North Cyprus  

Turkish-Cypriot Women

Women's Role in Turkish-Cypriot Society 
  The author of the article, Dr Gülin Sayiner is a dentist. She served in the Republican Assembly (the Parliament) of North Cyprus during 1987-1993 as one of the first two elected women members.
By Dr Gülin Sayiner, Dentist, First Woman Member of Parliament (for Nicosia) of T. R. of Northern Cyprus (1987-1993)

Turkish struggle for independence in the First World War under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk marks the birth of modern Turkey. The reforms which followed, established the independence of the Turkish Nation; but above all the emancipation of Turkish women. In the Islamic countries around us women are still under various inhibitions. On the other hand, in secular and democratic Turkey and in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus women who follow the ideals of Atatürk are able to contribute to the world of science, law and justice. Women's rights and secularism are Atatürk's gifts to the Turkish women. The Turkish women are most grateful to Atatürk.

During the Ottoman period, the women were left two hundred years lagging behind the civilisation; they were merely decorations for the home and men's friends in bed. With the reforms that Atatürk put forward, the Turkish women were given rights that made their status equivalent to their European counterparts and sometimes even surpass them. (The rights to vote and to be voted were given to the Turkish women in 1934).

The rights given to the Turkish women by Atatürk are unfortunately on the risk of being eroded after his death. During a period where women's status should be further developed, this is a worrying trend.

The continuing questions concerning the sustainability and development of women's rights are no longer just theoretical legal puzzles but are real life features. The practice of men using women as property or slaves must be stopped. Although we may have perfect laws preventing this method of abuse of women, the laws will only be effective if the correct ideology on the equality of women to men is carried in the hearts and minds of the people. If not, the law is bound to stay on its own, just in paper.

The question of women's role in society in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus came to the agenda in a striking way in the 1980s. It has been widely discussed and scrutinised ever since in every possible angle and in greatest depth. It can be summarised in the following question:

Do the women cherish and accept the traditional downgraded view of themselves or can they reject that notion and in a modern world take their place in society, the "society" not being their husbands' homes but the world we live in today?

The traditionalists would like to see women at home, carrying out domestic tasks for the sake of their religion and for the sake of our customs. In this line of work women receive no pay, they have no rights to form unions or to go on strike. In a traditional family girls and boys are brought up in a way that limits their ambitions along sexist lines. Whereas the limitations for a man might be that it would be difficult to change their professional careers once they are established in one career; the limitation for a woman is that she cannot have higher ambition than just being a housewife.

The society and the family gives the wrong message to a little girl: "It is easier to find a husband: a natural thing to do, then engaging in a career". Settling down in such a fashion is the only career for a woman but there is no pay or rights to form unions. The woman works from dusk till dawn in her housebound duties. Her achievements may be rewarded by constant bullying from her husband. The bullying is quite common and is just a continuation from the traditional family set up. A well known Turkish saying "Kızını dövmeyen dizini döver" (Keep your daughter in order or you will regret it later) is a warning to fathers that the only way for daughters to be disciplined for their future marriages is through bashing.

In addition to domestic duties, the woman receives bashing from her husband; only then her day is complete. The next day awaits her domestic duties and the bashing as well. This cycle is repeated every day for the forthcoming months and years. The woman must live for the sake of others, for her husband's well being, for her children's well being and even for the well being of her grandchildren. She may never find the time for her own well being.

On the other hand, the modern Turkish woman who follows in the leadership of Atatürk can reject the notion of the traditional way of life for women and fights for her rights as a human being, for her rights as an individual.

Thank heavens that the emancipated Muslim Turkish-Cypriot woman in Northern Cyprus has been able to discover her own self and by progressively educating herself, has been able to ask for more rights from the society. You have to ask to receive. And the women now want more of an equal status to men and are achieving it.

The women want to be recognised as a human being, and more importantly the ecognition that half the population comprises of females and her place in society is not just her husband's home but the actual world.


  People & Life