Turkish Women Essay, Research Paper
Literature Review and Critique
TURKISH WOMEN AND CHANGE IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY
Gender segragation is always a major problem for Middle Eastern countries.
Things have changed a lot for Turkish women in the 20th century. After the reforms of
Atat?rk, women had more rights than they had. These articles talk about the Turkish
women and change in the early 20th century. There are four issues that are discussed in
detail. First one is education. Second issue is legal reforms. Third issue is that whether
the rights given to women are fought for or given by the government. And finally, last
issue is that whether the rights were enjoyed equally by the entire female population or
First issue is education which is an important institution for a country to
develop. Atat?rk gave great importance to education. Zehra Arat states that “Kemalist
reforms were not aimed at liberating women or at promoting the development of female
identity” ( 58). She thinks that Ata?rk gave importance to women’s education to make
them better wives and mothers. What she differs from other writers is that she critices
Ata?rk harshly. But she doesn’t talk about Ata?rk’s adopted child Sabiha G?k?en who
was a pilot. If Atat?rk was giving importance to education of women just because to
make them better wives and mothers, why would he let her own child to be a pilot? We
all can see that a women pilot can’t be a very good mother. I think Zehra Arat should
have talked about that. Zehra Arat shows us that there were differences between the
curriculums of boys and girls. Girls were taught sewing, child care and courses like that
while boys were taught handiwork. She also states that “female students were carefuly
examined by their teachers” (71). These are very important points because we still see
that today in our schools, girls are more carefully controlled in some senses.
Second issue is legal reforms. Nermin Abadan-Unat states that “Atat?rk
used legal reforms as a revolutionary tool to eliminate the traditional Islamic norms and
jurisprudence” (188). She also thinks that this is a kind of state feminism. Zehra Arat
critices Swiss code for “failing to establish full equality between the sexes” (63).
Zehra Arat states that “in addition to the civil code, unequal treatments of sexes can also
be found in the criminal and labor laws” (65). Kumari Jayawardena also talks about the
Swiss code, but she doesn’t mention the missing points of the code like other writers do.
Cem Behar and Alan Duben state that “The Republican Code of 1926, a revolutionary
document from an Islamic ponit of view, gives the legal sanction of the modernists to the
traditional gender division of labor” (221).
Third issue is that whether the rights given to women were fought for or given
by the government. Nermin Abadan-Unat states that “the principal progressive changes
were not fought for but were given by the government in order to prove that, in granting
equal rights to women, the new Turkey was reaching a level of contemporary civilization
and was a symbol to the world” (Jayawardena 41). Nermin Abadan ?nat concludes that
“the major rights conferred on Turkish women were much more the result of unrelenting
efforts of a small evolutionary elite, rather than the product of large-scale demands by
Turkey’s entire female population” (Abadan Unat 1981:12-13). In this point, Fatmag?l
Berktay thinks that “although the changes were initiated by a modernizing male elite, and
although a significant women’s movement was absent in the period, to say that the
initiative was entirely out of the hands of women underestimates the struggle women
waged for emancipation from the Tanzimat onward” (108).
Fourth issue is that whether the rights were equally enjoyed by the entire
female population or not. All writers here accept that the rights were not equally