IDAHOBIT Webinar: Bringing Progressive Faith Voices towards Diverse Genders and Sexualities (18 May, 8am UTC)
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To mark IDAHOBIT 2020, GAYa NUSANTARA (GN), with the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR) and the Global Interfaith Network (GIN), is delighted to host a historical webinar!

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by Liz Ercevik Amado and Sehnaz Kiymaz, WWHR-New Ways – Turkey

In July 2010, the 6th Periodic Country Review of Turkey by the UN CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women) Committee was concluded with the review session at the UN Headquarters in New York. Women for Women‘s Human Rights (WWHR) – New Ways co-coordinated the CEDAW Turkey shadow reporting and advocacy process (2008-2010), which had significant impact on the review and the subsequent CEDAW Committee Concluding Comments, including on several important issues pertaining to sexual, reproductive and bodily rights. Having coordinated the women‘s movement‘s CEDAW advocacy efforts in previous reviews of Turkey in 1997 and 2005, WWHR-New Ways launched the preparations for this review process in 2008.

After a meeting bringing together two women‘s coalitions, namely the Women‘s Platform on the Turkish Penal Code and the CEDAW NGO Forum Executive Committee, a joint coalition consisting of 20 national NGOs was established for collective work around Turkey‘s 6th Periodic Review. Envisioned as a collaborative and participatory process, the report was drafted under seven headings by different working groups, with an introduction to provide an overview and underline crosscutting emerging concerns.(1)

The comprehensive shadow report was endorsed by six nationwide women‘s coalitions representing over 100 organizations. Women‘s NGOs framed their demands with the overarching perspective that ―The Government should approach eliminating all forms of gender-based discrimination as a matter of urgency and major priority with due political commitment. Rather than reinforcing traditional gender roles through embedding solutions in the traditional family structures, the Government should adopt policies to empower women in all private and public spheres.‖(2) Issues around sexual, bodily and reproductive health and rights were addressed in numerous sections of the shadow report as crucial demands. These included incorporating the ―Equality Before the Law‖ principle into the

Constitution and laws; annulling discriminatory statutes in the Turkish Penal Code on honor crimes, virginity testing, sexual orientation, and consensual sexual relations between minors; abolishing the discriminatory provision requiring women to wait 300 days to remarry after divorce and allowing women to use their birth last names after marriage. The report also included demands for the provision of sexual and reproductive health services, measures to address HIV/AIDS among women and girls, the establishment of sexual assault crisis centers, definition of hate crimes and measures to prevent killing of transsexual women.

During the review session, the report was highly commended by Committee members. In the official session with the Turkish government delegation, during which Committee members questioned the government on the periodic report and progress achieved, almost all the questions directed to the Turkey delegation reflected the points raised in the shadow report. The CEDAW Committee challenged the lack of actual progress, the conservative discourse and implementation problems rather directly and strongly. For instance, in the first question following the opening remarks by the Minister of Women and

Family, a Committee Member directly asked why the government was reluctant to enact an anti-discrimination law including discrimination based on sexual orientation. This was very significant considering the Minister’s unfortunate comment in March 2010 declaring “homosexuality is a disease”. Moreover given the fact that sexual orientation is not addressed directly in the CEDAW Convention itself, it is a progressive interpretation on the side of the Committee, reflecting willingness to address sexual rights in the framework of CEDAW.

The Committee also noted that the government must take measures to prevent the arbitrary application of Article 29 of the Turkish Penal Code that regulates ―unjust provocation,‖ for honor killings. The Committee also raised issues of ongoing discrimination against women in marriage and divorce; HIV/AIDS among women and girls; sexual violence and lack of comprehensive legislation against domestic violence.

In terms of sexual and reproductive health and rights, the Comments include a number of important and specific recommendations such as adopting ―comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and clear prohibition of multiple forms of discrimination against women‖; amendments to the Penal Code to make ―women‘s consent a prerequisite for genital examination under all circumstances‖ and the ―explicit inclusion‖ of honor killings as aggravated homicide; taking ―comprehensive measures to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, including preventive measures‖ and ―designing and implementing long term strategies‖ to eliminate gender stereotypes, discriminatory attitudes and harmful traditional practices such as forced and early marriages.(3)

The women‘s NGOs‘ initial analysis is that the comments reflect our demands to a great extent and will serve as a useful tool to pressure the government to take effective measures against discrimination. Given the volatile political atmosphere and continuing threat of backlash in face of rising conservatism, it is of further importance for women‘s rights advocates in Turkey to make effective use of international instruments such as CEDAW to safeguard and advance women‘s human rights, including sexual, bodily and reproductive rights.

(1) The full text of the Shadow Report can be accessed at
(2) Addendum to Turkey Shadow NGO Report: Brief for Concluding Comments
(3)Draft Concluding Comments for Turkey are available at

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