Medlemmar från enskilda organisationer diskuterar juridiska frågor på Raoul Wallenberginstitutet i Turkiet, under en kurs om kvinnors och funktionshindrades rättigheter.

Workshop on the rights of women and the disabled at the Raoul Wallenberg institute.

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Challenging traditions with the help of the law

Updated: 26 June 2014

“It’s not so much the laws that are wrong, it’s how they’re applied that is the problem,” says Angela Lenn, head of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Turkey, which provides training on the rights of women and the disabled.

In recent years, Turkey has reformed many laws, which are now more in line with international rights conventions and European legislation. But it takes time for these to have an impact in the legal system.

“Strong cultural traditions are being challenged,” Lenn says.

Older, male judges, with old-fashioned education are more suspicious about change. Lenn says that there is also opposition in Turkey to what is regarded as foreign interference in domestic issues.

Turkey is a strongly male-dominated society, with a conservative view of women. At the same time, the legal system is secular, so the fact that Turkey is Islamic does not directly influence how laws are applied.

Courses and educational trips provide insights

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute runs courses and holds seminars with lawyers and judges, which deal with which laws apply in Turkey and internationally, with a particular emphasis on the rights of women and disabled people.

“I’m impressed by the female lawyers’ work,” Lenn says. “They’re asking tough questions and can argue well when it comes to interpretations of the law. They’ve been trained by us and they say that the work in courts now is much better than before.”

Participants from non-governmental organizations at a seminar on the rights of disabled people.       

As well as courses, the institute also organizes study trips abroad.

“For example, a group of judges travelled to Geneva (Switzerland) and took part in questioning regarding Ecuador’s respect for international rights conventions,” Lenn says. “They were highly impressed by the legal standard. Such trips provide important impulses and lessons.”

From charity to rights

The institute is also working to establish a new mindset when it comes to disabled people. Help to the disabled has been regarded as charity work, but must be viewed as a rights issue.

“The family is strong in Turkey and you usually take care of your own disabled relations, which is of course very good,” Lenn says. “But the state and society must also understand that the disabled have rights, which have to be respected.”

That is why the institute is working with non-governmental organizations. Their representatives are given training on disabled people’s rights according to international conventions and laws, as well as Turkish law. This knowledge is then spread through society through them.

“Disabled people having rights used to be something totally alien,” Lenn says. “But now it’s starting to become generally accepted. I feel that we’ve helped to start an important process.”


Page owner: Department for Europe and Latin America

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