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Turkey Discusses Amending Civil Code - 2001-10-25

Turkey's parliament is debating a bill to amend the country's 76 year old civil code. The measure is viewed as another sign of Turkey's effort to bring its laws in line with those of the European Union, which Turkey has been seeking to enter for years.

Turkey's 550 member parliament is debating individual articles in the bill. One of the most significant changes being discussed is whether to scrap an existing law that says "men are the masters of the household."

With that change, Turkish women will have an equal say over decisions relating to joint property as well as decisions affecting their children. If passed, the measure will also mean that Turkish women will no longer need spousal consent to seek a job.

The draft bill is expected to come to a vote by the end of this week and take effect next January.

The overhaul of the civil code is the latest in a series of constitutional changes that are designed to ease Turkey's long-sought membership in the European Union.

Earlier this month the parliament approved amendments to the constitution that ease restrictions on the use of the Kurdish language and make it harder for courts to ban political parties. The European Commission is to issue a report next month assessing Turkey's progress in adapting its legislation to E.U. standards.

Under the current civil code, which was adapted from Swiss family law in 1926, Turkish women have enjoyed legal privileges far greater than those granted to women in the rest of the Islamic world. Since 1934 all Turkish women have had the right to vote and have been encouraged to cast off their veils. But the 1926 code has remained virtually unchanged.

Many feminist groups have welcomed the proposed amendments to the code, saying they are a step in the right direction.

But they have strongly protested the community property amendment. Divorced women are now only entitled to those assets that have been legally registered under their names. Under the amendment, the 50-50 rule for divorcing couples would apply to property acquired after January 1, 2003.

More than 100 women's groups have signed a petition calling for the 50-50 rule to be applied now to all property held by married couples.