From a Quest Columnıst: A different story of divorce in Turkey

Değerli GazeteBilkent okurları, gazetemiz misafir yazarlarını ağırlamaya devam ediyor… Bu sefer okulumuz Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi bölümünden 2015 yılında mezun olup şu an British Columbia Üniversitesi’nde sosyoloji üzerine doktorasını yapmakta olan Umay Kader’i misafir ediyoruz. Geçtiğimiz haftalarda kamuoyunun gündeminde olan bir olayın kendisine düşündürdüklerini aktaran Umay, boşanma hadisesinin medyada olumsuz bir yönde ele alındığını tespit edip, yürüttüğü araştırmaların bu yaklaşımın tam da aksine işaret ettiğini ifade ediyor. Kendisine katkısı için çok teşekkür ederek sizleri yazısıyla baş başa bırakıyoruz… 

Dear GazeteBilkent readers, as we are continuing to host guest columnist, this time we are welcoming Umay Kader. A 2015 graduate of Bilkent Political Science and Public Administration Department, who is momentarily a PhD student at The University of British Columbia, Canada… Taking her inspiration from a recent headline, Umay notes the media’s negative account on the concept of divorce and shares with us that her research develops to show the contrary. We thank her for this valuable contribution and leave you with her article…

A different story of divorce in Turkey: “What if I told you that I am much happier…” by Umay Kader

Recently, news about a Turkish woman who celebrates her divorce by playing to a folk song has received great attention from the public, mainly because it is very rare to see the news depicting women happy rather than victimized following divorce. If we were to search a newspaper database using the keywords “women” and “divorce” in Turkish language for 2018, we would find that “violence” is the most frequently used word in the newsletters which portray the consequences of marital dissolution for women living in Turkey as stigmatization, poverty, vulnerability and violence.

Despite negative attributions, there is a striking 54.8% increase in the number of divorces in comparison to only 1.6% increase in the number of marriages between the years of 2001 and 2018. A quarter (25.7%) of marriages officiated in 2018 ended in divorce, which clearly demonstrates that, whether socially accepted or not, this is a rapidly rising phenomenon in Turkish society. That’s why we need to remember that couples get divorced mostly because there is an “irretrievable breakdown of marriage” which includes adultery, humiliation, violence and abuse. Research by sociologists shows that maintaining a dissatisfying and unhappy marriage has significant impacts on an individual’s level of happiness and married women are the ones who express less satisfaction with the quality of marriage compared to married men. Consequently, women initiate divorces more than men and individuals who do so are more likely to focus on positive outcomes and adjust their lives accordingly. The question then becomes, “What if the consequences of divorce are not always as terrifying as the news makes it seem and there are positive outcomes that women would potentially associate with the dissolution of marriage?”

In my research, I conducted interviews with divorced single mothers who are living in the capital city of Turkey, Ankara, with at least one dependent child. The great majority of the single mothers are either primary or high school graduates and have a monthly income under the minimum wage of 2018. Almost all of the single mothers that I spoke with barely make the ends meet following the dissolution of their marriage. However, they largely associate divorce with freedom, self-confidence and happiness rather than vulnerability, weakness and poverty.

When I asked about the major difficulties that she encountered after divorce, for instance, 38-year-old Selma, who earns less than minimum wage in a month and lives together with her two primary-school-age children at her parents’ home, says, “What if I told you that I am much happier…I wasn’t working there. I work here. I didn’t have self-confidence there. I have self-confidence here.” Her marriage was highly oppressive; her ex-husband and his family did not even allow her to take children to the park let alone to have a job. Selma, like almost all other single mothers I talked with, says “After I got divorced, I go out more, spend more time with my children and have more fun…I mean I am freer after divorce.”

Similarly, 40-year-old Gülay, who faced serious harassment and threat during and after the dissolution of her marriage, says, “I’m more peaceful…Now, I have more time for my son and myself. Divorce is the best thing [happened to me] in every aspect.” 52-year-old Sevgi who had an oppressive and abusive marriage now works as a babysitter, has a monthly income that is slightly above the minimum wage and a son studying at university. She responds, “I am actually highly relieved after divorce. I mean, I wish I had divorced years ago.”

Sila is a 33-year-old primary school graduate who occasionally works as a housekeeper and lives with her two children under the age of 18. She is in severe poverty and yet she says, “Now I’ve remembered that I’m a human, I’ve found out the way in which I would like to talk [to people] when I am in a social environment.” In her entire life, it was only after divorce that Sila was able to socialize with people in the absence of an abusive husband. She said, “When I talked about something, my ex-husband was making fun of me…So many things have changed. I got my self-confidence.”

For Selma, Gülay, Sevgi, Sila and other single mothers divorce is greatly associated with increased self-confidence, freedom and happiness as opposed to poverty and weakness. As 52-year-old Güzide, who had great difficulty in getting a divorce from her alcoholic and abusive ex-husband, puts it very nicely, “If a woman is able to give this decision…this needs to be rendered not as something bad but powerful because a woman needs to feel herself strong to be able to do all these.” Instead of focusing on all the negative consequences of divorce and depicting women as the potential victims of it, we need to deeply understand individuals’ own accounts to show women who live in oppressive and abusive relationships that having a happier and peaceful life is possible after divorce.

Geçtiğimiz günlerde Türkiye, boşanmasını adliye önünde oyun havası eşliğinde kutlayan bir kadının videosunu konuştu. Medyada genellikle yer alan boşanma ve onları takip eden şiddet haberlerine bakıldığında bu haber alışılmışın dışında kalıyordu elbette…

Boşanma denince akla ilkin, kadın ve çocuklar için çizilmiş karamsar bir tablo geldiği doğru. Oysa boşanma davalarının hızla artıyor oluşu boşanmanın beraberinde getireceği zorluk ve hatta tehlikelerin kadınları boşanmaktan alıkoymadığını gösteriyor. Peki o halde boşanma kadınların hayatına yalnızca zorluklar ve tehlikeler mi getiriyor? Ve asıl aktörler yani boşanan kadınlar evliliklerini bitirme sureci hakkında ne düşünüyorlar?

Ankara’da görüştüğüm, düşük gelir grubunda yer alan bekar anneler kendilerini medyada veya araştırmalarda yansıtıldığı gibi tanımlamadılar. Savunmasız ve yoksul değil, özgürleşmiş ve çok daha mutlu hissettiklerini söylediler. Görüşme imkanı bulduğum annelerin tümü yoksulluk sınırının ve pek çoğunun da asgari gelirin altında bir gelirle yasam mücadelesi vermesine rağmen, boşanma sonrasında kendilerine ve çocuklarına ayırdıkları zamanın arttığını, daha da önemlisi hem kendi sosyal çevreleriyle hem de çocuklarıyla kaliteli zaman geçirmeye başladıklarını söylediler. “Baskıcı” ve “ataerkil” olarak tanımladıkları evliliklerinin bitmesiyle maddi manevi her konuda kendilerinin ve çocuklarının hayatında söz sahibi olmaya başlayan kadınların çoğu ilk defa boşanma sonrasında kendilerine bir “insan” ve bir “kadın” olarak bakmaya başladıklarını ve bunun da kendilerini son derece özgür ve mutlu hissettirdiğini ifade ettiler. Araştırmamın ilk bulguları öyle gösteriyor ki gerek medyada gerekse akademik çalışmalarda boşanmış kadınlara yönelik yoksulluk ve savunmasızlık etrafında yoğunlaşan görüşlerin değişmesi ve boşanma konusunda daha dengeli ve nötr bir yaklaşım sergilenmesi gerekiyor. Özellikle mutsuz ve baskıcı evliliklerin içinde olan,  istismar edilen veya şiddet gören kadınların boşandıktan sonra daha mutlu bir hayat yaşama ihtimallerinin olduğunu bilmesi büyük önem teşkil ediyor.

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