Life in Turkey

Being a Turkish woman

Being a Turkish woman is a very hot topic these days, especially in the deeply complex Middle East, which consists of many different ethnic groups, religions and cultures. Unfortunately, when one thinks of the Turkish woman, it is easy to imagine the submissive woman publicized in some areas of the Middle East or the Muslim world.

In this article, I would like to discuss women in Turkey, and therefore, I am taking the opportunity to address this topic,  given that today is the symbolic day of Women’s Day, March 8, which is dedicated to all women.

First of all, I don’t personally agree with the stereotype of the submissive woman. In reality, the Turkish woman is emancipated and autonomous. But clearly, this status did not evolve overnight.

And now, a bit of history regarding the Turkish woman …

A little background information is essential to understanding why the Turkish woman is the way she is, in comparison to many other, neighboring Muslim countries. At the birth of the Turkish Republic, thanks to Atatürk, the country was launched into modernization on many levels. Naturally, this program brought many new rights and opportunities for everyone, but especially for women.

I would also like to add that Turkish women acquired rights, in many cases, before her European sisters. I refer, for example, to women’s right to vote. In Turkey, women had the right to vote since 1934, while in France and Italy, they were given this right in 1944.

In 1926, a new era began, introducing equality of the sexes, prohibition of polygamy and recognition of divorce was widely proclaimed. Nowadays, these rights seem trivial and taken for granted, but we must sadly admit that even in the 21st century, there are still too many countries where women are not considered equal to men, or where getting a divorce is inconceivable!

If you have ever been to Turkey, you have most certainly have heard of the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. Have you ever wondered about the origins of this name? Well, this international airport located on the east bank of the city of Istanbul is named after the pilot Sabiha Gökçen, who was the first woman in the world to fly a fighter plane. Every Turkish woman in the world takes pride in hearing the name “Sabiha Gökçen”. She was, and hopefully still is, an example for all those women in the world who have an ambition to fulfil, which is not dictated by their sex or their socio-religious context.

So, what’s it like being a Turkish woman today?

As a Turkish woman, I must say, there is no “type” of Turkish woman. Most Turkish women will agree with me that there are several “types”. Obviously the emancipated and autonomous woman of the West is  more prevalent in the big cities like Istanbul or Izmirr and less prevalent in the deep south-eastern part of the country.

But even in the cities, I must emphasize that it’s not unusual to meet veiled women walking alongside their daughters who are dressed in jeans and sneakers.   It would be untrue to say that there is no pressure in certain families to impose a particular dress code or social behaviour. But I think it’s a bit like that in families all over the world.

I remember my ultra-modern childhood friend, who was sometimes overly provocative who always went around town with her mother, veiled from head to toe.

In Turkey, it’s also common to spot groups of girls, some wearing miniskirts and heels, while others are quite sporty and dressed rather casually while yet other girls are dressed up veils. It’s really quite a sight! Imagine them all walking together, quite rigorously, because they all go to school together, and they all grow up with each other in the same neighbourhoods … Cultural co-existence is continuous and a daily phenomenon in Turkey.

Freedom of life and Clothing

So, I would say that the Turkish woman is free to choose her way of life and her clothing. Women are free to decide on their hairstyles and makeup. All these “styles” are mixed beyond belief in large cities. In Istanbul, strolling through the enchanting streets of the Beyoğlu district, you will surely see a lady veiled from head to toe and further on, a woman with a mini skirt and cutting-edge haircut. For us who live in Turkey, this is absolutely normal.

Visitors are also quite surprised about another aspect of the Turkish woman. I often hear visitors marvel at how elegant and neat the Turkish woman is. Perhaps they had a different picture in their minds when they thought about visiting  a Muslim country. Remember that Turkey is almost always the exception to the rule.

In this regard, I still remember the effect that wedding photoss of my cousins ​​or aunts had on Italian or French friends. There was no mention of beauty, since these things are subjective, but people were pleasantly surprised, almost envious, of my cousins ​​and aunts’ personal care. I have never seen any member of my family go out without being impeccably dressed and combed. The Turkish woman will always present herself as a neat and tidy woman.

Adapt to the place

A very important part of our culture is appropriate clothing at a place of worship. This is also an important cultural aspect in Italy. You wouldn’t go into a mosque wearing a mini-skirt, but then again, this also applies to  church or synagogue.

What about Smoking and Drinking Alcohol?

Turkish women are free to smoke and drink alcohol as they choose. But, in reference to a previous article of mine, I must specify that according to our traditions, we avoid smoking and drinking alcohol in the presence of older relatives or parents. In fact, this also applies to males. Even a male child will avoid smoking or drinking alcohol in the presence of his parents, unless he has been specifically allowed to do so.

When it comes to smoking and drinking alcohol, a little more tolerance exists for foreigners. Istanbul, for example, hosts many foreigners and welcomes millions of tourists. A French friend of mine could, for example, drink a liqueur in the presence of my father while I would only watch her while sipping on a fruit juice instead.

Omnipresent sense of security in Istanbul

Despite the fact that it is a huge and ever-expanding city, Istanbul provides its residents with a sense of security from the very start. Admittedly, I feel less comfortable in some very traditional areas of the Fatih neighbourhood in comparison to the ultra-modern Taksim area. But as a general rule, Istanbul is a very safe city where both Turkish and foreign women dressed in Western clothes can walk around quietly with a cigarette in their hand. There will always be some man who makes comments, not unlike  Rome or Paris.

I have always felt safer in Istanbul at night than in Paris. Perhaps it has something to do with the

 large presence of women police officers or the omnipresence of policemen in every corner of the city. If you ever need help, it’s easy to find a law enforcement officer.

Turkish women are as varied as the patchwork quilt that creates our diverse country. The rights acquired by Turkish women represent the very identity of women all over the world. Maintaining ancient traditions is perfectly compatible with the modernization of a country. Women are the keystone of every society, and widespread respect for their identity makes the entire country both healthy and happy.