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Cablegate: Contrasting Pious Approaches to Women's Rights

VZCZCXRO2826
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIT #0491 2591151
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 151151Z SEP 08
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8470
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS ISTANBUL 000491

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL OSCE TU
SUBJECT: CONTRASTING PIOUS APPROACHES TO WOMEN'S RIGHTS

1. Summary. Analysts and the press often classify the
participants in the battle for "Turkey's soul" to fit within
one of two groups: the secular elite or the religious middle
class. Such oversimplification fails to capture the complex
state of play as Turkey transforms from a relatively closed
elitist and statist past into a more open, diverse and
tolerant society. Recent meetings with human rights groups
Akder and Mazlumder demonstrated the futility of strict
labels in Turkey and highlighted how groups can pursue a
similar objective -- in this case ending the headscarf ban in
universities -- for different reasons. The women of Akder
believe the headscarf ban is a violation of basic human
rights that in practice leads to greater domestic violence by
preventing women from pursuing an education and learning
their rights. Mazlumder considers the headscarf ban to be
representative of the oppressive state's unjust approach to
religious rights. End Summary.

Headscarved Lawyer Fights for Greater Rights
---------------------------------------------

2. Fatma Benli is one of the five core members of Akder, an
Istanbul-based consultancy group providing information and
service for women's rights. The association contends it not
only reports problems but "does something to change the
situation." Benli said an example of Adker's impact was the
GOT's inclusion of the majority of Akder's input for a 2008
report on women's rights except the portion pertaining to the
right to wear a headscarf. She contends that the headscarf
ban results in greater domestic violence as it prevents women
from pursuing an education and learning their rights.

Akder's Activism Aims To Improve Women's Rights
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. According to Benli, a traditional outlook on the
treatment of women continued to drive Turkish judicial
decisions through the 20th century. However, openness to
change accompanied EU accession plans, she explained. In
2004 the Ministry of Justice undertook a revision of the
Turkish Penal Code in an effort to comply with EU accession
requirements. Of the 37 new articles submitted by Akder for
consideration in the 2004 revision, the Ministry accepted 30.
After the amendments passed, Akder held group meetings to
provide women with information about their new rights and
published articles in an attempt to change the perspectives
of reticent judges.


A More Traditional HR Organization: Mazlumder
---------------------------------------------

4. The approach of Mazlumder, contrasts with Akder's strong
focus on women's rights despite sharing a similarly pious
membership base. President Ayhan Kucuk told us Mazlumder
combats the headscarf ban because it is a form of human
oppression. Since its founding in 1991, Mazlumder has
distinguished itself from other Turkish human rights
organizations by combating equally all forms of oppression
and injustice, using a "pious approach," according to Kucuk.
(Note: Kucuk's claim is somewhat belied by the fact that
Mazlumder in recent years has focused its energies on issues
related to religion - the headscarf and imam hatip schools.)
All of its board members are non-Kurdish Sunni Muslims and
about 60 percent of their members are women, however the ten
member board does not reflect this gender ratio. Throughout
our meeting with association's board, only two women were
present and despite Mazlumder's support for gender equality,
neither participated actively in the discussion. Mazlumder
continues to focus on the headscarf as an example of state
interference in "just" gender access to education and
interacts with Akder only in its role as a reporting
association.

5. Comment: Though many analysts and press tend to simplify
current events in Turkey as a battle between secular elite
versus conservative religious types, the approach of two
human rights groups pursuing similar goals demonstrates the
political landscape is more complex. Both Mazlumder and
Akder are working toward the same goal of ending the
headscarf ban, but with different motives. End Comment.
WIENER

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