Women in Turkey win right to keep surnames after marriage
- Turkish Constitutional Court has overturned Article 187 requiring women to adopt their husband’s surname upon marriage
- Request to remove the Article was first made in 2001
- Women in Turkey face significant inequality
Women in Turkey can use their own surnames after they marry, now that a rule forcing them to take their husband’s surname has been overturned.
Article 187 of the Turkish civil code previously stated that a woman had to take her husband’s surname upon marriage, however she could use her own surname first “with a written application to the marriage officer or later to the civil registry office.” The archaic law did not allow women to use only their surnames after they wed.
The decision by the Turkish Constitutional Court came into effect on January 28, following a ruling in April 2023. The initial ruling gave parliament nine months to draft a new article, however it has failed to this so far leaving a legal gap for women who marry after this date until the article is prepared.
Why this ruling matters
The request to remove Article 187 was first filed in 2001 by Istanbul’s 8th Family Court. Citing the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the motion stated that “whereas the married man was entitled to bear his surname acquired by birth during his lifetime, the married woman could not enjoy the very same right, which was in breach of the equality principle.”
“Article 20 of the Constitution states that everyone has the right to demand respect for his/her private life,” it continued. “It is clear that the right to a name, which is identified with the life of the individual and becomes an inseparable element of his/her personality, is one of the most important elements in determining his/her identity as an individual and is an inalienable personal right and also an element of the individual’s private life.”
Women’s rights in Turkey
In 2020, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, the treaty that seeks to prevent violence against women and girls. It was the first European treaty to specifically target gender-based violence, and while Turkey was the first country to ratify it, it was also the first (and so far only) country to withdraw.
At the time the Turkish government said the Convention threatened “family values” and “normalises homosexuality”. Amnesty International warned that the withdrawal would have disastrous consequences for millions of women and girls and to organisations providing vital support to survivors.
Women in Turkey face significant inequalities, and the country suffers from having one of the highest rates of femicides in the world. Domestic violence, honour killings and sexual assault are a huge problem, and women are also underrepresented in political and decision-making positions.
The decision to remove Article 187 is a small, yet positive step forward. However, while legal frameworks exist to protect women’s rights including laws against domestic violence and gender discrimination, their effective implementation and enforcement has remained a challenge due to Turkey’s patriarchal attitudes and gaps in access to justice.