Forced marriage in Turkey under spotlight at İstanbul conference
The “Active Against Forced Marriages” conference, organized by the Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR)-New Ways, was held in İstanbul on Thursday.
Speaking a press conference after discussion sessions, WWHR-New Ways board member Efsa Kurener said that despite the advent of the 21st century, forced and early marriages continued to constitute a serious violation of the human rights of the members of both sexes, regardless of their religion, country, ethnicity or social status.
Experts highlighted the significance of public awareness in tackling with the problem of forced marriage, in Turkey mostly seen in the eastern regions but also occurring in the country’s west. WWHR-New Ways Co-coordinator Karin Ronge said that in the past, women were often unaware of their existing legal rights and therefore lacked the strategies to overcome violations of their rights in both the public and private spheres. Furthermore, she noted a lack of independent grassroots organizing among women, saying, “Women now are more interested in such matters.” The conference program stressed that the more young girls know about their legal rights, the better chances they have of resisting an undesired marriage. While Ronge argued that customary practices and patriarchal traditions rather than laws shaped many women’s lives, Müjgan Güneri from the Van Women’s Association (VAKAD) emphasized that girls aware of their legal rights opposed their families, recalling those rights and hinting that they might exercise them if necessary, causing their families to back down.
However according to experts, a rising level of awareness alone is not enough. Güneri asserted that a lack of economic independence drove women to give in to forced marriages or continue the marriage they were forced into. “Government institutions must take steps, and women should be provided with vocational training,” Güneri noted. On the other hand, emphasizing that every woman has a different approach to overcoming the violation of her rights, Ronge added, “We have to develop training programs for women so that they can become agents of their own rights.”
Moreover, several representatives from organizations working for the rights of Turkish women living in European countries highlighted the problems of Turkish migrants forced into undesired marriages. According to political scientist Rahel Volz, who works for German women’s rights organization Terre Des Femmes, Turkish women in Germany are usually forced into marriages due to their families’ fear of losing their own cultural identity, attempts to preserve family honor and conflicts between first, second and third generations. “Forced marriage is a way for the first generation to gain power over the second and third generations,” she argued.
Meanwhile, the importance of the Human Rights Education Program initiated by the WWHR-New Ways, which was implemented in many cities in Turkey to enable women to learn about their rights as equal citizens and exercise their rights in everyday life, was also underlined during the conference. Commenting on the matter, Ronge argued that the program was a powerful tool for social change.
Among other speakers at the conference were UK Vice Consul in İstanbul Nicole Sauvage; leading women’s rights activist Pınar İlkkaracan, also one of the co-founders of the WWHR; and Purple Roof Foundation co-founder Canan Arın.
WWHR-New Ways is was established as an NGO in 1993 to defend and promote women’s human rights in Turkey and internationally.