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Today's Zaman - July 23, 2010

Should the ayes have it in the upcoming referendum on a constitutional amendment package introduced by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), sweeping changes to improve the lives of a number of groups in Turkish society, including women, children, the elderly, veterans, widows/widowers, orphans and persons with disabilities, will be on the way.

If the constitutional amendments to be voted on in the referendum pass, then, for the first time ever, the rights of traditionally disadvantaged minorities will be enshrined in the Constitution. The section of Article 10 of the Constitution that reads: “Men and women have equal rights.

The State shall have the obligation to ensure that this equality exists in practice,” will receive an addendum that states: “Precautions taken with this goal in mind cannot be considered violations of the principle of equality. Precautions taken to ensure this equality for children, the elderly and persons with disabilities, along with the widows and orphans of fallen soldiers, and veterans and veterans with disabilities shall not be considered violations of this principle of equality.”

Proponents of the change in question say the new legislation will serve as a lightning rod to protect women and minors from all forms of abuse. New legislation to address the problems of these groups will benefit from this principle of legal positive discrimination set forth in the constitutional amendments, and will no longer have to contend with claims of discrimination or illegality.

AK Party Adana deputy and Constitutional Commission spokeswoman Fatoş Gürkan says she believes that the amendment to Article 10 will protect women from all forms of abuse. Women who are targets of violence are counting down the days until they can vote yes on the referendum, Gürkan asserted, saying: “By saying yes in the referendum, women will finally attain the degree of value that was given to them during Atatürk’s time. If women want to have as much of a say in this nation’s future as men, if they want to raise their children under better conditions and have access to more opportunity, if they do not want to face torture and abusive treatment from those around them and from their spouses, then they should vote yes on the constitutional package.”

Women’s issues are not of concern only to women, Gürkan asserted, adding: “Women are a part of every segment in our society. They are men’s wives and mothers, and sisters and the mothers of children. Women’s empowerment means empowering society and men. If women are strengthened when it comes to education, standards of living and representation, then our society will be strengthened as well.”

Gürkan commented on the issue of violence against women, a major problem in Turkey, saying the reality of violence against women isn’t reflected accurately in data on the subject. “Research says that in Turkey, two out of every three women are subjected to violence or torture for various reasons by people close to them. Again, one in three women are physically abused by their husbands for various reasons. The most upsetting thing about this is that many people see spousal abuse as normal. The new legislation that will come about with this constitutional change will cut off the path of all forms of discrimination and violence against women,” she said.

Gürkan also added that the constitutional amendments were about more than party affiliations or politics, and claimed that these changes were drafted to improve life for all women, regardless of their opinions. In a Turkey that is logging important progress on issues related to human rights and basic freedoms, it is shameful for the problem of violence against women to be so severe here, she stated.

“Every segment in society has expectations of the constitutional changes. Women who are subjected to violence are waiting impatiently for the referendum to come. We see this change as something done for our country’s future, and we want every individual to look at it objectively and cast their vote. No matter what their political views, all of our women should support the amendments,” Gürkan said, noting that other groups also stood to gain a lot from the changes -- such as the elderly, minors and veterans. “The referendum isn’t a political issue or a party issue, it’s a national issue. All citizens who want an increase in human rights and freedoms, who want to live like people, who want democracy to develop and the country to make progress in every field -- those who want the supremacy of law rather than the law of the supremes should say yes in this referendum,” she said.

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