Gender equality training at the TGNA
Onur Çekiç and Esma Arslan, are two of the 75 legislative experts who attended the gender mainstreaming trainings organized jointly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and coordinated by the Equal Opportunities Commission for Women and Men (KEFEK) and the Legislative Experts Association (YUDER) at the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) in Ankara between 4-19 October 2010.
New Horizons - In an interview with New Horizons, Onur Çekiç, a legal advisor at the Turkish Grand National Assembly since 2005 and an executive member of YUDER, and Esma Arslan a legislative expert at the Budget Directorate said that the trainings heightened their awareness to gender like never before.
Who is a legislative expert?
Onur Çekiç: Legislative experts are not just lawyers or legal advisors but also economists and political science experts. Legislative experts work at four directorates at the TGNA: The Directorate for Laws and Decisions, the Budget Directorate, The Research Center Directorate, and the Directorate for Foreign Affairs and Protocol. While it’s mostly legislative experts with a legal background who work at the Directorate for Laws and Decisions, economists work at the Budget Directorate. In other words, legislative experts do not necessarily have to be lawyers.
What does a legislative expert do?
Onur Çekiç: It might actually be easier to answer a question that asks what doesn’t a legislative expert do. All joking aside, the legislative body, as is stated in the Constitution, is the General Assembly of the TGNA, composed of 550 members of parliament. The MPs, or politicians, are the actual owners of legislation. Naturally, they require technical, legal and administrative assistance when forming legislations and this is where we come in. We are responsible for running and coordinating what goes on behind the scenes. I would like to emphasize that we do not run the legislative function, that function belongs entirely to the politicians. We provide support services.
How many legislative experts currently work at the TGNA?
Onur Çekiç: I would say there are around 100 to 103. We have increased in number in the past few years. Junior experts who successfully pass the required examinations continue to be hired almost every year.
How did you decide to participate at the trainings?
Onur Çekiç: The trainings came about as part of the Equal Opportunities Commission for Women and Men’s efforts. Though we don’t really know how the trainings came about, I think the trainings answered to the realization of the importance of gender equality in Turkey. Legislative activities are continuing and we are one of the most influential groups who contribute to the forming of such legislation. Now if you want to raise some sort of awareness about gender equality, you must first stick the needle to yourself before becoming critical of others and we were chosen as the group for the TGNA to raise awareness within itself. Being one of the pillars supporting the coordination of the trainings, we as YUDER tried to make the trainings as interactive as possible. We tried to ensure that the trainings were a dialogue instead of a monologue and took measures to ensure high participation rates. Gender Equality is a very important issue and as experts who have the power to intervene in one way or another in legislation making, we took it upon ourselves to view the trainings as a mandatory part of our work and planned them accordingly. I can say that on the whole, we have been successful.
On what were the trainings planned and what issues were covered?
Esma Arslan: The first day of the trainings were based on theory and definitions and on the second day we focused on EU legislation. I think that the trainings had one important advantage. Both national and international instructors were present and so the trainings complimented each other. National instructors were able to identify Turkey-specific issues and international experts provided examples from other countries which was highly beneficial in terms of comparing gender issues.
Can you elaborate on what you mean by definitions?
Esma Arslan: Even something as simple as the difference between sex and gender was an issue that most people are unaware of. While sex refers to the physical or biological differences between a woman and a man, gender is a concept formed aroun the roles society imposes on us.
Onur Çekiç: Equality has always been on the agenda but the trainings have created an awareness that the issue of equality is in fact not so simple and has multiple dimensions. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination for Women (CEDAW), is a document which we assumed was widely known, however, during the trainings we saw that it was the first time some of us had even heard about such a convention. In this regard, we actually realized the dire need in the country as a whole, to increase awareness about such documents. From our perspective, as practitioners, we did a comparative interactive session on how EU criteria may be applied in our national laws, or to what extent these criteria are used in some legislation and how they can be analyzed.
What were some of the areas where you had difficulty? Were there general challenges faced during the trainings?
Onur Çekiç: Rather than a challenge, we were faced with something for the first time and that was the adaptation of EU directives for national law. For instance, according to Turkish legislation, laws cannot contradict the Constitution. We conduct such analysis when a draft law is presented at the Assembly. However, a directive being applied to national law is a new concept and we have to double check the relevant legislation to see whether or not the EU directive is reflected in the legislation or not. On the one side, this has been very beneficial and on the other, because it is a new concept, it came up as something we have to work on.
Esma Arslan: “I learned that I did not know the CEDAW” was a comment from one of the participants. According to Turkish law, conventions like the CEDAW, to which Turkey is a party, have precedence. So rulings in the CEDAW must be adapted to our national laws, this is an obligation of which some of the participants were unaware. This raised an awareness. On another note, there was an instance having to do with the use of gender sensitive knowledge. In translating CEDAW, the word elimination was translated as prevention. For something to be eliminated it needs to exist, however, it does not have to exist to be prevented. This was perhaps a political modification which was addressed during the trainings.
Onur Çekiç: Despite such issues however, an awareness on the fact that there is such a convention and that this convention takes precedence in our national law and that the state has certain responsibilities, was raised. As a legislative expert, I find it very important that I am now more aware of considering both international conventions like the CEDAW and national legislation.
When you look at gender equality from a legislative perspective, where does Turkey stand? What progress has been made?
Onur Çekiç: The trainings led the realization that knowing the path and walking on the path are two different things. When we look at the legislation in Turkey, we can’t say that there are serious shortcomings, and that there are many rulings to ensure equality. However, when we look at their application and consider women’s participation in labour, the challenges they face when climbing career steps, the roles they play during marriage and even something as fundamental as the right to use their last names, we see that there are certain negativities.
The trainings indicated that rather than legal obstacles, there are some challenges when it comes to applying the legislation. To change how women are often viewed, the roles society imposes on them, which is subject to regional differences, much time is needed. The formation of the Equal Opportunities Commission for Women and Men’s, and the fact that the commission is working towards equality, the fact that conventions like CEDAW are part of our national law and that awareness campaigns are being run are steps in the right direction. However, we are still not there yet. We still do not see women among high-level decision makers, and there are still challenges in women’s representation in political parties.
The problem does not arise from legal scripts but from social perspectives.
Esma Arslan: I agree that there are no large shortcomings in the legislation but when we look at the country in general, we only have one female undersecretary and she has just recently been appointed. When you look at governors and district governors, the number of women is too few to mention. If this isn’t discrimination, then what is? This does not have to do with laws, but has to do entirely with how women are viewed in society. Although the state is trying to ensure gender equality with laws, I think that it is necessary to provide awareness raising trainings in cooperation with the civil society. Aside from transforming laws, it is absolutely essential to provide gender equality training. It is also very important for men to empathize because you cannot understand a situation to which you are exposed. Because men are not exposed to gender-based inequality, it might be hard for them to understand what women face. Trainings based on empathy must be increased to the extent possible.
Do you think that the trainings you recieved will contribute, if only partly, to changing societal points of view?
Onur Çekiç: The trainings are important to prevent possible challenges and to warn the necessary people. Just because there are no legal drawbacks now, does not mean that there will be no shortcomings in the future.