Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled in 2015 that it was no longer mandatory for couples to first register their civil union at the municipality, then conduct a religious wedding if they chose to do so. The ruling sparked outrage from human rights activists at the time for effectively taking away existing safeguards against underage marriage, polygamy, while undermining the rights of women and children in the case of divorce or the spouse's death.

What renders women unprotected is the fact that the government has recently abolished the pre-condition of civil marriage for religious marriage ceremonies,″ says Gulsum Kav. ″Violence against women continues with impunity and any precautionary measures are not implemented. Were there a real desire to protect women, you would expect to see policies demonstrating zero tolerance of violence being implemented,″ she adds, referring to an exponential rise in both the killing of women by their close relatives and sexual violence in recent years.

″This law will just create another space where women′s bodies become political property,″ says Eralp. ″It is one more area where women will be divided into roughly two categories – secular and religious. Of course, this categorisation ignores the fact that Turkey is also home to people of other religions."

Turkish wedding couples in Istanbul (photo: picture-alliance/AA/S. Coskun)
Women in Turkey are increasingly vulnerable: this bill is only the latest in a string of developments. Last year, although forced to withdraw its rape amnesty bill, the government did abolish the pre-condition of civil marriage for religious marriage ceremonies. ″This law will just create another space where women′s bodies become political property,″ argues Feride Eralp, who campaigned against the legislation. ″It is one more area where women will be divided into roughly two categories – secular and religious″

Kiss goodbye to freedom of choice

Turkey′s secular-religious rift goes back to the country's founding and Ataturk′s westernising reforms in the 1920s. But the rise to power of Erdogan’s AKP in 2002 reversed the two sides' fortunes. Erdogan's policies – such as lifting a ban of women wearing the headscarf at university – were initially seen as bridging that divide. But many would now argue it is widening and that this latest bill is just another example.

″Even though the [government] has repeatedly stated that women would be free to choose where to conduct their marriage, we know from experience that when it comes to most things, we don′t have freedom of choice, especially when the issue is so rooted in identity politics – and especially when you're a woman,″ Eralp argues. ″Your choice may become an expression of the identity of that entire group, so the entire group decides in your name. Women will, in practice, be forced to make certain choices depending on what environment they come from, what kind of families they've been brought up in or are marrying into,″ she continues.

″People who choose instead to conduct a civil marriage in the municipality, will be marked by this. And this will become an issue of contention within families. One of the main effects will be that people will be encouraged to marry within their own religious and cultural environment.″

Ylenia Gostoli

© Qantara.de 2017

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