Turkish women make front-page headlines. By Ceylan Yeðinsu


At first glance, Turkish newspapers’ appear to depict women in one of two ways: either as fashion objects, exhibiting the latest bikinis and glam rags or, on the other hand, as victims of brutal crimes.
Upon closer inspection, however, and despite a lack of women in the news industry, coverage of gender-related issues has expanded significantly over the past few years and Turkish media itself has gotten involved in mobilising campaigns to raise awareness of women's issues.
Historically, gender-related themes have been promoted in newspapers as far back as 1923, at the instigation of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, who wrote in the Daily Vakit on 30 March 1923: “Humankind is made up of two entities: man and woman. How could it be possible for the whole to progress if we let one half progress and neglect the other? How could it be possible that one half should reach the height of the skies when we let the other half wallow in shallow ground?”
While some European countries did not grant women suffrage until 1944, Ataturk’s firm beliefs in gender equality enabled men and women to become equals before the law in Turkey as early as 1926 when Turkish women won the right to vote.
Despite the legal equality afforded to Turkish women, only relatively few of them have benefited from these rights, primarily because many women still do not receive sufficient education. Statistics published by Unicef show that between 2000 and 2007, 26 per cent of adult women were illiterate, a relatively high number especially when compared to other countries in the region, such as neighbouring Greece where only two per cent of women are illiterate.
The lack of women's access to education increases the likelihood of abuses such as domestic violence, which in turn influence media headlines.
In addition, analysts believe that this unflattering depiction is a result of female reporters and editors not wielding enough power within media institutions. Statistics released by the Turkish media watchdog, MEDIZ, indicate that a mere 15 per cent of media editors, 12 per cent of columnists, and 18 per cent of reporters are women. Gülin Yýldýrýmkaya at Daily Habertürk is the country’s only female editor-in-chief.
In spite of women's palpable absence in the halls of editorial power, Turkish media is by no means shunning its responsibility toward the promotion of gender equality. For example, following Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's 2004 penal law reforms which recognised women’s sexual autonomy and strengthened women’s legal protection, the media played an active role in raising awareness of issues such as domestic violence and female illiteracy.
The secular Daily Hürriyet, Turkey’s largest newspaper, led a national campaign in October 2004 to stop domestic violence, and launched a help line that provided advice to abuse victims. Hürriyet’s sister newspaper, Milliyet, also led a “Daddy, Send Me to School” campaign in 2005 to encourage more parents to invest in their daughters’ education, and prompting Maria Calivis, Unicef regional director for Central and Eastern European states, to call the initiative an “example to the rest of the media and other sectors."
Community mobilisation initiatives such as these encourage women to take a more assertive role in society, and they have already led to a gradual change in women’s coverage in the media.
The conservative Turkish media, led by Zaman newspaper, also covered women's education issues extensively, with particular focus on the hotly debated issue of a woman’s right to education in the context of the headscarf ban in certain public spaces, including universities.
Although education will play a key role in determining whether Ataturk’s aim of full gender equality will become a reality in Turkey, it is media’s responsibility to continue to nurture a healthy debate, raise awareness and promote a positive image of women, continuing to shift attitudes and behaviours of Turkish society.


* Ceylan Yeðinsu is a reporter for the Hürriyet Daily News. This article first appeared in Hürriyet Daily News and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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