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Girls as young as 14 could have been subjected to tests

Turkey scraps schoolgirl virginity tests Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 02:26 GMT
The Turkish Government has rescinded a controversial law that allowed school girls suspected of having pre-marital sex to be given virginity tests.

Forced gynaecological examinations were common practice under the old law until five students attempted suicide by taking rat poison rather than be subjected to the test.

Despite the high value placed on virginity in Turkey the tests were regarded as abhorrent by women's and human rights groups.

Correspondents say the issue highlighted a sharp division of attitudes in the cities, where many unmarried women live with their boyfriends, and the countryside, where dowries remain an important source of income and relatives sometimes kill girls suspected of losing their virginity.

Wording changed

No such tests are thought to have been carried out since January 1999, when the justice minister ordered a halt to them, unless they were specifically ordered by a judge to provide evidence in a criminal case.

On Tuesday, the government removed ambiguous wording from a law on school punishment that allowed school administrators to "determine" whether girls were virgins.

The amendment scrapping virginity tests was published in the government newspaper, the Official Gazette.

It eliminated any reference to girls' chastity but makes a broader reference to the expulsion of students not behaving properly in school.

Last year Health Minister Osman Durmus, a member of the far-right Nationalist Action Party, caused uproar when he called for girls who were not virgins to be expelled from government-run nursing high schools and barred from enrolling in other state-run schools.

Turkish women score victory for equality Saturday, 24 November, 2001, 08:32 GMT
The sun is setting on an era when man ruled supreme

The rights of Turkish women within the home have finally been enshrined in law, 75 years after Turkey rejected Islamic law in favour of a more secular legal code.

After a month of debate, the Turkish parliament has taken the radical step of adopting a far-reaching revision to the country's civil code, formally recognizing men and women as equals.

The new civil code comes into effect on 1 January 2002.

It finally brings to an end the supremacy of the Turkish male within the home, and has been warmly welcomed by the country's press.

Equal partners

"Who says the man is the head of the house!" exclaimed the mass-circulation daily Milliyet. Other papers carried similar headlines. "Now the spouses are equal," the centre-right daily Sabah proclaimed, while Hurriyet noted with satisfaction that the civil code had finally been brought up to date.

"Turkey is now in a position to compete with all the developed countries in the arena of women's rights and their place in the community," one Hurriyet columnist wrote.

A right to choose

The new law gives women a much greater say in decisions concerning the home and children. Property will be owned jointly by husband and wife.

A woman will no longer need to obtain her husband's consent before working outside the home, and will also have an equal say in choosing where to live.

Women are now entitled to sue for divorce if their husband commits adultery, and have acquired the right to claim compensation and alimony. Previously, a woman was only entitled to keep property legally registered in her name.

The new law also addresses the question of terminology. Women are now entitled to continue to use their maiden names - as the daily Aksam noted, a woman is not merely a "wife" any more.

A big step, but...

Nonetheless, some have expressed pessimism regarding the new code, saying that people's way of thinking needs to be changed first.

"How, in a country which hasn't got even one female minister of state, will one make radical changes?", asked one commentator.

The new code has also had a mixed reception amongst women's groups.

Over one hundred women's organizations issued a joint statement in the wake of the changes, complaining that they do not go far enough.

Turkish women get equal rights Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 12:23 GMT
The sun is setting on an era when man ruled supreme By Tabitha Morgan in Istanbul

The new year sees the start of a quiet revolution in Turkish society, when centuries of legally enshrined inequality between the sexes are brought to an end.

From 1 January, Turkish men are no longer regarded by law as the head of the family.

These latest measures included in sweeping reforms to the country's civil code are described by Turkey's Justice Minister, Hikmet Sami Turk, as the result of no less than 50 years' hard work.

Women are now legally allowed to take a job without first seeking their spouse's permission, and their husbands no longer have the right to decide unilaterally where a couple will live.

But by far the most significant element of the new legislation is the provision that married women are entitled to an equal share of joint assets in the event of divorce.

Far-reaching consequences

In a society where many men regard it as a matter of personal honour not to allow their wives to work, this is going to have far-reaching implications.

Divorce lawyer Janin Arin says reform is long overdue.

"This is very important, because usually when women are married, their husbands do not want their wife work out of the house. They will say that he is terribly in love with her, and he does not want her to get more tired.

"Of course, women can easily give up working out of the house, and at the end of 20 or 30 years, she becomes just nothing."

When it comes to divorce, Janin Arin says, husbands point out that wives who stayed at home contributed nothing to the family finances.

"So you have nothing, you can just go - you are free to go off with your underwear, that is all."

"You did not do anything. What did you do?." So you have nothing, you can just go - you are free to go off with your underwear, that is all."

Not enough

But many women feel that the new law does not go far enough.

It does not automatically apply retrospectively, so 17 million Turkish women - who are already married - will be no better off should they wish to get divorced.

And Turkey remains a country full of contradictions.

Although the percentage of women lawyers, doctors and stockbrokers is higher than in many Western nations, huge sectors of Turkish society - particularly the rural areas - remain deeply conservative.

Last month, one education authority noted particularly high numbers of schoolgirl absentees in the western Turkish town of Achela.

An investigation revealed that the children, some of them as young as 10 years old, were no longer in school because they had been married off by their families, and many of them now had children of their own.

It is going to take more than just new legislation to change attitudes that are rooted firmly in the traditions of eastern Mediterranean and Muslim societies.

These latest reforms to Turkey's legal system are unlikely to have much impact on the lives of the children of Achela.

Poll says Muslims angry at US Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 13:16 GMT

Anti-US sentiments are among the strongest in Iran Most Muslims do not believe that Arabs carried out the 11 September attacks on the United States, according to a poll of nearly 10,000 Muslim residents from nine countries.

The Gallup poll also found widespread dislike of the United States and President George W Bush, and most of those asked disagreed with the campaign in Afghanistan.

Among the countries included in the survey, Lebanon had the most favourable opinion of the US with Pakistan at the other extreme.

The poll is believed to be the most comprehensive survey of public opinion in the Muslim world following the attacks on New York and Washington.

Click here for a breakdown of poll results

Gallup conducted the interviews during December 2001 and January 2002.

It asked 9,924 Muslim residents in nine countries: Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The poll had about 120 questions, but not all were asked in every country because of censorship, US newspaper USA Today reported.

For instance, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco did not allow the question about Arab responsibility for the 11 September attacks, it said.

Respondents overwhelmingly described the United States as "ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked, biased," said Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport.

"The people of Islamic countries have significant grievances with the West in general and with the United States in particular," he said.

Figures

Although most of those identified by the US authorities as having been involved in the 11 September attacks were of Arab extraction, 61% of the respondents said they did not believe Arab groups were behind the attacks.

A further 67% thought the US campaign in Afghanistan following the attacks was unjustified, with 9% thinking it was.

Only 9% said they thought US military action in Afghanistan was morally justified. The least satisfied were the people of Morocco, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The poll confirms a widespread unfavourable opinion of the US in the Muslim world - 53% - with less than half of that - 22% - holding a positive opinion.

Views in Pakistan - a key US ally in the war on terrorism - Iran and Saudi Arabia are the most negative.

Only 11% expressed a favourable opinion of the President Bush, with 58% saying they dislike him.

Just 12% think the West respects Arab or Islamic values. And 7% say Western nations are fair in their perceptions of Muslim countries.