Turkey is a predominately Islamic country that maintains a secular government. Although many modern Turks work or travel outside of the country and are familiar with Western culture and practices, it is appropriate for women visiting Turkey to be mindful of -- and abide by -- local customs.
Female visitors to the country should lean toward a conservative style of dress. Beachwear is acceptable only at the beach and nude sunbathing is not permitted, though discreet topless tanning is permissible at major Mediterranean resorts. Travelers in the country on business should wear professional clothing. Outside of the larger cities, women should avoid exposing their arms and legs, wear loose-fitting clothing and understand that people may stare at them. When visiting a mosque, all visitors are required to remove their shoes, and women must be covered completely, including their hair.
While unaccompanied women are not a common sight in Turkey, solo travelers can still feel safe by taking a few precautions. Turkish women know to appear confident and avoid making eye contact with men to avoid confrontation. Traditional and conservative dress, including headscarves, can help defer unwanted attention. When a woman goes out after dark in Turkey, she stays in a group and is never intoxicated in public. If a stranger will not leave a woman alone, she can make a scene by yelling “Leave me alone!” to get the man to back down. The local police are also approachable and willing to help women.
Women in the Workplace
Modern women in Turkish cities find acceptance working in professional, tourist and civil arenas. The large tourist population in the capital of Istanbul and along the coastline offer employment opportunities in resorts, restaurants and airlines. Unfortunately, the women who live in the countryside are often illiterate -- despite the fact that school is mandatory until age 15 -- and have very little opportunity to work.
Turkish Women and Marriage
Turkish customs regarding marriage are vastly different in the city than in the country villages. While city-dwellers often choose their own mate like most westerners do -- some even elect to live together out of wedlock -- parents in rural areas still choose wives for their sons. The average urban mother has two children, but poorer mothers from the southeastern part of the country can have up to 12 children. Birth control is easy to obtain in Turkey and abortion is widely practiced. In the case of divorce, the law gives men more say over their kids, but the rest of the agreement is essentially fair. Honor killings are still common in Kurdish areas, and women are killed for suspected adultery, pregnancy outside of marriage or dating a man of whom the family disapproves.
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