WOMEN'S LIBERATION may be considered a sign of Western enlightenment, but in Turkey women have made greater professional advances than in America. The statistics are as dramatic as they are unexpected.
Thirty percent of doctors in Turkey are women, while in America the portion of female physicians is 11.2 percent. Women make up 14.9 percent of lawyers in Turkey, against 9.3 percent in the United States. In Turkey 5 percent of judges are women (in fact, the first women elected to any supreme court in the world in 1954 was Melahat Ruacan of Turkey); in the United States the number of women on the bench is .02 percent. Turkish women have also stepped into such male-dominated professions as engineering, dentistry, banking and architecture.
In western popular myth, of course, Turkish women languish behind veils at the beck and call of a pudgy, over-sexed pasha in a fez. Indeed, the newly restored harem at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul does little to dispel that notion. There, in a 400-room, exquisitely decorated women's annex, the ruler of the Ottoman Empire was entertained by his four official wives, his 20 fanciest ladies, and his 400 concubines. The mind boggles.
True, by western feminist standards, the attitude of Turkish women towards sex still smacks of the harem. In the work place, however, she is out front. "It's a kind of trade-off," joked one western-educated Turkish friend as we sat in a cafe overlooking the Bosporus discussing virginity and fidelity. "The double standard operates in the bedroom but in the office we are equal."
The credit for women's liberation in Turkey goes to Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish revolutionary leader better known as Ataturk. Ataturk's attitude toward his won numerous female companions left something to be desired. Asked once what he most admired in women, he replied, "Availability."
Still, women's emancipation was part of his plan to build a western-style republic out of the shambles of the Ottoman Empire. On coming to power in 1923, he banned the fez as a symbol of Ottoman rule and spoke out against the veil. In 1926, Turkey adopted the Swiss civil code, which, among other things, outlawed polygamy and gave women equal rights under inheritance laws.
Afet Inan, an oldtime feminist and an eminent historian, was once one of Ataturk's proteges, keeping house for him and acting as his hostess and constant companion. "I kept telling him that women should have the vote as well as the other rights, but there was some opposition and we didn't get it until 1935," she recalls, peering at a faded photograph of herself as a young girl standing next to Ataturk.
Prof. Inan has long been disturbed by European ignorance of Turkish history, including the part played by Turkish women. "Before the Ottomans, during the Hittite period, women were educated. They were building hospitals. Foreign visitors were amazed when they found that a document had to have the Queen's signature on it as well as the King's to be valid."
The reverse Dowry
Similarly, today, foreign visitors are amazed to discover the woman's role in Turkey. To all appearances it is a man's world. Few women are in the streets, while men are everywhere - congregating on street corners, hanging around doorways, serving in restaurants, cafes and bars (in Turkey waiting on table is "not a woman's job").
This appearance stems from a tradition of keeping women out of sight and also from a shortage of work. Official unemployment in Turkey is 20 percent, and with disguised unemployment - two or three people doing the job of one - the figure is probably nearer 30 percent. Small wonder that Turkish men careen around the streets in beaten-up old American cars as if their macho depended on it.
But in the Turkish National Assembly in Ankara, there is Sevil Korum, a deputy from Istanbul. She seems a small, isolated female figure amid a sea of male politicians, but there are almost as many women in the Turkish parliament as in the U.S. Congress - six representatives and two senators.
Like Prof. Inan, Korum is the first to admit that professional women here are a small, educated elite. Half the women in Turkey are illiterate; for men the figure is 20 percent. "It's a problem," says Korum. "Fathers don't want to send their daughters to school."
In Turkey, as in other developing countries, modernization has brought education and opportunties to daughters of the urban middle class. But women in small towns and villages are often worse off then before. Old traditions - which may not have given them equality but which did guarantee them community status - have been undermined, leaving them with little in return.
The Turkish government, for example, frowns on the ancient custom of the "bride price," paid in about half the country's marriages. It is a kind of reverse dowry given by the groom's family to the bride's family to compensate for her loss. "Women are being treated as chattels," complains one Western-trained sociologist in Ankara.
Still, an unappreciated American housewife might envy the power and respect accorded old Zulkade Alioglu in her small village in Central Anatolia. "She's the one who makes decisions," says her son, pointing to the robust old peasant woman with no teeth who rises at 5 every morning to milk the cow, draw the water and do the housework before continuing in the fields.
Zulkade's husband died many years ago, but she rules over the large family of three generations in a small stone house with a turf roof. When her husband was alive there were times he sat in the cafe while she worked in the fields. She didn't complain. That's how it had always been in small villages. Women worked harder than men.
The contribution of women's labor in Turkey's development has been underestimated," says Nermin Abadan-Unat, president of the Turkish Association of Social Sciences. "Half the agricultural output of Turkey lies on the shoulders of its female population, who are still far from being able to benefit from the legal reforms implemented a century ago."
He is referring to laws which, among other things, prohibited job discrimination against women and required equal pay for equal work. More recent laws require establishments to provide a nursery and a kindergarten if they employ more than 20 women and day care if they have more than 100 women workers. In addition, Turkish women get three months off with pay to have a baby, plus time out to nurse the child when they are back on the job. But since 88 percent of Turkey's female labor force is employed in agriculture, 70 percent of which is unpaid labor, these laws are mere pieces of paper to most of women.
Salads and Dishes.
Rahsan Ecevit, the Turkish prime minister's wife, is determined to improve life for Turkish rural women. "Turkey has to get moving," she says, sitting in her modest office in an old house on an Ankara side street. "That's why I started my volunteer women's association two years ago."
The association hopes to reverse migration from the villages, which puts enormous strain on city resources and contributes to slums and social unrest. Some critics consider the effort naive, saying there isn't money to bring services to the cities, let alone to the country. But Ecevit persists.
One of the problems Turkish women share with their American counterparts, Mrs. Ecevit says, is the double burden of work and home. "Men must learn help," she says in no uncertain terms."My husband helps me get the dinner at night. He lays the table and makes an excellent salad." Not many Turkish men follow that example, especially not in the villages and small towns.
"Glory to God," exclaimed the postmaster of a small town in Anatolia when I asked if he helped his wife with the dishes. "My friends would laugh at me if I did. That's women's work."
Relations between the sexes in Turkey are based largely on the Islamic tradition of female submission to male authority. But within that framework Turkish women have achieved enviable respect from men in the home and the work place. Nahabat Boran, for example, is a Turkish foreign service officer in Paris whose husband is being posted to Rome. "My husband would never ask me to give up my career and go with him," she says. "This new job in Paris is a promotion for me."
Conceivably, current unrest in Turkey could lead to a return to more militant Islamic values in male-female relations, as has happened in neighborhing Iran. But Turkish women are confident that they won't be returning to the veil, because women's liberation itself has now become their tradition.
Inci Bayburtluplu, assistant curator of the Museum of Archeology in Ankara, speculates that one reason Turkish men have accepted working women is because female power is part of the tradition and mythology in this part of the world, going much farther back than Islam.
As evidence, she points to a small clay figure of a goddess, all breasts and buttocks, giving birth on a throne flanked by two lepards. The figure, dating to around 5750 B.C., was unearthed at the ancient neolithic site of Catal Huyuk in Anatolia along with other statues, burials, shrines and wall paintings indicating the importance of women. Sir James Mellart, former director of the British Archeologicial Institute in Turkey, who supervised that dig, believes the religion in this region focused on and was administered by women.
"Its true, Turkish women have advantages," says Aysil Yauvus, professor of archeological restoration at Ankara's Middle East Technical Institue, where half the faculty and students are women. "We can chose any profession we want and we still have the respect of men. But still there is no division of labor, so our jobs become a luxury. Our problem is to change that without losing the traditional respect of men for women."
Educated Turkish men may respect their wives' right to work, but certainly not any right to sexual freedom. The double standard of sexual behavior is even written into law. A man can divorce his wife if she commits adultery once, but a wife can sue for divorce only if her husband is unfaithful over a period of time with the same woman.
"How can you talk about sexual equality with a law like that on your books?" I asked Sabiha Ucarer, a judge who had devoted much of her carerr to women's issues. "That's our tradition. I'm against adultery for women, and I don't want to change the laws," she snapped.
If pressed, Turkish women acknowledge that such rules are unfair. "But the alternative is what you have in American - sexual anarchy," citicized one Turkish woman. "Its the cult of the individual run riot, undermining the family and society. Traditions are the glue of society. They may not make sense, but someone has to make a sacrifice." CAPTION: Picture, A Turkish woman and her grandchild in a migrant labor camp. UPI