Selma Atabek, a noted Turkish activist for women’s rights believes the fight to secure equal treatment for women in her country is tied into the broad struggle for women rights in all parts of the world. She cited the recent incident in which a German woman was accused of stealing $1.66 and lost her job as an example of the unequal treatment for women in most societies. Ms. Atabek notes the struggle to deal with domestic violence is an ongoing one in her land. The European Union funded the National Research Project on Domestic Violence Against Women in Turkey and data indicates at least 42% of women experience at least one example of physical violence during their lifetimes.
She pointed out in a recent interview that her focus in the 1980s was on winning basic political rights for Turkish women and that has witnessed great success. At that time, most men wanted women at home who obeyed them. “We started the first ‘Purple Needle’ campaign, in which needles with purple heads were distributed on the streets against sexual harassment. We even questioned our marriages…We discovered our right to be on the streets, not just during the day, but also at night.”
As so always when the fight for political rights is secured issues such as domestic violence or equal pay or equal job opportunities slide into the back. Ms. Atabek strongly denounced the very concept of “honor killing” as a denial of the rights of women. Although she does not wear the chador, Ms. Atabek strongly supports the right of women to wear a headscarf when attending colleges.
Turkey has made great strides in the fight for women rights, but several issues remain unsolved such as the constant presence of domestic violence.