A Milestone for Women’s rights in Turkey: Overturning Article 187 on surname change after marriage

In a historic decision, the Turkish Constitutional Court recently overturned Article 187 of the civil code, putting an end to the requirement for women to adopt their husband’s surname upon marriage. This ruling, effective since January 28, 2024, marks a significant step towards gender equality in Turkey.

Until this decision, Article 187 dictated that women, upon marriage, must take their husband’s surname, allowing only a limited concession for using their original surname with a formal application. This provision, deemed archaic, restricted women from retaining their birth surnames after marriage, highlighting an inequality in marital name rights.

The journey towards this progressive change began in 2001 when Istanbul’s 8th Family Court initiated a request to eliminate Article 187. Drawing upon the principles of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the motion argued that denying married women the right to retain their birth surnames was a violation of the equality principle, as outlined in Article 20 of the Constitution. This article emphasizes the right to demand respect for one’s private life, including the right to a name as a fundamental element of individual identity.

However, this legal victory comes against the backdrop of broader gender inequality issues in Turkey. The nation’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention in 2020, the first European treaty targeting gender-based violence, reflects a concerning stance on women’s rights. The Turkish government justified its withdrawal by citing concerns about the convention threatening “family values” and “normalizing homosexuality.” This move raised alarms globally, with women and human rights organizations warning of disastrous consequences for women and girls.

Turkey faces significant challenges regarding women’s rights, evident in its high rates of femicides, domestic violence, honour killings, and sexual assault. Despite existing legal frameworks against gender discrimination and domestic violence, patriarchal attitudes, and gaps in access to justice hinder effective implementation and enforcement.

While the decision to overturn Article 187 is a positive stride towards gender equality, it underscores the need for comprehensive reforms. Turkey must address the broader issues of women’s rights, ensuring that legal advancements are accompanied by cultural and societal shifts. The road to true gender equality in Turkey requires a collective effort to dismantle patriarchal norms and promote inclusivity at all levels of society.