Dutch European Parliamentarian Emine Bozkurt

BRUSSELS, Belgium (WOMENSENEWS)–Women’s rights in Turkey should be monitored annually as part of the country’s application to join the European Union, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor last week in Strasbourg, France.

"Women’s rights are human rights," said German member of European Parliament Doris Pack, in a Web site statement. "This is a matter of fact, completely independent of the question whether Turkey applies for membership in the E.U. or not. In the resolution–which was supported by all political groups in the European Parliament–we are therefore calling on the European Commission to rigorously monitor the actual implementation of the reforms into day-to-day life."

Included in the Parliament’s recommendations is a push for the Turkish government to build more and better shelters for women who are victims of violence. Research they used in creating the report, conducted during the mid- to late-1990s, shows a prevalence of violence against women in all income brackets and well as both rural and urban areas. In some areas of Ankara, domestic violence apparently occurs in nearly 100 percent of families.

At the moment, only 14 shelters exist in the country, all below international standards, according to the parliament’s women’s committee.

‘Good Start’ on Harmonizing

Parliamentarians said changes to Turkey’s penal code that went into force June 1–criminalizing marital rape and honor killings, including accomplices in honor killings–are a good start towards harmonizing Turkey’s policies with the E.U.

But the parliament says issues such as access to education, the work force and political office–as well as protection from domestic violence–must all be addressed before Turkey can join the E.U.

"The report calls for Turkey’s progress in the field of women’s rights to be monitored on a yearly basis," said Dutch member of European Parliament Emine Bozkurt who was the lead author of the report. Bozkurt, who is half Turkish and speaks Turkish fluently, will travel to Turkey in September to discuss the report with women’s organizations, the national government and others.

"The European Parliament has spoken, now the ball is in the court of Turkey," she said. "What is essential now is that the new laws are implemented and are seen to be implemented."

Tension over Turkey Membership

Turkey’s possible future membership to the E.U.–which would make it the only predominantly Muslim member nation as well as the largest of all E.U. members in population–has already caused serious tension in the current member states.

Germany, one of the original E.U. members and home to the largest Turkish population within the E.U., has voiced concern over a number of issues, including immigration, if Turkey were to join. Turkish membership was also a major issue when France voted against the E.U.’s new constitution last month, in effect rejecting the document that set out the future of the union.

Though no date is set for Turkey’s entry into the now-25 member union, talks first began last December.

The E.U.’s executive body, the European Commission, is next set to meet Turkish officials to open negotiations for accession Oct. 3. During that process, which some say could take as long as 10 years, Turkey will have to implement legal changes across the board to join the E.U.

‘First Look’ at Women’s Rights

The resolution, approved by the European Parliament last Wednesday, was a first look at women’s rights in Turkey and will serve as a foundation for the commission’s negotiations. The parliament has called on the commission to make women’s rights a priority during the negotiations.

The European Parliament has no legal authority but, as the only democratically elected arm of the E.U., it issues opinions in the form of resolutions to be considered by the European Commission and the E.U. member states.

Few studies have been completed on the various areas of women’s rights in Turkey, which makes analyzing the situation there difficult. Now, the parliament is asking the E.U. to fund and undertake social research projects in order to fill the gaps in information from rural education to the violence against women.

This information, used alongside the annual monitoring by the parliament of Turkey’s progress towards achieving women’s rights, will be used as one of the tests for the country’s long-sought-after wish to join the E.U.

The Parliament also stresses an increase in women’s participation in politics. At the moment, only 4.4 percent of national legislative positions are held by women and only 1 percent on the local level, the women’s committee said in the report.

"This report has to be seen as an appeal to the Turkish government to recognize that women in Turkey face severe problems in their everyday lives, in the family, in society, in the workforce and in the political sphere," the resolution said. "A lot has been done on paper, but this now needs to be put into practice."

Meghan Sapp is a U.S. freelance journalist based in Brussels, Belgium, from where she writes about European politics.



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