Turkey’s conservative men citing Qur’an to protest women’s alimony rights

Turkish men who have been actively campaigning to scrap women’s alimony rights in Turkish law cite a section of the Islam’s holy book, the Qur’an, to strengthen their case, women’s activists told Ahval.

Alimony rights have been one of Turkey’s hot topics of debate since last April, after some men’s groups started a mainly social media campaign saying that their rights have been neglected and they have been suffering because of women’s rights to alimony. The issue is one of the priority issues to be examined by the Turkish parliament in coming months.

Meanwhile, while pro-government media keeps the issue in the limelight by continuously reporting on it using catchy headlines like “Man sells kidney because of not time-constrained alimony” or “The solution for alimony is in Islam”.

Hülya Gülbahar, a prominent women’s right activist in Turkey, told Ahval that those groups of men had been demanding alimony payments to be decreased to three months on the basis of a section in Qur’an on divorce. The 65th chapter of the Qur’an titled divorce, Surah At-Talaq, says that Muslim women should wait for the duration of three menstrual cycles before marrying any other man after a divorce so that the father of a potential child can clearly be identified. The Qur’an also specifies waiting periods for women who are in menopause or who have not menstruated yet.

“They are using religion as a tool for their own demands,” Gülbahar said. “In fact, studies show that alimonies are well beyond the value of domestic work women do for years without any pay, like cooking, cleaning, child and elderly care. Those who oppose alimonies aim to impoverish women by derogating the value of domestic work.”

While men in Turkey accuse woman of marrying so as to live a comfortable life after divorce, Gülbahar says in most of the cases the men only pay a child support alimony around 200- 300 lira ($34.7-$52) per month. The activist says scrapping alimony rights in Turkey would in effect make women hostages of marriages in which they are subject to domestic violence.

“The discussions in parliament will restart in the coming days. On the one side, there are millions of women, on the other side there is a bunch of enemies of women. We will see whose side the politicians will choose,” Gülbahar said.

The Turkish civil code allows the less guilty spouse to have right to spousal alimony if he or she is left without a means of subsistence after divorce. The spousal alimony is decided according to the financial conditions of the guilty party. A spouse who is not awarded the right of custody by court is also obliged to pay a child alimony, while a spouse may also ask for a temporary alimony for child care costs during divorce proceedings.

Berrin Sönmez, a columnist of Duvar news site and a women’s rights activist, said that the main issue had been centred on spousal alimony, adding that men’s groups had also been objecting to women’s rights to custody under the Turkish civil law.

“Religion does not say anything about alimony or how much it should be. Alimony in Turkish (nafaka) comes from the word infak, which means sharing. The religion (of Islam) wants you to share your fortunes with those close to you,” Sönmez explained.

The spousal alimony in Turkey was made indefinite in 1998. Before it had been limited to one year.

“The law was changed as women were impoverished after divorce due to low levels of employment. And the law does not distinguish between men and women. It says the spouse who is poor. But of course in our case most of the time the woman is the spouse that is poor,” Sönmez said.

“Moreover, the spousal alimony can be removed by court upon appeal after the divorce, but if a woman does not demand spousal alimony during divorce, then she cannot apply for it,” she said. “They are objecting despite that fact as they are not only targeting rights to alimony, but all rights women have gained.”

In fact the Turkish Republic granted women relatively progressive rights in its early days long before their peers in the Middle East and Europe. Women in Turkey have been enjoying voting rights in Turkey since 1930s and the civil code eliminated polygamy and religious marriages.

But in terms of economic power, women in Turkey lag behind their peers in many countries today. The labour force participation rate among women is at 34.9 percent as of August according to the data of the Turkish Statistical institute (TÜİK), while 37.2 percent of women between ages 15 and 24 are neither in school or participating in the work force.

Sönmez said those who are calling for the women’s right to alimony to be abolished point to Nordic countries like Sweden and Norway as examples. “In those countries women can stand on their own feet. Here, the husband tells wife to leave her job when they get married, promising that he will look after her. When the woman divorces, she finds herself without a job and with the responsibility of looking after children,” Sönmez said.

According to the activist, alimony rights became an issue due to men belonging to the new conservative middle class of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) want to have second wives.

“The women no longer accept second wives; they get divorced. Since men do not want to pay alimony to the spouse that has refused to bow down, they want alimony rights be removed,” Sönmez said.