Why a ‘Yes’ Vote for Turkish Referendum Means Harsher Reality for Women

A protest in Turkey about violence against WOmen (Photo: ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Turks have voted ‘yes’ to give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the powers of the office of the prime minister in addition to those he already possesses as president of Turkey.  The result of this referendum is no doubt striking fear into many Turkish women, as they dreaded this outcome prior to the vote.

President Erdogan, who previously served as prime minister, won that position on a platform that championed women’s rights, pushing laws through that gave women more rights with regard to child custody, domestic violence and divorce.

However, beginning in 2012 until 2014 when Erdogan was forced due to term limits to leave the office of prime minister and become president, his positions regarding women’s rights underwent radical changes.

As journalist Christina Asquith and filmmaker Chloe Fairweather explain, the change in Erdogan’s positions seem to have been motivated by a desire “to play to his religious base.”  

Asquith and Fairweather write that Erdogan found favor in his religious base by making pronouncements that denigrated working women, replacing the ministry of women with the ministry of family and social policies, and announcing that men and women are not equal.  

They note that last year, Erdogan’s Islamist AK party tried to change the penal system so that rapists could be exonerated if they married their victims. They are currently trying to reduce the alimony payments a divorced man must give to his ex-wife and make it mandatory that a woman seeking a divorce — even if she was the victim of domestic violence — go through a government “reconciliation process” before being allowed to leave her husband.

With the passage of the referendum, regressive legislation vis-a-vis women’s rights will have an easier time being passed.  It is likely also that the trend of violence and abuse of women will continue to rise.  

Human rights attorney Ipek Bozkurt, an avocate for women’s rights, described how she felt as a woman in anticipation of the passage of the referendum.

“I am frightened and I feel suffocated, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and think about what will happen if there is a ‘yes’ vote, the whole system will change and it’s terrifying.”