Court of Human Rights. However, the Court’s decision was based on a 1990s case that had been in line with a previous law. Since that time, Turkey’s codes had since been amended, including the institution of life-long sentencing.
Regarding the cloaking of women, the delegate said people were “free to live their fate and traditions as they wished”. Concerning women re-emerging from the prison or shelter system, their re-entry and reintegration into society were ensured and supported with studio flats made available to them for three years.
As for cultural differences and their possible impediment to a citizen’s human rights, all citizens were treated equally before the law, the Committee was told. Regarding the role played by religion and the media in improving women’s status, Turkey was a secular country and legal amendments were being made. New projects, which respected traditions and involved the training of religious officers, were pioneered to create social change.
As an aside, the delegate emphasized that in Turkey’s religion and culture there were no traditions that supported violence against women and children. Because the role of the media was so important in supporting women’s rights, media students now received training on gender issues.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. POPESCU, expert from Romania, said she was very impressed with the high level of the delegation. Concerning honour killings, she asked whether there had been any study on such crimes in remote and rural areas. Also, were those crimes brought to police attention and were the crimes prosecuted?
SOLEDAD MURILLO DE LA VEGA, expert from Spain, asked whether the Committee on Equal Rights’ assessments were advisory in nature or binding. Regarding early marriages, she asked whether it would be easier to amend the Civil Code and make it illegal to marry under a certain age. How were suicides being investigated, since a study was only recently done?
A delegate from the Justice Ministry said that in cases of suicide, the process and collection of evidence took time, and a genuine evaluation could not be made prior to that. In terms of the Civil Code on marriage, it stipulated that one must be 18 or older to marry.
As for whether assessments of the Equal Rights Committee were binding, a delegate said it was a standing committee; it could receive individual complaints and warn ministries on such matters. Decisions were binding to an extent, but no sanction could be applied. However, because of the close work the committee did with the Ministries and with the extensive follow-up, an environment of voluntary cooperation had been created with respect to its assessments. In practice, assessments were binding, although legally, they were not.
Another delegate said there were honour crimes committed in the country and Turkey had the institutional set-up to deal with those crimes. It had a police force and gendarme, and all criminal acts were brought to their attention. She said that the marriage age was a minimum of 18, according to the Civil Code, and it could only be reduced — to age 16 — in special cases, after a review and judge’s decision.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted the limited progress made in boosting women’s participation in the political process, a crucial activity in the improvement of women’s lives. The country report stated that a “mentality transformation” was needed in order to make room for women to participate in the political arena. In regard to that “transformation”, he asked what measures the Government was taking to expand women’s participation in politics. Concerning temporary special measures, he asked if those measures, such as quotas and instituting obligations of political parties to include a fixed percentage of women in their ranks, were being engaged.
MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, noted the similarities between her country and Turkey, and stated that Turkey had made significant progress in the area of women’s rights. It had also been one of the first countries to have ratified the Women’s Convention. However, with regard to wearing a veil or head scarf, there should be no limits. In ratifying the Women’s Convention without reservations, there was an obligation to respect all of its articles. Furthermore, political parties should be forced to adopt quotas in order to ensure women’s participation in political activities.
The delegate noted that Turkey had a long history of including women in the political process. Turkey had been one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote, in 1934. Prior to that, in the 1800s, women were permitted to attend Assembly meetings. And, in 1926, women had established a political party, which functioned as a non-governmental organization. Village law also allowed women to be elected in positions of decision-making and, in 1930, the first woman was elected as head of a village.
While noting the need to improve the number of women participating in Parliament and other governing bodies, the delegate said that, on 12 September, a vote would be taken on a referendum on a recent constitutional amendment on affirmative action. The passage of that amendment would “pave the way” for women’s political participation. Political parties would also be addressing their own internal workings with respect to expanding women’s participation.
As for the right to wear the head scarf, there was no law or obstruction to women doing so. However, there were obstacles and limits in certain universities and spheres where public services were provided. It was a “de facto” situation about which consensus was being sought.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
BARBARA EVELYN BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, noted the significant strides in the education of girls. However, she requested more information and data on the implementation of programmes and interventions to ensure access to education for non-Turkish speaking minority girls in rural areas.
She also requested information on the opportunities to develop employment skills and to re-enter the mainstream labour force. What was the impact of the ban on the head scarf on the dropout rates of girls in the sixth and seventh grades and on the university level? Although she understood there was no study, she asked the delegation to comment on that.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked if the textbooks which had been revised by the elimination of sexist language now contained positive images of women. Regarding asylum seekers and refugees, and the right to access to education, she noted that diplomas were not available to foreigners who had not attended primary and secondary education in Turkey, and that a Turkish court had ruled that that was unlawful. What happened in practice after that decision?
PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, said she had been part of the Committee when it had reviewed Turkey’s last report, and she was pleased to see so much improvement. Concerning equal employment opportunities, she requested information about the impact of the head scarf ban on the rates of women’s employment. Turkish law to the contrary, women wearing head scarves were being excluded from public service, she said, also aware of the application of the ban being extended beyond the public sector and into women’s private lives after working hours.
NIKLAS BRUUN, expert from Finland, said the lack of child care for children had prevented women’s participation in the labour market. What was the Government doing to help women participate in the labour market? What actions were being taken to improve the position of women working in the informal market? Was there a prohibition against discrimination during the recruitment process of employees? What actions were being taken to help the employment situation of women with disabilities?
XIAOQIAO ZOU, expert from China, wanted to know what measures the Government had taken to ensure the implementation of the Sexual Health and Reproductive Health National Strategies Action Plan. She noted that breast and cervical cancer were the two primary causes of death among women. She wanted to know if the Government had developed a screening programme, especially in rural areas.
ZOHRA RASEKH, expert from Afghanistan, said discrimination against women in health care — they did not have unimpeded access to it — had hurt them. Turkey had ratified the Women’s Convention about 25 years ago, yet the social security law, in effect since 2008, made women more dependent on husband and fathers for access to health care by requiring their signature for certain interventions by medical personnel. That law was discriminatory, and the Convention did not allow discriminatory laws. What was the country doing to eliminate harmful practices?
Also, she noted, the rate of HIV/AIDS among women was higher than among men, and women were discriminated against if they told their employer the truth, risking their jobs and health insurance. What measures were the Government taking to protect women against such discrimination? Also, did refugee women have free access to health care?
Ms. BAILEY, expert from Jamaica, asked if there was a plan to amend the civil service law in order to bring it in line with civil law. Regarding business, she asked if the percentage of women applying for loans for the creation of micro-enterprises was greater than that of men. Could women make independent applications for mortgages, bank loans or any sort of credit without the signature of a spouse, father or other significant male figure? To what extent could women engage in leisure activities?
Ms. ZOU, expert from China, noted that the report’s information about rural women was limited. Did the Government have plans to introduce temporary special measures to boost women’s access to employment so they could gain greater access to social security and other benefits?
FERDOUS ARA BEGUM, expert from Bangladesh, noted that there was not enough information about women in rural areas. How was the Ninth Development Plan addressing women’s right to education and employment, and addressing poverty in rural areas? Could the delegation provide concrete steps on how the Government was bringing girls to school and providing women and girls with access to higher education and private employment opportunities, especially in rural areas? How was the country addressing the health needs of aged women and providing legal services? How was it helping rural women affected by domestic violence?
The delegate from the Ministry of Health, responding to questions on early marriage rates, noted that those marriages were decreasing. Early pregnancy remained a problem in Turkey. However, pregnancies between the ages of 15 and 19 had also decreased from 7.5 per cent in 2003 to 5.9 per cent in 2008. The use of modern contraceptives within that age group was 17.6 per cent, which was much lower than in the general population. To address that, youth health centres had been established and staffed by doctors, social workers, nutritionists and youth counsellors.
Stillbirths within that age group had also decreased, which indicated that the health services aimed at youths had been successful, the delegate said. The Ministry of Health also worked with the Ministry of Education training teachers and counselling-teachers on that special period in adolescent lives.
Concerning pregnancies in girls between the ages of 15 to 18, the delegate stated that adolescent pregnancies and maternal mortalities were often hidden and that, although there were legal provisions protecting the girl, if the girl did not file a complaint, then health-care officials were not obligated to inform judicial authorities.
In 1998, after the Cairo Conference, an action plan on reproductive health was formulated, which identified the priority intervention areas such as unwanted pregnancy, maternal and infant mortality, and the transmission of HIV, to name a few.
The delegate also said that strategies were in place to address the discrepancy in health-care access between rural and urban areas. Because of the difference in access to care in rural areas, the delegate then described the system of hospital guesthouse services in which women about to give birth stayed 10 days prior to the expected birth date. That ensured that medical care was within reach, which might otherwise be difficult to access on short notice.
There was also a Conditional Cash Transfer aimed at rural and poor women who received prenatal care and delivered at the hospital, she said. Also available to rural women were emergency ambulances that included two planes and 25 helicopters with a response rate of 10 minutes. There were three times as many health clinics serving remote areas, and mobile health-care units also addressed the health needs in rural areas. To deal with harsh winter conditions, ground ambulances were also specially equipped.
Family planning services were provided free of charge at health centres and hospitals, which helped reduce women’s dependency on men during pregnancy, the delegate said. Turkey’s maternal mortality rates had decreased to 18 in 100,000 and were in line with the Millennium Development Goals. Infant mortality rates were also reduced from 17 per 1,000 to 13 per 1,000.
The delegate also stated that HIV tests were conducted on blood donors and sex workers. Pre-marriage tests were also available to couples. Since the inception of the reproductive health education and training done in the Turkish Military, 2.5 million young Turkish men had been trained, and besides learning about reproductive health and gender-related issues, they had been taught to use condoms.
A delegate from the Turkish Employment Agency — the official employment agency — said that, of the 168,000 unemployed people who registered with the agency to improve skills, 49 per cent were women. Special programmes aimed at improving women’s employment included the Active Employment Measures, which targeted youth and women of all ages. Despite the global economic crisis, 2009 data showed an increase of women in the labour market from 21.6 per cent to 24 per cent. The agency was also training its own personnel on issues related to working with women; it had created a manual and strategy and was investigating replicating its efforts in all agencies.
On vocational training, which was planned at the local level, he said that rather than have a centralized system, the agency looked at the need of a province and developed training in line with local needs, which improved employment opportunities.
A representative from the Ministry of Justice said article 5 of the Labour Code provided for equal treatment and that no discrimination was allowable on the basis of any issue. No employment contract could be terminated because of the sex of the worker. The Penal Code also had a ban against discrimination.
Regarding questions on social security, another member of the delegation said that, in May 2008, the Social Security Reform Law had been enacted. One pillar of that reform had been the introduction of universal health insurance, which had become fully effective in December 2010. People not covered by social security had access to universal health care. Another pillar of the new law comprised social assistance, though that was not yet effective.
The delegate noted that the social security institutional infrastructure now formally addressed informal employment. Women working at home were subjected to the Labour Code and could apply for voluntary long-term social security insurance. Under the terms of an upcoming September referendum, workers could become a member of more than one trade union.
Victims of trafficking have access to health-care services free of charge, as well as to health-care services at the shelters. Government circulars were based on laws and part of the country’s legal structure, the delegate said.
Another delegate member said that the National Action Plan included gender equality training at universities. Twenty-seven universities had women research centres working on women’s issues. Regarding microcredits, there were many programmes aimed at women. A State bank had programmes to support female entrepreneurs and a private bank worked with a non-governmental organization to provide financial support to female entrepreneurs.
A delegate from the Ministry of Education said there were many programmes to help children in school. For example, there was a so-called “Catch Up” programme to help children who had been left out of the educational system. They could go to school with their peers, for up to 14 weeks, and receive training from special teachers to catch up. There was a rural development plant in Turkey to help improve women’s employment opportunities.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. AWORI, expert from Kenya asked about the fate of women who were married before 2002 and could not enjoy the equal division of property now accorded under Civil Code reforms. She also asked for information on virginity testing.
YOKO HAYASHI, expert from Japan, said she was glad that the new Civil Code gave women and men equal rights vis-à-vis marriage and divorce. Was there a mechanism available to women to obtain modifications in child support?
Regarding the Family Act of 1998, that was reviewed and amended in 2007, and enacted in 2008, a delegate explained. All family members were covered under that new law. Moreover, anyone outside the family who heard or saw domestic violence could notify law enforcement personnel.
The delegate said that women who were not legally married and who could not afford childcare could either turn their children over to the care of the State or could receive some minimal funding. In the cases of divorce, if the maintenance fee was not adequate, there would be provisional support from the State, but that was not a permanent fee.
The delegate then addressed the issue of divorced women and their surnames, stating that divorced women could use their maiden name. Another delegate added that, as a result of a court order, the Turkish Civil Code now allowed a woman to continue to use her ex-husband’s surname.
Divorced women could remarry in 300 days and there was no new regulation or any legal study in that matter. That period of time needed to elapse to see if a woman was pregnant or not. Virginity tests could only be done if a judge issued a court order, and there was a sentence of three years imprisonment if genital examination for that purpose was done without the court’s approval.
In closing remarks, a delegate said that the Turkish delegation had been pleased to share the sixth report with the women’s Committee. The delegation had tried its best to respond to questions about Turkey’s legislation and practices in regard to women’s rights. Any questions unanswered today would be addressed in writing at a later date. The delegate also noted that, commencing in 2011, a Turkish expert would be joining the Committee.
* *** *For information media • not an official record