SEXUALITY OF WOMEN IN EASTERN TURKEY


Overall in many societies, the rights and the status of women have improved considerably in the last century. However, when compared with men, women are still unequally treated in the sense of traditional rituals. Although it differs between countries, cultures and societies, mostly in male-dominated societies, women are expected to obey some certain rules that men do not have to. It is these rules and social perceptions that challenge the evolution of women as equal on many levels of the society. Especially in the Eastern Region of Turkey, the impact on women’s sexuality of the imbalance of power in sexual relations is clearly visible in the area of marriage, violence against women and extra-marital relationships.


The inequality on women in sexual relationships can be easily seen in the sense of marriage. Women feel a big pressure on themselves when they are at the age of being capable of giving birth. According to the Turkish Civil Code (2001) in an article related with marriage, the minimum age for a civil marriage, which is the only legally valid ceremony that must be under the control of the parents, is 16 for women (p.19). However, for all legal procedures, 17 is the marriage age of majority. Despite this law, in the region, “16.3 percent of women got married under the age of fifteen” (Prime Ministry, online, 1996, p.9) in a religious ceremony, although it is an illegal attempt to make a religious ceremony of marriage before the civil ceremony has taken place. The article also shows that 97 percent of 24-year-old women and most of the women who were over 34 were married. It can be easily realized that to live in the region as a woman, marriage is seen as compulsory. Religion is the other impact affecting marriage. Religious ceremony of marriage is more common than the civil marriage which is only legally valid in Turkey, although religious marriages provide women with no legal rights against men. Early marriages are widespread in the region and holding a religious ceremony before the girl reaches the legal minimum age of 15 is often a strategy applied by the families to bypass the civil law. Not only being subjected to getting married at an early age and pressure of the religion, women are also faced with the forced marriages instead of the ones arranged. Despite being a custom in the previous years, marriages arranged by the families are still frequently seen in the Eastern Region of Turkey. However, even when the marriage is arranged by the couple, the agreement of their families is very often a precondition for the marriage; so that women have no influence over the choice of their prospective partners. As a result, a high degree of social control over women’s sexuality is maintained.


Another important tool used to oppress women socially and sexually is violence. Women living in the region are subjected to various kinds of violence such as verbal, physical, emotional and sexual. While verbal violence involves shouting, insulting, swearing or denigrating, the physical violence includes beating, kicking, slapping and punching. When come to emotional and sexual violence, they point out neglecting and marital rape which assists the deterioration of the women’s mental and physical conditions. According to a research performed by the State Institute of Statics, more than half of all married women living in the region are subjected to domestic violence by their husbands. Those who are subjected to sexual violence, such as marital rape, constitute 51.9 percent of the participants (Prime Ministry, online, 1996, p.14). As the educational level of women and that of their husbands increases, the extent of domestic violence decreases. However, many of the women who have had a secondary or higher education are still subjected to emotional and physical violence by their spouses and some of them have already experienced marital rape. The Turkish Criminal Code does not contain special provisions relating to the use of violence against women in marriage. This resulted in the strategies used by women against the domestic violence, namely to leave home temporarily or to ask for the help of their families, friends or neighbors. There are not enough shelters or institutions offering help to victims of domestic violence in the region. This contributes to the helplessness of