On the report “Women’s rights and prospects for Euro-Mediterranean co-operation” submitted by Ms Fatiha Saïdi. - 29.09.2014 - Gülsün Bilgehan, Ayşe Gülsün Bilgehan, CHP Ankara Milletvekili

On the report “Women’s rights and prospects for Euro-Mediterranean co-operation” submitted by Ms Fatiha Saïdi. - 29.09.2014

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe-2014 ORDINARY SESSION-Thirty-first sitting- 30 September 2014

On the report  “Women’s rights and prospects for Euro-Mediterranean co-operation” submitted by Ms Fatiha Saïdi. Ms BİLGEHAN (Turkey)* – I too begin by congratulating our dear colleague, Ms Saïdi, on her constructive and optimistic report and the Secretariat on its painstaking work.

Three years ago, women played a major role during the uprisings that subsequently led to the Arab Spring. They were actively involved in protest movements. They used social networks and even financially supported the rebellion. There is the touching example of the Libyan women who sold their jewellery in order to help defray the costs of the battle against the regime. However, three years after so many sacrifices, this crucial question lies at the heart of our concerns: have women’s rights in the region gone backwards or have they been improved? According to Ms Saïdi’s report, it is a mixed bag and the situation varies between countries. The example of countries such as Tunisia and Morocco, which co-operate closely with the Council of Europe, is heartening, but there is a long way to go.

Let us look first at the situation in legislative terms. There have been significant advances in Tunisia in respect of the principle of gender equality following the adoption of the new constitution. Women are no longer viewed as complementary to men. Article 46 compels the Tunisian State to make this principle of equality effective. Here we need to stress the contribution of the Venice Commission, which broadly supported the democratic aspirations of the country. In Morocco, people have been talking of Moudawana for 10 years. I was in the Council at the time, and I remember the long debates that took place then. The family code was a major step forward for women’s rights, but enforcement leaves much to be desired. For example, there are a high number of child marriages. People can marry at the age of 13 or 15. None the less, the Moroccan constitution took an important step in enshrining the principle of gender equality in article 19. An authority was even set up for gender equality and combating all forms of discrimination.

We should recall, however, that Tunisia and Morocco have not yet withdrawn their reservations on CEDAW. In Algeria and in Libya, many changes have been made to the law, but inequalities persist. As in several countries in the region, polygamy is now legal in Libya whereas it was prohibited under the old regime. Moreover, the conditions for requesting divorce and parental authority are much more stringent for women than for men. In general terms, political participation of women is supported in the region. There are several systems of quotas. Likewise, it is interesting to note that many women pursue their studies, but paradoxically women’s participation in economic life remains weak. Similarly, there is still a great deal of violence against women but there has also been a great deal of progress.

We made similar legislative amendments in Turkey a few years ago. However, we know that it is easy to adopt laws but still very difficult to change mindsets. Ms Saïdi rightly points out that it is always possible to backslide on human rights, and these countries are still in the throes of transition. We should understand that imported solutions are unsuccessful and these countries need to find their own way. The Council of Europe will be alongside them, and the sharing of experience will benefit all parties.

About Gülsün Bilgehan

Born in Ankara on 25th of February 1957, Gülsün Bilgehan is the granddaughter of İsmet İnönü, the 2nd President of Turkey who was among the founders of the Republic.

A graduate of Department of International Relations of Paris Institute of Political Studies, she was elected as the Member of Parliament for Ankara from Republican People’s Party, in 2002.

Meanwhile, she served in Council of Europe of which Turkey is a founding member and as the Chairperson of Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

She received “Woman Writer of the Year Award” by United Women's Organizations of İstanbul and “Abdi İpekçi Award” for the two volume books titled “Mevhibe” depicting Turkish War of Independence and the establishment of Turkish Republic from the point of view of her grandmother Mevhibe İnönü.

She was awarded the “Pro Merito” medal of PACE and “Legion D’Honneur” of  France.

She was reelected as the Member of Parliament for Ankara from Republican People’s Party in 2011 and assigned the Chairperson of Socialist Women Working Group at PACE.

In January 2015, she was reelected as the Chairperson of Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination and held the title for one more term.  She was assigned the Chairperson of Sub-Committee on Media and Information Society of PACE in March 2016 and re-elected for a second term in January 2017. 

She remains the member of Turkish Delegation of PACE.

On 7th of June and 1st of November 2015 general elections, Bilgehan was reelected as the Member of Parliament for Ankara from Republican People’s Party. She was nominated the candidate for the Speaker of Turkish Grand National Assembly by unanimously of the members of parliament of Republican People’s Party.  

Married with three children, Bilgehan speaks advanced level of French and English.