Turkish Government wants religious education to help solve women’s problems

Women’s rights experts are speaking out against a recent government report that condones limiting health care services for families with too many children and replacing feminist discourse with religious schooling in the southeast of the country.

The Prime Ministry has suffered a backlash of criticism after releasing a report that would encourage cutting health care services for families with many children and implementing religious education to help solve women’s problems in Southeast Turkey.

In an effort to find solution to problems faced by families in eastern and southeastern Turkey, the Prime Ministry’s General Directorate of Family and Social Research held two consultation meetings in Diyarbakır in 2008 with nongovernmental organizations in the region, Radikal daily reported yesterday.

Supervised by Nimet Çubukçu, state minister in charge of women and family affairs, the meeting’s outcomes were compiled in a 15-page report. Of the solutions, the most striking was the proposal for a new law that would hinder women from having an excessive number of children and cut health services to those families that exceed a certain number of children. The feminist language adopted by the media in news about honor killings should also be changed, and accurate religious information should take place in the media, according to the report. The move came shortly after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for Turkish families to have at least three children.

“What is displayed in the report is very racist and ideological. Instead of dealing with the feminist discourse, they should find solutions to the structural problems in the region, such as establishing women’s centers,” Hülya Gülbahar, head of the Association of Education and Supporting Women Candidates, or Ka-Der, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

“It doesn’t find a solution but rather creates a problem by punishing women who have an excessive number of children [and depriving them of health services] in a region that suffers deep economic problems and rising unemployment,” she said.

Gülbahar said the government policies confined women to their role at home and valued the woman solely as a mother. “The ruling party [Justice and Development Party, or AKP] has unfortunately long been in a bitter battle with feminism,” said Gülbahar. “They have a prejudice against feminism because they can’t bear the image of an independent woman. The party should reconcile with feminism.”

Nebahat Akkoç is the head of the Women’s Center, or Ka-Mer, in Diyarbakır. The organization has many branches in other provinces of eastern and southeastern Anatolia and produced numerous works on honor killings and violence against women since it was founded in 1997. As the head of an old institution specializing in women’s problems in the region, Akkoç reacted to the organizers for not inviting them to the meeting.

“It is a consultation meeting with NGOs but we knew nothing about such an event nor were we invited to the meeting. We have done much work on women’s issues here. I think [Çubukçu] owes us an explanation. We will demonstrate a collective reaction to the situation with the women’s organizations here,” Akkoç said.

She said the official policies have played the most crucial role in the rising number of women-related problems, urging the government to deal with the region’s more urgent problems such as poverty, migration from villages to cities, women’s education, integration of those who come to the cities and communication problems stemming from language and the multi-cultural structure of the region.

“Releasing such a report is useless toward eliminating such problems in a region where the disparities are so big,” Akkoç said.

Nilüfer Narlı, a sociologist form Bahçeşehir University, meanwhile, said punishment cannot solve the problem and that what is suggested in the report is not in line with women’s reproductive rights. “It is not humane to deprive people of health services and it isn’t a long-term solution to the problem. The governmental policies already anticipate the participation of religious authorities and institutions in raising awareness activities targeted women and people [on such issues],” Narlı said.



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