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Opponents of Turkey's Brothels Call for Gender Equality

  • Dorian Jones

In Turkey, opponents of the state-controlled brothels for men are calling for equality with the establishment of brothels for women. The move comes as a century-old policy of state brothels is coming under increasing scrutiny.

In Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, Hayrettin Bulan reads a declaration calling for male brothels that would cater to women customers. The call is being made by the anti-poverty group Sefkat Der, who is fighting for the end of state-run brothels. Bulan says their radical move comes out of the frustration.

"The government is protecting sex slavery under legal grounds," said Bulan. "He says if you are going to have brothels for men, then under the principle of equality you must have brothels for women. He said the group will pursue this until the government ends state brothels."

Sefkat Der is no stranger to controversy and to matching its words with action. Last year it organized shooting classes for women victims of domestic violence as well as helping them apply for firearms licenses.

"They have already petitioned parliament and the Ministry of the Interior, under the legal principle of equality, asking for the opening of state-controlled brothels for women that would have male prostitutes," said Bulan. "If their request is rejected they will open a case at the European Court of Human Rights. We do not think Turkey will open male brothels, but convictions at the European Court for violating 'gender equality' would prove the hypocrisy of Turkey to the world. Any compensation money awarded by the court will be used in helping women seeking a life away from prostitution."

The campaign is calling on the government to not only shut down the current 56 state brothels that cater to men but provide financial support to the around 3,000 women working in them.

One of the women supporting the campaign is former sex worker Ayse Turkucu. She says she managed to successfully build a life for herself out of state-controlled brothels, something she says that is extremely difficult.

"I worked in brothels for 20 years until I left in 1996 by marrying," said Turkucu. "Working in seven brothels across the country I know well the torture, the violence, and the drug use that occurs and how the state is an accomplice. Women are seen as worthless in these places, and if selling women is this easy, then open a brothel for women with male sex workers as there are more than 30 million women in Turkey."

The opening of male brothels is unlikely, with the ruling Islamic AK party in charge in Turkey.

Under its decade-long rule, even the number of brothels catering to men has been cut in half in recent years.