Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2016

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


International Affairs

First Advisor

Gregory Young

Second Advisor

Douglas Snyder

Third Advisor

Vicki Hunter


In the 1920s, Kemal Mustafa Ataturk established the secular Republic of Turkey. Under this establishment, religion was separated from public life, and especially from politics. This setup included the protection of women’s rights, including the banning of polygamy and the provision of equal rights in divorce and the right to vote. This protection of women’s rights was reinforced on a global scale in the 1990s when women’s rights came to the forefront of the worldwide agenda, beginning the push for women’s rights to be considered along with human rights. Countries around the world jumped on the bandwagon, Turkey included. When the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or the AKP, was elected in 2002, the precedent of protecting women’s rights was cast aside. Women were pushed into more “traditional” roles, resulting in a decrease in employment rates and a dramatic increase in domestic and other violence as feminist voices grew louder. The problem this research seeks to address is the source of the decline in women’s rights in Turkey over the past decade and a half. To ascertain the causes of this decline, the research looks at laws, public opinion and statistics regarding female participation in society, as well as violence against women. The independent variable, the rise of political Islam in Turkey, is studied under the lens of similar factors, including laws, public opinion and the changing role of the military in Turkish politics. The analysis of these two variables reveals that, while the implementation of political Islam has been a factor in the decline in women’s rights, the decline is more attributable to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s instrumental use of culture to gain an authoritarian hold on power. These findings provide various implications regarding Turkey. First, it seems that the interpretation of Islam’s being enforced by President Erdoğan and his government has had a negative impact on the rights of women in Turkey, which ultimately could damage Turkey’s acceptance into the European Union. Secondly, the conclusion that Erdoğan has established a dictatorship has negative implications for the future of Turkey, especially if Erdoğan continues to exploit his power. Lastly, given that previous trends in Turkey, along with much of the rest of the world, have been directed toward progress for women’s rights, Turkey’s backsliding presents a disconcerting anomaly compared to both regionally situated countries and the rest of the world.