How Adultery Almost Derailed Turkey's Aspiration to Join the European Union
The Campaign for the Reform of the Turkish Penal Code from a Gender Perspective prompted the widest public debate on gendered notions of sexuality and sexual rights in Turkey since the foundation of the modern/secular Turkish Republic in 1923. This paper analyses the competing discourses on sexuality (in particular on honor and virginity), criminalisation of youth sexual relations, and sexual orientation, which emerged as the most controversial issues during the penal code reform campaign in Turkey. It draws on the author's personal experience as the initiator of the Women's Working Group on the Penal Code and the coordinator of Women for Women's Human Rights. The author analysed newspaper and magazine articles, reports, e-mail exchanges, as well as conducted interviews, during the years 2003 and 2004.
The paper argues that the role of women remains one of the main subjects of debate in Turkish society. Women's bodies are politicised by both modernists and conservatives; women either serve as an “emblem” of secularism and the new republic, or as symbolic protectors of family values and the status quo.
According to the author, the debates generated by the AKP's attempt to re-criminalise adultery, in order to bolster its religious conservative identity just weeks before a parliamentary vote on the new Penal Code and the final decision on Turkey’s accession to the EU, and the withdrawal of the proposal as a result of strong opposition from EU officials, are reflective of the centrality of issues related to sexuality in the political struggles around culture and identity politics both on national and international levels. The paper states that there needs to be advocacy and lobbying to anchor sexual rights in the constitution and civil law, and beyond that, in popular culture and imagination.