Being one of Turkey’s leading industrialists, Güler Sabancı has also committed herself to social work at national and international matters. One of the international schemes she is deeply involved in is stopping child marriages across the world, in pursuit of which the Sabancı Foundation that she chairs is in cooperation with a number of other institutions, including the Clinton Foundation.
Yesterday, Feb. 11, Sabancı held a press conference in Istanbul together with Lakshmi Sundaram, the coordinator of the India-originated “Girls Not Brides” initiative, and Qamar Naseem, the coordinator of the Pakistan-originated “Blue Veins” initiative. The press conference launched a three day workshop that brought together 40 strong NGOs to exchange experiences on how to stop this massive abuse of human rights.
On the single day that you read this article, 38,000 girls under the age of 18 will be forced by parents - mostly fathers - to marry men, some of whom are of their child’s age, some of whom are much older. This is done either out of poverty, lack of education, tradition and religion, presumed gender roles in society, lack of security for women (remember what happened in an Indian municipality bus recently), or a lack of proper laws and means to implement them. If you read the former sentence and start to read this one in one minute, another 27 girls will have been added to the horrifying statistics. United Nations figures tell us that a total of 14 million girls were forced to marry in 2012 alone.
“Child brides are voiceless and defenseless. Perhaps they are the most isolated people in the world,” Sabancı says, linking the child bride’s problem to violence against women.
That is not the only problem to which the child bride’s problem is linked. It is related to education and poverty problems, as well as inequality between regions both on the global and national scales. It is a lesser problem in prosperous and well-educated societies. Among Council of Europe countries, Turkey is second only to Georgia, with 32 percent of all brides being under the age of 18, for example. However, Sabancı also revealed that this average was more than 50 percent in the mostly Kurdish populated east and southeast of Turkey (the main factor for Turkey’s overall average of 32 percent). This region is the most hit by the 30-year-long armed campaign launched by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“That is another reason to support the initiative by Prime Minister Erdoğan to start the peace process in the Kurdish problem,” Sabancı says. “If Turkey can succeed in finding a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem, it will take off. That will help development, education, the contribution of women to the work force, and of course it will help the situation of girl brides. I hope for that and I support it.” Together with a “more civilian, more democratic, and more egalitarian” new Constitution, Sabancı believes that Turkey will be a much more modern and developed country.
It is interesting that almost every issue in Turkey nowadays, from Iraqi oil to child brides, is somehow linked to the Kurdish problem, which is one indication that there is a will, for perhaps the first time in Turkish society, to get the problem solved and move on.
This article first appeared on Hurriyet Daily News on Feb.12, 2013
Murat Yetkin is the current editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News and a columnist for Radikal, a Turkish publication. He is a political commentator on Turkish and Middle Eastern affairs and has previously worked for BBC World Service and AFP. He can be found on Twitter: @MuratYetkin2.