Sunday, October 14, 2007

Protection and Equality: Part II

When I wrote my first post about Turkey's proposed constitution, I was surprised to find that it went a different way than I'd originally planned. I'd planned to express my fears that Article 10, which states that men and women have equal status by law, was going to be removed. I'd wanted to share my dismay that, instead of equality, women were going to be given vulnerable and protected status, along with children, the elderly, and the infirm. Instead, I think I ended up concluding that it hardly matters whether women are considered equal by law in Turkey, because culturally, their status is on par with children, and that unpunished crimes like rape, forced marriages, and honor killings mean women in Turkey, in fact, could probably use more protection by law.

That's what happens sometimes when we write, I suppose. We start with one idea, but another and perhaps conflicting idea falls out. As a student of writing and as a teacher, this is something that should be dealt with in the revision process, but as a shiny new blogger with less time to write than I'd like, a lengthy revision process is something that just can't happen, unfortunately.

But that doesn't mean I can't have Part II. First, I think that I, and the English language press in general, made an assumption about how they're drafting the constitution. We assumed that Article 10 was being replaced with the clause giving women protected and vulnerable status. It's sort of logical, right? One thing about women disappears and another appears. However, I'm not sure that this assumption is exactly correct. I don't think it was a simple matter of lawmakers downgrading women's legal status here. Nor do I think it was a simple matter of devoutly Islamist lawmakers changing womens' status to better reflect Islamic thinking and Sharia law, though it's not impossible there was a conscious or unconscious influence of religion in the process. There are certainly other areas of the draft constitution where the political face of Islam rears it's head, and it's an issue of great contention here. But in making the assumption that one thing was being replaced with another, I think that I fell right in with the Western press in vilifying Turkey. I'm so often infuriated with the daily sense of exclusion I feel not just from being foreign, but from being female, and although as a foreigner I'm a thousand times better off than most Turkish women, I do get easily riled. The Western media tends to show Turkey's uglier sides too; for example, some of the BBC's stock footage of Turkey is shot near the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet (the tourist center of Istanbul), and it shows several black burka-clad women when in fact, head-to-toe covering is pretty rare here and the women in the footage are probably tourists from Saudi Arabia.

Second, I didn't mean to imply that having legal equality for women is pointless given the cultural inequality, or that making women 'vulnerable' by law is a step in the right direction given their cultural vulnerability. I posed this issue of the draft constitution on a foreign wives forum I read, and MTW, a fellow Istanbul poster, raised some important arguments (I'm not providing the link, as access to the forums is members-only):

"In no present-day society do women have equality with men, but isn’t it the case that where one finds the ideal of equality enshrined in law is also where one is more likely to find that the gender is gap smaller?
If that’s true, I think it’s is one reason why we (I mean we who live here) should be very worried if the constitution is changed in Turkey.
It's not, I think, that women might not require laws that are specific to them, such as we find with regard to issues such as rape within marriage, the right to access to birth control and to abortion; but that is not incompatible with equality before the law, as I understand it.
That, to me, is what is alarming about the change that’s being proposed in the Turkish constitution, that it’s not additional protective law, but a removal of the ideal and ideology of equality in favour of constructing women as a somehow more feeble group, equivalent to children or the less able-bodied."

Yes. Thank you, MTW. 'Equality' and 'protection' need not be mutually exclusive. Having equality for women as part of the constitution is a step towards positive change, however slow that change may be, and however outlandish those changes may be considered at this time. Guaranteeing women equal status by law does not preclude other laws protecting them from violence and the patriarchal treatment by their male relatives and male counterparts. And women need not be perceived as vulnerable or 'feeble' by law in order to deserve or need this protection.

At the moment, the Turkish press is all in a dither about the Armenian resolution in the US, and the possibility of invading Northern Iraq. Rightfully so. But I do hope this doesn't mean women's equality has slipped under the Turkish public's radar. For the most part, this current government has been making a lot of noise about getting Turkish law more within the standards of the EU's constitution, so I'd honestly be surprised if women's equality were left out. However, guaranteeing women's rights in the constitution in order to impress the EU, and guaranteeing these rights in practice are not the same thing, so as usual, there's nothing to do but hope for the best. We'll see what happens.


Anonymous said...

I think you make a lot of good points here.

You know, I have found this discussion on the FWC interesting. In China, woman's equal status is absolutely protected and enshrined in the law. If you asked anyone randomly what one of the greatest accomplishments of the Party in China has been, probably at least half of them would say women's rights. And they'd be pretty close to the truth.

But the thing is, legalities are one thing and realities are another. I think sometimes the law is a convenient hiding place for deeper problems. In China, it is easy to point to the law and say "in China women are equal to men" but when you look at the actual situation, the way things really are, it is hard to deny that there are some real issues. I don't know enough about Turkey to really understand the changes in the law, but I think it is helpful to keep in mind that in societies which are very much steeped in an anti-feminist tradition, the laws simply cannot be the same as they can in the West. It sometimes isn't enough to say "women are equal," because some societies haven't even gotten to that point yet. Perhaps women in China would be better off if they were actively protected instead of instead having this supposed "equality" under the law there for abuse to hide behind. If that makes sense.

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Stranger said...

From what I under stand about pre-Communinist and modern-day China (and I admit this largely comes from reading fiction by Chinese authors), women's condition has been HUGELY improved (much more than Turkey's), though given the status of women in China 100 years ago, the gap between their social status and legal status is hardly surprising, and one would expect this gap to close slowly.

I understand what you mean about hiding abuse behind 'equality.' Sometimes having equality laws givs those in power the ability to pretend the abuse doesn't exist. It's certainly the case here. Someone in Europe claims 'Human rights violation!' and the Turkish government claims 'We have equality for women! See? It says so right here!' and thus the abuse can safely be ignored to continue...

As for the other comment, is that my first spam? :) How exciting!