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09ISTANBUL12 2009-01-07 14:58:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Istanbul
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1. (SBU) Summary: Women NGO leaders gathered for lunch
hosted by the Consul General on December 17, 2008, commented
on the growing conservatism on the part of the Turkish
government (GOT) over the past year which ultimately impaired
women's rights. According to the leaders present, a tendency
toward socially conservative government decision-making
resulted in the closure of one domestic violence shelter and
the loss of government funding for one of only two shelters
for trafficking victims in Turkey. They contended that
positive change is limited in part due to a shortage of
female politicians, and as March municipal elections
approach, one attendee noted that only one female candidate
has been nominated by any party to fill one of 3,225 mayoral
offices in Turkey. End Summary.

2. (SBU) According to Ipek Ilkkaracan from Women for Women's
Human Rights (WWHR), an independent NGO founded with the aim
of promoting women's rights in Turkey and internationally,
the GOT recently renewed for another 10 years its protocol
with WWHR's Education Program for Women which has been in
effect since 1996. The renewal came with some uncertainty,
she explained, because an official of the Social Services and
Child Protection Institution consistently expressed his
concern that the women's human rights education program might
harm the family. Ilkkaracan said the official expressed the
same worry at the recent signing ceremony, despite the fact
that the WWHR presented survey results showing that the
relationships between the participants and their children and
husbands greatly improved as a result of the training.

3. (SBU) Physician Berna Eren, Executive Director of the
Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF) said that the
term "family planning" was removed from the title of "Mother
and Child Services and Family Planning Clinics" in 2002,
after the AKP became the ruling party. Now no preventative
health services are provided, she said, only screenings.
Additionally, because men have insisted that their wives not
be seen by male doctors, she pointed out that these clinics
are now staffed only by women. Eren also related that
beginning in July 2008, the Istanbul municipality reneged on
its 2004 protocol to cover the rent of the HRDF shelter for
trafficking victims. She said that the municipality explained
that its inability to continue support was due to legislation
prohibiting its funding of NGOs. Municipal support for this
shelter was a crucial component of their funding and, if an
outside source does not fill in the gap again as it did this
year, she feared HRDF may have to close the shelter in July

2009. Eren blamed the municipality's decision on growing
conservative tendencies and the municipality's desire not to
be associated with issues related to the trafficking of

4. (SBU) Canan Arin, lawyer and founding member of Mor Cati
- a women's rights organization that also provides a domestic
violence shelter in Istanbul - concurred with Eren's
observations. She said the conservative trend in GOT actions
also impacted the funding for Mor Cati's shelter. According
to Arin, the district governor recently withdrew its funding
to Mor Cati's shelter without a clear explanation. Noting
also that more female political participation might combat
such decisions, she lamented that the female AKP minister and
MPs have done nothing to encourage women's rights and gender
equality. "The right women need to be in power." Hulya
Gulbahar from KADER, an association dedicated to increasing
the percentage of women in politics by supporting women
candidates through lobbying and campaigning, pointed out that
so far parties have put forth only one female candidate for
candidacy (pre-primary candidate) in the March municipal
elections. The AKP party had yet to name a single female
candidate, she said, despite its stated objective of having
15 percent female representation in government. Others
agreed with her that this was 15 percent only in the
municipal boards (city councils) and not at higher levels.

5. (SBU) When responding to a question about how to
encourage female participation, Gulbahar and Ilkkaracan noted
that access to politics is very expensive and political
empowerment is inseparable from economic empowerment.
Gulbahar explained that the cost of being a candidate for the
office of mayor of a mid-sized district is around 500,000 YTL
($333,333) beyond additional fees for application. According
to Ilkkaracan, because men are more economically powerful
they will maintain political power until women "earn" their
own. She continued by explaining that this situation will not
change until the traditional roles of women allow for
income-earning activities. (Comment: Turkey's 25 percent
female workforce participation rate is the lowest in the

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OECD. End Comment.) A recent time-use study found that
Turkish women spend six hours daily on household chores and
childcare while Turkish men spend on average less than one
hour. Without more childcare support, Ilkkaracan said, the
average Turkish woman is challenged to find economic
empowerment outside of the home. WWHR is working on a
comparative survey project on time-use, childcare, and
eldercare solutions in Mexico, France, South Korea, Spain,
Netherlands, Sweden and Turkey, and Ilkkaracan said they plan
to present the findings in May.

6. (SBU) Comment: All participants commented that this
negative trend of growing government conservatism makes it
more difficult to support women's rights and even broader
women's issues, such as health and economic empowerment, in
Turkey. To bolster the efforts of women's organizations, the
Consulate General plans to support/provide/fund speakers from
the United States for the WWHR time-use conference, as well
as for a female entrepreneurship conference, both in May. The
Consulate General is also planning events in the upcoming
months to help raise breast cancer awareness by working with
MEVA (Breast Cancer Foundation of Turkey). End Comment.