Monday, February 9, 2009

Gender Equality Commission Created

PHOTO from Today's Zaman

From Kristen Stevens in Hürriyet:
After 12 years of struggling for a parliamentary commission on gender equality, on Thursday women in Turkey finally gained a commission mandated to represent them at the highest levels of government. This representation also comes with unprecedented power to serve the interests of women: a substantial budget, the authority to bring about real change and the ears of Parliament and the Prime Ministry.

In the last couple of years, Turkish women have united to transform a dysfunctional Penal Code into one of the world’s most progressive on protection of women and their rights. Taking a united stand on the proposed Draft Constitution last year, 86 women’s groups signed a declaration that argued effectively that language identifying women as a group needing "protection" was unacceptable. These days, Turkey is using new gender-sensitivity training in the curricula of the army and state organizations.

Female representation in Parliament reached nine percent after the last general election, in 2007. Hastening efforts to form a gender equity commission, the 49 female parliament members from four parties began bringing proposals together in a united front. Their joint proposal owing much to decades of equal rights campaigning by Turkish women and NGOs finally landed in Parliament for approval on Thursday.

An NGO representative on the new committee, Dr. Selma Acuner, who co-founded the Association for the Education and Support of Women Candidates (KADER) told Bianet that the committee means an institutionalized spread of gender equality over all decision-making points. "It represents a turning point for the women’s struggle for equality."

The committee will have 25 members, with preference given to MPs with expertise in the area of women’s rights. CHP Adana Deputy, Nevingaye Erbatur, along with several other women in Parliament back enacting a quota system to ensure more political participation by women. On the other hand, more than half (29) of the female deputies are from the ruling AK Party, which has soundly rejected the possibility of quotas. This should make for a lively group. The committee’s impact could carry the indelible mark of politicking or reflect the type of cross-party compromise rarely seen in the assembly hall. Promises to ensure women’s representation do not translate into changes in women’s lives because too often the implementation of laws and measures protecting women’s rights are simply not in place. But this powerful committee can move beyond political promises in its ability to make laws easier to enforce or pass a gender equality law more quickly. Ireland’s broad equality legislation, for example, has been a model for other countries on issues such as allowing women to challenge hiring practices that appear to discriminate against them, a provision that is absent from Turkey’s labor laws.
According to TDZ, under the draft bill passed,
the equality commission would be responsible for checking and reviewing all laws that are concerned with gender. The commission will be able to receive complaints regarding the violation of women’s rights. It will work in close cooperation with nongovernmental organizations and it will have a mandate to monitor the circulars of the Prime Ministry which address violence against women. The commission will inform the public and Parliament about gender issues and prepare reports on the subject.
For full story in TDZ, click here. Eyes will now be fixed on just what the commission is able to do in terms of reviewing legislation and complaints. Civil society groups like KADER are expected to work closely with the Commission, and are already pressuring for similar commissions to be created at the local level where services are still largely unresponsive to women's needs. Though women comprise approximately 10 percent of all members in Parliament, women active in municipal politics are a much rarer occurence, making up less than two percent of all local representatives. Since this is the level where implementation of important social and economic policies takes place, not having women in local office has contributed to policies meant to protect and improve the lives of women and children not being properly implemented. For example, Turkey enacted legislation requiring one women's shelter to be opened for every 50,000 citizens in a municipality, a policy that is still far from being realized.

Prime Minister Erdoğan has recently promised to increase women's participation in local politics, aiming to have 1/3 of all city council positions be occupied by women. However, AKP, including its women's branch, remains opposed to gender quotas. Though skeptical of the progress women have made since 2004, Pınar İlkkaracan, founder and director of Women for Women's Human Rights, does see reform being made at a local level, stressing the importance of a local gender equality commission recently founded in the eastern city of Van. For more on the status of women, see "Women in Politics & the Türban Bugaboo," Dec. 11 post.

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