Turkey: Women of Turkey in Legal Practice

Last Updated: 8 December 2014
Article by Serap Zuvin and Melis Oget Koc

Global Challenge: Gender Discrimination

Women have to fight against many problems in the business life elsewhere in the World. The male-oriented approach, perceiving woman only as a birth giver and servant in the family is most likely the main reason of the hurdles that women face during their professional lives. This is why many regulations are put forward either on the prevention of gender discrimination against women or introducing positive discrimination for them. Those regulations aim to bring in equality between men and women especially in the business life.

With the beginning of the "information age" the focus of work force shifted from muscle strength to education, intelligence, knowledge and talent. This is how women in business life started to shine out with all their wisdom, multitasking, ambition, fastidiousness and acumen. Well, these are very valuable qualifications for legal practitioners as well. No one can deny the fact that legal practice requires dedication, excellent communication skills and analytical thinking and these are a perfect match with the natural skills of women. This perfectly explains why in today's working life the number of women in legal practice is increasing everyday.

How about the Status of Women in Legal Practice in Turkey?

With the foundation of the Republic of Turkey back in 1923, numerous rights have been granted to women as part of the efforts to modernize the country, such as drifting away from the Shari'ah laws and adopting the Civil Code system from Switzerland. This lead to the prohibition of polygami which was then acceptable to the favor of men only, right to inheritance, right to divorce, etc. In 1930, women gained the right to elect and to be elected locally and eventually in 1934 full political rights in favor of women had been recognized in nationwide and women gained the right to elect and to be elected for the parliament. As a result of all such modernization efforts positively affecting them, Turkish women could participate in different areas of professional life.

In terms of legal practice, the first women lawyer in the history of the country was Ms. Sureyya Agaoglu. After obtaining her license to practice law back in 1928, she was the one to inspire her female colleagues in the future. Since then the rate of the women lawyers in Turkey has dramatically increased. Especially in the last decade, the number of women lawyers has increased by 102%.

According to the statistical data as issued by the Union of Turkish Bars Association, as of the beginning of 2014, there are 81.544 lawyers in Turkey; out of which 32.026 of them are women. Only at the end of 2011, the number of women lawyers practicing in Turkey was 28.000. Obviously, women choosing to practice law in Turkey within the last 3 years have significantly increased.

Although there exists no publicly available data in terms of clear numbers, most of the lawyers serving as public officers for the legal assistance needs of the state are also women. This is obviously an outcome of the better work place conditions provided to public officers by the State than to the private sector workers, such as right to have unpaid vacation after birth, reasonable working hours, etc.

The women lawyers are quite active in the administration of the Bar Associations. From among 11 members, of the Union of Turkish Bars Association's Board of Directors 3 members of them are women. There are 4 women board members in the Board of Directors of Istanbul's and Izmir's Bar Associations, where each has 11 and 10 board members respectively.

On the other hand, however the number of women lawyers in the cities of Turkey are not equally distributed or close. In the big cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Kocaeli, the number of male and female lawyers are almost equal, whereas, this ratio goes down to almost half in other cities.

Women with Legal Practice-Background in Politics and in Higher Judicial Authorities

Women lawyers are not prominent only in the legal practice. They are also successful players in the political life. Currently, out of 536 congressmen in Turkish Grand National Assembly 77 are women and 11 of such 77 women congressman are lawyers. This means that %14 of the women congressmen in the Turkish Grand National Assembly consist of women lawyers.

Recent Changes in the Status of Women in Legal Practice

A major issue with respect to women lawyers in Turkey was the hijab restriction. The Amendment of Dress Code for Employee in State Institutions and Organizations was enacted on October 4, 2013. With the enactment of the law, the women lawyers are able to attend to the hearings in their hijabs.

Strengthening Woman's Place in Business Life

Be it in the legal practice or not, in the modern world there is a rising demand for women in the professional life as brainpower which counts more than physical strength. As a result, equal participation of the two genders in business life is no longer a dream. Focusing on education of women is crucial to achieve this target because education ultimately leads to a chain of further benefits to the favor of women, such as inspiring them to pursue the career which they dream for, gain their economic independency, participate in decision making positions in professional life and create other career opportunities for other women. Only by doing so, the rights of women in general can be protected and a democratic, just and broad-minded society can be built.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Serap Zuvin
Melis Oget Koc
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