New judicial reform bill again requires women to take husband’s surname

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, the world's first binding treaty to prevent and combat violence against women, in Ankara, on July 1, 2021. Turkish president sparked outrage in March by pulling out of the Istanbul Convention. The 2011 pact, signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation linked to the prosecution of crimes including marital rape and female genital mutilation. Adem ALTAN / AFP

Turkey’s legal provision allowing women to use their maiden name only in conjunction with their husband’s surname, previously annulled by the Constitutional Court, has been reinstated in a new judicial reform bill unveiled by the ruling party, which cited “family unity” as the rationale, The Turkish Post reported.

The draft of the “9th judicial reform package,” moved forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and presented to the Turkish parliament on Wednesday, fails to give women the right to use only their maiden name after marriage despite a Constitutional Court decision to overturn the provision restricting it.

In April 2023 the court annulled Article 187 of the Turkish Civil Code, which said the wife shall take her husband’s surname after marriage but that the woman can use her own surname preceding that of her husband through a written application later made to the marriage officer or civil registry office.

The top court gave the Turkish parliament until late January to draft “a new regulation in accordance with the equality of women and men.” The parliament did not pass the legislation within this period, and the relevant regulations were expected to be addressed in the new judicial package.

The rationale behind the regulation states: “Article 41 of our Constitution recognizes the family as the foundation of Turkish society. Considering the importance of the family, separate surnames for parents may have negative effects on the child and could become a point of contention regarding which surname the child should use. This could harm the family unity. Therefore, the annulled provision has been reintroduced.

In Turkey women encounter notable inequalities in terms of access to education, employment and the ability to make their own decisions regarding their lives. Femicides and violence against women are common problems in the country, where women are killed, raped or beaten every day. Critics say the main reason behind the situation is the policies of the AKP government, which protects violent and abusive men by affording them impunity.

In a move that led to national and international outrage, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signed a presidential decree in March 2021 that pulled the country out of the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty that requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence and similar abuse. At the time the Turkish government said the convention “threatened family values” and “normalizes homosexuality.”

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