“Why do you go to court and complicate your life?” and I asked, “Why does my last name change but my husband’s stays the same?”

Photo by Sibylle Bergemann

All my life I have faced certain difficulties just because I am a woman, as the majority of women from Turkey experience. When I didn’t know how to deal with this situation, during my early student life, I either took precautions to avoid these difficulties, changed my path, or acted as if the problems I was experiencing did not exist. After a certain point, when I observed life, I began to see and experience how much discrimination and ill-treatment a woman was subjected to. To combat these, I began to make the situation visible myself or to act those who face these difficulties with solidarity. For this, I started my learning process to criticize the practices, the legislation, and to take a political stance. It still continues.

Last year, I had to face a normalized practice in our lives, the obligation of changing the surname after marriage. When a woman decides to marry in Turkey, according to the law, she has to change her surname, that is, to take her husband’s surname, or add her husband’s surname next to her surname in line with the latest legislative changes. I never understood why. If a man and a woman have equal rights, why does only the woman change her surname or add a new surname? If it is to be applied equally, it must apply to both of us or to none of us. My surname on my ID card, with which I identified myself until now, would change. But why? Many people have asked me exactly this question. “Why do you go to court and complicate your life?” and I asked, “Why does my last name change but my husband’s stays the same?” I didn’t get many answers on this. I have always asked questions throughout my life, both to myself and to those around me. I realized that in the women’s struggle where a political stance should be taken, if you are asking a question that disturbs someone, it is the right question to ask. I never understood why questions are feared, why someone gets angry about questions. The fact that a person gets angry when asked a question about such matters is mainly because that person does not know the answer or does not want to answer. Some issues to be questioned, discussed shows that it is wanted to take steps for changing an order.

In addition to changing the surname, your state registry is moved to your spouse’s registry. Why should my state registry change? My state registry, which is not currently my place of birth, can be taken to a place I do not know. It makes me feel like a commodity that is constantly being transferred from one person’s custody to another’s. Considering that the decisions about women’s living, working, studying or getting married are sometimes made by the men in the family or the spouses, it made me feel as if the same masculine shackles were attached to every married woman with the surname change.

The fact that the woman continued with her own surname and the state registry she was registered meant that she existed with her own identity in the institution of marriage. This change envisaged by the Civil Code causes women to be defined as “possessed and under protection.” Well, isn’t this the very instinct of possession, the reason why psychological, physical and sexual violence is used against women both outside and at home?

It was as if because the rules or legislation had envisaged this, this should have been accepted. I do not accept it. Many people asked if it was worth the effort for a surname while struggling in many areas as a woman. It’s worth it. Don’t many things start right at this point? This is an identity struggle. Women’s struggle for identity, rights and existence. I consider it equally important to just keep my own surname. While saying “We are here, keep fighting” on the streets, I noticed how little knowledge I had on this issue in my own identity struggle. In fact, not only me but also many people around me thought that it was enough to apply to the Civil Registry just to keep one’s own surname. I could only get the background information by going to the Civil Registry. I was told that I should file a lawsuit.

Thinking that I would need a lawyer, I started asking people around me if they knew a lawyer I could go to. In the legal advice of a recommended lawyer, it was stated that this case would take a long time and could be concluded after at least one year, and that such cases are not concluded in one hearing. Also, the attorney’s fee was so high that it was way above my budget. In that meeting, which I could not finish in a moment, the conversation continued with presenting the opinion that many women prefer to take their husband’s surname and that it is not necessary to keep someone’s own surname. At that moment, I realized how impossible it is to work with a lawyer who has an opinion that is incompatible with my purpose on this road. I was so disappointed materially and morally that for a moment I started to hear the words “you are making your life difficult” in my ears. Was it really so?

As is often the case, a women’s struggle started with women’s solidarity in my experience, too. When I uttered this issue at the Medical Chamber’s Women’s Health Commission, there were friends who shared their own experiences. I felt as if I found a person who had walked this very road before and would guide me and shed light on me in that darkness. While many people around me said that I was doing the hard way, finding women who thought like me strengthened me. A female friend who had filed a lawsuit before said that I could manage this process on my own without a lawyer. I also tried to find lawyers who could share their experiences by writing to @feministavukatlar on social media. There was rapid response and guidance based on previous experience. My own dilemma was that although I see this struggle as important for myself, I thought that a notable lawyer should not waste time with cases like this, since there are much more important issues in the ongoing women’s struggle in the country. After all, we receive news of violence against women or femicide every day in this country, but the lawyer said, “This is also a political case.” This answer encouraged me even more. After all, when you became a woman, even defending the most basic right was a political case. A woman’s body, dress, voice, smile, surname, marriage, not getting married, her decision to become a mother, not to be a mother, her decision to work when she became a mother, etc., were all part of this struggle.

With the guidance of my lawyer friend, I first prepared a petition demanding that I want to keep my own surname. I have attached the court decisions shared with me. I have read cases which were previously brought to the Constitutional Court or, to the European Court of Human Rights when no results were obtained in the Constitutional Court. This is the first time I learned that there is a case brought to the European Court of Human Rights on this issue. I first took the petition I prepared to the Civil Registry. I told the officer in charge that I wanted to keep only my own surname as I had stated in my petition. Then the officer said, “Then why did you get married?” And I said, “Be sure that I didn’t get married for the surname.” The officer did not say anything on this and said “the answer will be sent to your home.” Two weeks later, a notification came, stating the decision in it. It said that a court decision is required to keep just my own surname.

As a second step, I took the same petition to the courthouse. While I thought that I would start a public prosecution because the reason I opened this case was the legislation in Turkey, when I made the payment and submitted the petition, I learned that I had opened the case to my husband, who supported me and was with me during this process. I was the complainant; my husband was the defendant. For a moment, I felt ashamed that I had sued my husband, but at that moment, this lawsuit became even more meaningful. As a result, the state required her husband’s consent to allow a woman to use only her own surname. After all, the man had the right to the surname over the woman. Even though I had decided to go on this road without a lawyer, we had to find a lawyer for my husband because he was a foreigner. Again, I contacted @feministavukatlar and they stated that they can give support on this issue.

At the end of the extended process due to the pandemic, a hearing date was set for October 2021. At that time, both me and my husband would be in Turkey. In addition, thanks to my husband’s progress in the process of learning Turkish, the barriers in terms of communication seemed to have been eliminated a little. I was a little nervous, angry and afraid before the hearing on this road that I set out for my own identity struggle, which is my most basic right. Even though I would defend my claim on the basis of rights in the courtroom, the fact that I was not equipped in the field of law scared me. For a moment, I thought to myself, what and how I would defend. I was defending a right that should already be mine. Besides, isn’t this a right that half of this society should have? As my mind was stuffed with these thoughts, our names were called from the courtroom. As a result of some misfortunes, my husband had to attend the hearing without his lawyer. Even though my husband had started to understand Turkish, I knew that in courtroom tensions, everything could be more complicated. We were seated across each other. I was both a little nervous and I could hardly keep myself from laughing because of the absurdity of the situation. The judge told my husband, “You have been informed of the reason for the lawsuit. Do you accept it?” For him to say “Yes”, I was trying to explain the answer with all kinds of facial expressions looking into my husband’s eyes. “Yes,” my husband said calmly. The judge asked me if there was anything I wanted to say in addition to the petition in which I stated the reasons for filing the case. I explained the petition in more detail. Then he asked my husband and me a few more questions. He then began to explain the decision. I was excitedly trying to figure out what was going on, was it postponed, accepted or refused? Then we stood up, and in the decision it was stated that the claim was accepted. I couldn’t believe it for a second. This process, which did not take more than ten minutes, and this issue for which I filed petitions to different institutions and which I tried to defend them in all kinds of social environments, was resolved in such a short time that there was a moment when I almost thought that the court must take longer. If it is an issue that can be resolved so quickly, why spend so many procedures, time and effort? Could the right to keep only one’s own surname not be offered as an option at the marriage stage? While all these questions were stuffing my mind again, information about writing the decision was shared. It was said that it would take some time to write the court decision as there are other cases in the queue. When I called the relevant Family Court ten days later, I was told that the decision was ready and they gave us a copy after we went and signed it. The decision would be notified to the Civil Registry by the court and then the decision would be implemented. Again, after ten days, I saw that I had only my name and surname in my e-government account. For a moment, I said to myself, “I got rid of the masculine shackles of the state.” I felt a momentary sense of freedom. Maybe there is more to be done, but I thought this was one of the steps that should be done. From my experience, I’ve learned information that maybe and hopefully will never be needed in the future, and I’ve decided that the other important thing I can do is to share what I experienced, felt and thought during this process. I owe my achievement in this struggle to the people who stand by me with their ideas, feelings and opinions. Hoping for the days when we women can feel even more free…

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

Translator: Gülcan Ergün

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan


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