The Constitutional Status of Women in Turkey at a Crossroads: Reflections from Comparison

Constitutionalism and the Establishment of a Gender Order

Since its foundation, the Turkish Republic took the enhanced status of women to epitomize its promise of modernity. Yet to the extent that women´s equality was even articulated in Turkey, as well as anywhere else in that time, its expression was primarily sought in the public, not in the private, domain. Thus, the 1924 Turkish Constitution explicitly sanctioned primary education – free and compulsory – for both men and women (art. 37), as well as the equal right of men and women to vote and be elected (arts. 10 and 11). Also, a general reference to the principle of equality before the law, without any explicit mention to sex, was included (art. 69). Yet none of these expressions of equality were seen as incompatible with many of the inequalities between men and women explicitly enshrined in the Civil Code – adopted in 1926 and largely drawing from the Swiss Civil Code –, or in the Criminal Code adopted that same year, largely inspired by the Italian code. Both of these codes which came to replace the legality of the Ottoman Empire simply reflected the XIXth century European family ideology, an ideology revolving around the construct of the male breadwinner / female homemaker, which accompanied the establishment of the modern industrialist order. The constitutions of the time simply accepted, rather than challenged, this ideology and the gender order that came with it.

This basically held true for early post-World War II constitutionalism as well. There was, after all, a significant overlap in time between the heyday of the breadwinner family model (in the 1950s and early 1960s, coinciding with a strong post-war pro-natalist movement) and the post-war wave of European constitutionalism, which we take as epitomizing contemporary European constitutionalism ...

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