The role of women has changed drastically over the centuries. As the level of education increases the idea that women are important only for serving men’s needs and for childbearing is diminishing. Topkapı Palace with its sultan’s harem is now just a tourist site. As you walk down the street you can see a mix of women, from those in headscarves projecting an image of subservience to men, to miniskirted office employees relaxing in a sushi bar after work.
Women drive privately owned cars but we have yet to see a woman driving taxi, truck, or bus! They run companies. They are top models, TV presenters, and politicians. In the 1990s Turkey had female prime minister.
The civil code enacted in 1926 abolished polygamy and introduced a minimum age for marriage. It also gave equality of inheritance and made a woman’s testimony as valid as a man’s in court of law. Atatürk gave women the right to vote in 1930—earlier than in many European countries.
Promotion is often readily available on merit for women working in industry and offices. The glass ceiling so often complained of elsewhere in Europe is less in evidence in the modern Turkish company. Educated middle- and upper-class women fill many important roles in professional fields such as finance, law, and medicine.
Some Turkish women define their roles in domestic terms, as a good mother and wife. In towns, villages, or lower-class areas, many women would describe their main role as that of tension manager in the home. The mother is the person, to whom all have access, acting as mediator between father and children and generally attempting to ease the strains created by social change.
The importance of a woman maintaining her honor is crucial. It is believed that proper behavior between men and women depends most of all on the woman. Chastity is taken very seriously. In some respects, the standard for men is not same for women. Improper behavior can result in family ostracism or even more serious action, such as a decision by the family elders to appoint a male relative as summary executioner.
Although things are gradually changing, particularly for educated women, some traditional rules still apply: for example, if a woman has to live alone for any period of time, a female relative will join her or she will be invited to a relative’s home. A woman living on her own is unusual.
In general, when in public, a woman’s movements should be reserved and careful, and in social settings she should be restrained and avoid friendly smiles, eye contact, and casual friendliness in mixed company. In a work context this may vary, depending on the situation and status of the people involved.