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Sida's work in Turkey

Negotiations on Turkish membership of the European Union commenced in 2005 with high hopes for continued democratic development. Unfortunately, for several years now this development has been moving in the wrong direction. Sida supports stakeholders who choose to stand up for democracy, human rights, gender equality and the rule of law.

Sida’s support to Turkey 2020

Progress has been made

Poverty is declining

Poverty in Turkey has declined. In 2006, 19 percent of the population lived in poverty, in 2018 only 14 percent, according to the World Bank.

Improved living conditions

According to the UNDP Human Development Index, living conditions have improved in terms of education, life expectancy, health and income.

Adoptation of international conventions

Turkey has adopted international conventions on human rights and now has a national plan for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.

Challenges remain

Increasing gender inequality

Gender equality is on the back foot. Turkey has fallen from 120th place in 2013 to 130th place in 2019 on the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index. COVID-19 restrictions have led to an increase in violence against women.

Threats against human rights defenders

Pressure has increased on critics of the Government. Human rights defenders, journalists and other who question those in power have been arrested. Civil servants have also been arrested, imprisoned or dismissed on the grounds of alleged terrorist offences.

Struggling economy

The Turkish economy is struggling with major structural challenges and the percentage of the population living in poverty has increased.

Development cooperation in Turkey

Over recent decades, Turkey has made significant progress in terms of economic and social development. Negotiations on EU membership began in 2005, at which time hope were high that Turkish democracy would be strengthened. Since then, the country has backslid on democracy, gender equality and human rights. Independent civil society organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to operate, including those working for women’s and LGBTQI rights. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are limited and the detention of human rights activists, academics and journalists is not uncommon.  

Human rights and democracy

In 2018, Freedom House, an NGO that analyses political rights and civil liberties in the world’s countries, changed Turkey’s status from “partly free” to “not free”.

Integrating citizens into politics

Civil society organisations working for human rights are being forced back and the conditions for a viable democratic civil society are being undermined. The Checks and Balances Network (CBN) works to integrate citizens into politics through the dissemination of information and dialogue between citizens, civil society organisations and public administrations.  

The CBN website

Supporting victims of violations

Despite an official policy of zero tolerance, there are well-founded accusations of torture and other human rights violations in detention centres and prisons. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) supports the victims of torture and documents violations of human rights. In excess of 500 torture victims turn to the organisation for help every year. 

Human Rights Foundation of Turkey web page

Legal support to LGBTQI people

A new “anti-gender” policy has hampered work to ensure the rights of women, children and the LGBTQI community. LGBTQI gatherings are forbidden by local authorities. Sida supports the organisation KAOS GL, which provides legal support to LGBTQI people and gathers data and reports of violations of LGBTQI rights. Each year the organisation provides support to around 1,000 individuals, many of whom are on the run. 

KAOS GL web page

Gender equality

Despite earlier progress, the situation for girls and women has deteriorated over recent years. The Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence has been called into question in the public discourse. 

Increasing knowledge of gender-based violance

Many Turkish women are subjected to violence and child marriage is not unknown. The organisation KAMER works to prevent gender-based violence and strengthen women’s power over their own lives. Among other initiatives, KAMER visits women at home, strengthens relations between public authorities and NGOs and runs centres for women who have been subjected to violence. The organisation Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR) trains women in human rights in order to increase knowledge of issues such as gender-based violence and to make it easier for women to exercise their rights. 

Strengthening labour rights for women

Women are underrepresented on the Turkish labour market. The International Labour Organization (ILO) works to ensure that more women can obtain formal employment, to cut the gender pay gap and increase the knowledge of employers and employees regarding gender equality and labour rights.

ILO web page

The principles of the rule of law

Power in Turkey is increasing concentrated to the president, while mechanisms to review and distribute power are being weakened. The rule of law is being undermined and the independence of the judiciary questioned; judges and prosecutors are being dismissed or arbitrarily transferred and lawyers are being subjected to violence and intimidation.

Access to legal representation for vulnerable groups

The right to a legal defence, a fair trial and leave to appeal have in many cases been infringed. The UNDP and the Union of Turkish Bar Associations collaborate to facilitate access to legal representation and train lawyers to recognise the specific needs of vulnerable groups, especially women and girls who are subjected to violence.

UNDP Turkey web page

Updated: 4 August 2021